A FRAUDSTER who claimed more than £20,000 in sickness benefits while holding down a job as a car delivery worker yesterday narrowly escaped jail after a judge heard she was already paying back her debt.
Ruth Lowery, 59, made 22,581.76 in Income Support and Incapacity Benefit by convincing her employer to make out cheques to a lodger who cashed them and handed the money to her, Sheffield Crown Court heard.
Lowery had started claiming the benefits after she became ill, but failed to tell the Department of Work and Pensions when she recovered enough to start working for Barnsley-based Prompt Vehicle Deliveries.
Simon Pallo, acting for the DWP, told the court that Lowery, of Summerdale Road, Cudworth, Barnsley, had been claiming benefits since the 1990s because of illness, but started working again in March 2005.
Mr Pallo said Lowery started working on a self-employed basis and between March 2005 and September 2008 she was earning about 15,000 a year.
He added: "The defendant was paid by way of cheque but had asked her employer to pay cheques in the name of a man who was her lodger.
"She said she did not have a bank account.
"The arrangement was made so that the cheques could be cashed and the cash handed to her.
"In interview the defendant made no comment, which led to her being charged with these two offences."
Lowery pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to inform the DWP of a change in her circumstances which would have led to her becoming ineligible for both Income Support and Incapacity Benefit.
Mr Pallo told the court that Lowery had been making direct debit repayments since February 2009 at a rate of 40 per week but asked for confiscation proceedings which could lead to her losing her house.
Sentencing Lowery to six months in prison suspended for two years and 150 hours of unpaid community work, Judge Alan Goldsack QC said Lowery "knew perfectly well" that she was doing wrong and said unpaid community work would allow her to "pay back into the community from which she had taken out".
He added: "What you are before the court for is stealing from your fellow citizens."