A MUM-of-two who cheated taxpayers out of £13,000 in illegal benefit claims has dodged jail by using her mum’s pension fund to repay the cash.
Jennifer Sutherland, 34, wept in the dock as she was warned she faced being sent to prison for fraud.
She lied to benefits officials, telling them she lived alone with her children when the truth was her husband, David, was staying with her.
Her deceit was only uncovered because of an anonymous phone call from a member of the public.
Livingston Sheriff Court heard she came up with the scheme to steal the money in a bid to pay off large debts run up because of her addictions to alcohol and drugs.
Kirsten Craig, prosecuting, said officials launched an investigation after the anonymous tip-off and Sutherland admitted to officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that she knew she had to declare any change in her circumstances.
Miss Craig told the court yesterday: “She stated that her partner lived with her short term but didn’t stay permanently. Three days later, she phoned the DWP and asked for another interview.
“At that time she provided further information about her and her partner getting back together.
“She admitted that she had not informed DWP of this change.”
Sutherland, of Ewart Avenue, Armadale, pleaded guilty to claiming Income Support and council tax and housing benefit to which she wasn’t entitled.
For more than two-and-a-half years she failed to tell benefits bosses that her husband was living with her and in a well-paid job. Becky Osborne, defending, said her client – a first offender – now had a job as a telephonist with a taxi firm and intended to repay her mum.
She said: “She’s highly anxious about the outcome of this case and highly embarrassed that she’s sitting in court. She clearly understands she must be punished for the offence.
“Her mother was only able to assist because she’d just received her pension payout.
“That’s the only reason there was that level of finance available.”
Sheriff Peter Hammond sentenced Sutherland to carry out 220 hours of unpaid work as an alternative to custody. He told her: “These are two serious offences you dishonestly perpetrated over a long period of time in a deliberate way resulting in a considerable loss to the exchequer of £13,000.
“As things stood within the guidelines laid down by the courts you’d have been looking at a substantial custodial sentence.
“I’ve listened to everything said on your behalf, the most significant of which is you’ve repaid the sums in full. That’s what’s made the difference in sending you to prison.”