An elderly couple have received suspended sentences after pleading guilty to falsely claiming more than £140,000 in benefits.
Raymond and Georgina Wood, who are aged 79 and 75, of Langford Gardens, Grantham, pleaded guilty to a total of 23 offences at Basildon Crown Court.
At a trial which began on Tuesday, April 28, and concluded the following day, the couple were given a 12-month custodial sentence suspended for two years.
The charges included dishonestly making false statements in order to obtain benefits, failing to notify changes of circumstances, retaining wrongful credits, fraud, as well as aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring another to commit the offence and using a false instrument contrary to Section 3 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 as well as aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring another to commit the offence.
Georgina Wood falsely claimed Income Support and Pension Credit from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and Council Tax Benefit from Basildon Borough Council, Brentwood Borough Council and South Kesteven District Council.
Raymond Wood falsely claimed Income Support and Pension Credit from the DWP, as well as Housing Benefit from Basildon Borough Council.
Both had failed to declare they were living together and that Mrs Wood had more than £16,000 in undeclared capital. Mrs Wood also failed to notify authorities that she owned a property in Basildon and Brentwood.
The offences took place between July 2003 and February 2013 for Mr Wood. Mrs Wood’s offences occurred between May 1998 and January 2013. The overpayments totalled around £140,000.
In sentencing, the Judge stressed that he took benefit fraud seriously due to its effect on public funds and that it made it more difficult for people legitimately claiming benefits. He gave Mr Wood limited credit for his guilty pleas and Mrs Wood credit for her early guilty pleas. He also took into account their age and good character and, in respect of Mr Wood, his poor health.
A timetable was agreed for the confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Rob Manser, Basildon Council’s operation manager for billings and benefits, said: “In most cases, benefits are paid to those in genuine need of support but on this occasion it was not the case and the couple had undeclared capital and property and were not entitled to dip into the public purse.
“I would also like to highlight the fact that this was a particularly complex case which involved enquiries at a number of different addresses and covered many years. This case has demonstrated that effective joint working takes place between different councils across the country, as this will often involve other agencies.
“This authority is committed to its duty to protect taxpayer’s money. In these times of financial austerity, when many local people are feeling the strain, it makes it doubly important that we do our utmost to ensure that public money only goes to those who are entitled.
“Benefit fraud is against the law and cheats will be forced to face the consequences. As well as paying their debt to society they will have to repay every penny they stole, back to the taxpayers.”