A MAN who falsely claimed more than £40,000 in benefits has been handed a four-month suspended prison sentence after the fraud was uncovered by investigators from Stafford.
Stephen Wilkinson, 55, received the sentence for fraudulent claims over a nine year period after a joint investigation by Stafford Borough and Cannock Chase District Councils.
Wilkinson, of Brownshill Road, Norton Canes, Cannock, received a total of £42,692 since 2003 – of which £37,145.60 was Housing Benefit and £ 5,546.89 Council Tax Benefit – which the court was told would take him “71 years” to pay off.
Wilkinson admitted failing to notify the authorities of a change in circumstances and was given the four month sentence, suspended for a year, a 12 month supervision order, and told to do 150 hours unpaid community work.
Sentencing him, Judge Mark Eades said people cheating the public purse meant there was less money to provide vital services to others.
James Bruce, prosecuting, said: “He [Wilkinson] claimed he was a single person when he was living with a partner who had a full time job.
“He initially denied it in interview for an hour and a half but then, confronted with the overwhelming evidence, he admitted it.”
He told the court Wilkinson was paying it off at £50 per month – and so far had paid back £97.50.
Rob Perry, defending, said Wilkinson was remorseful, had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, and originally claimed the benefits legitimately.
He added: “He was, and is, suffering from depression.
“He still has difficulties with arthritis and his relationship with the partner has ended.”
Judge Eades said: “You are a benefit cheat.
“You carried on year after year after year digging in to the public purse when you should not have been.”
He added every time Wilkinson saw neighbours and friends they would be “whispering behind your back – ‘he is a benefit cheat.’”
After the case, Stafford Borough Councillor Ken Williamson, cabinet member for resources at Stafford Borough Council, said: “We are determined to prevent people cheating tax payers out of money they are not entitled to. It is unfair on all those people who do pay their dues. “I welcome what the Judge said and I hope it sends a strong message that if you do cheat the system you will be caught and could face a prison sentence.
Councillor Williamson added: “We also want to make sure those entitled to benefits get them so please contact us for information and advice if you are unsure about what to do or what you are entitled to.”
A spokesman for Stafford Borough Council said the authority had uncovered nearly £300,000 of fraudulent claims in the last financial year.