Axminster benefit cheat spared jail

AN Axminster woman who scammed over �12,000 in benefits has been ordered to pay the money back.

AN Axminster woman who scammed over �12,000 in benefits has been ordered to pay the money back.

Susan Karen Matthews, 46, of St David's Drive, was spared an immediate jail sentence and given a 12 week prison sentence, suspended for one year.

She was also ordered to do 80 hours of unpaid work and pay �300 in costs.

Central Devon Magistrates' Court heard Matthews had received housing benefit since 2003, but failed to declare she had been awarded �26,125 from a divorce settlement three years ago.

Matthews, who pleaded guilty to three charges of dishonesty, had earlier burst into tears while magistrates were deliberating her sentence.

The court heard she had already paid over half the money back and arrangements are in place for her to pay the remainder back at �60 a month.

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Chairman of the bench Catherine Sanders said: "This passes the custody threshold. You should have declared the money."

But the mother-of-two was given credit for her early guilty plea.

Prosecuting, Jeremy Asher said Matthews had failed to notify the Department for Work and Pensions of her change in circumstances, starting from around March 24, 2005.

In May that year, she said the only savings she had was to the sum of �1,967.39. In May 2007, she again failed to declare her savings.

The court heard she had paid �4,000 for a new car and had been using a Barclay deposit account, which had been traced.

In mitigation, Caroline Salvatore said Matthews owed her father �17,000 and believed she had a balance of �9,000. She said she believed this would still allow her to claim benefits, but was not aware it would be at a reduced rate.

Ms Salvatore said Matthews had been going through a divorce and family difficulties, and that her initial claims had been genuine. She added Matthews accepted she should have declared her capital, but had let the situation escalate to the point where she panicked.

She said: "This is not the work of an organised gang. This is not a champagne lifestyle." She said it was a case of omission rather than commission.

She told the court that Matthews was the sole provider and that to put her in prison would put a burden on the state.

"Matthews knows this is not a victimless crime and that someone has to pay along the line," she said.

Her costs were reduced because of her early guilty plea and her means were taken into account.