A mum-of-three who conned the state out of more than £32,000 escaped going to jail ‘by the skin of her teeth’.
A court heard that she began frauding the system after becoming stressed by discovering her husband was cheating on her with one of her friends.
I have to punish you and send out a message that those who cheat the tax credit or benefit systems as you have done will be treated severelyJudge, Recorder Andrew Shaw
Carmel Southern started to claim working tax credits legitimately in 2011 but after the annual payment dropped from £2,500 to just £277 she contacted the authorities and lied, claiming that she and her husband had split up.
Her tax credits then rocketed up and by the time the fraud came to light she had dishonestly obtained a total of £32,496, said Kevin Slack, prosecuting.
Sentencing her to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years the judge, Recorder Andrew Shaw, described her claim about her marital breakdown as “a deliberate lie, calculated to ensure you and your family received a larger award of family credits.
“You allowed them to labour under the misapprehension that you and your husband separated for over two and a half years.
“I have to punish you and send out a message that those who cheat the tax credit or benefit systems as you have done will be treated severely.”
He pointed out that one of the effects of her conduct was that the public could fail to distinguish between “cheats and scroungers” and deserving people.
The judge said he took into consideration that she has three dependent children, two of whom have health difficulties and the money is to be repaid.
At the time of the offence she had been under stress after discovering her husband, Lee Southern, was having
an affair with one of her friends and she was diagnosed with a heart condition, he added.
“You have escaped going to prison today by the skin of your teeth.”
He placed 35-year-old Southern, a former auxiliary nurse, under supervision for 12 months, ordered her to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and imposed a six month electronically monitored curfew between 7 - 7.
Southern, of Inverness Close, Aspull, pleaded guilty to being knowingly concerned in fraudulent activity.
Kevin Slack, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court that the total amount paid over was £47,000 but if her claim had been honest she would have been entitled to £15,000.
She began claiming in 2011 while working as an auxiliary nurse for Wrightington Hospital Trust and her husband was working for Walkers Crisps.
The amount of tax credits fluctuates depending on income and it was after it fell to £277 that she lied claiming
she had split up with her husband.
Cheryl Mottram, defending, said that Southern, who has no previous convictions, is still with her husband but they have a platonic relationship.
She is now studying for a degree in PR and marketing, she added.