Wigan woman wrongly claimed more than £5,000 in benefits

A Wigan woman who wrongly claimed more than £5,000 in benefits after securing employment has been ordered to carry out unpaid work.

After being unemployed for some time, Rachel Fielding, 46, took up a post as a residential support worker for adults with severe mental health problems.

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates Court

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates Court

But Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court heard she continued to claim benefits, failing to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances.

Tess Kenyon, prosecuting, said Fielding was overpaid £5,349 in housing benefit and employment support allowance.

Fielding, of Spring Street, Scholes, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to tell Wigan Council and the Department For Work and Pensions that she was working, which affected her entitlement to the benefits.

The housing benefit claim related to a period between August 6, 2018 and February 17 this year, with the employment support allowance claim covering July 30, 2018 to February 26.

Adam Whittaker, defending, said Fielding had been working but lost her job after taking too much time off due to illness.

She waited two years for an operation and had anxiety and depression.

She eventually had surgery and started to recover physically, but her doctor said she was not yet ready to return to work.

Mr Whittaker said: “Nevertheless she is a worker - she has always worked, not withstanding this period of ill health - so she got a job with this company.”

Fielding was employed for 16 hours a week as a support worker, but still needed to take time off during the probationary period.

She feared she would not be kept on, after being told the people she worked with were vulnerable and needed stability, the court heard.

Fielding, who has no previous convictions, has since seen her contract increased to 30 hours per week and “loves” her work.

Mr Whittaker appealed to the bench to impose a conditional discharge, arguing that unpaid work or a curfew would be difficult for her as she did shifts on a rota basis and sometimes worked overnight.

He said: “She is not asking to be let off. She accepts what she has done amounts to a serious criminal offence. The overpayment is there and it will be repaid over a period of time.”

But magistrates also heard from a probation officer, who said unpaid work could be done any day and Fielding has two days off work each week.

Sentencing, Alan Mather, chairman of the bench, said: “We can’t get away from the fact the amount of money that was taken from the public purse and that in itself constitutes a serious offence.”

Magistrates imposed a 12-month community order, with 80 hours of unpaid work. Fielding must also pay £85 prosecution costs and £90 victim surcharge.

The court heard she is already repaying the benefits she received.