A wheelchair-bound benefit cheat who defrauded the taxpayer out of almost £88,000 will take 90 years to pay back her ill-gotten gains from the benefits she is legally entitled to.
And when the judge sentencing 57-year-old Elizabeth Phillips at Bradford Crown Court yesterday was told she was repaying the money at £70 a month he remarked that the full amount was never likely to be fully repaid.
Phillips pleaded guilty to eight offences of benefit fraud, stretching over seven years, from 2005 to 2012.
Judge David Hatton QC sentenced her to seven months imprisonment, suspended for two years, after her barrister, Paul Fleming, pleaded for leniency because of her disability.
Prosecutor Angus MacDonald told the court Phillips fleeced the Department of Work and Pensions and Calderdale Council out of a total of £87,971.
She claimed Income Support and relief on her Council Tax bill while her husband Ernest Phillips was working and she was in receipt of an occupational pension.
Mr MacDonald said the claims were not fraudulent when they were originally made in 2002 but became so after three years.
The benefit money was paid into three bank accounts held jointly by the couple, the court was told yesterday.
Over the years, Phillips, of Gargrave Close, Brighouse, was sent nine letters inviting her to reveal any change in her circumstances but the authorities received no response.
Mr Phillips was working in a variety of different jobs for various companies throughout the period of the fraud.
When Mr MacDonald said Phillips was paying back the money at £70 a month, Judge Hatton said: “It will take 90 years to be repaid, so it is not likely to be.”
In his mitigation, Mr Fleming said Phillips’ husband had been “unreservedly supportive” to his wife who had “buried her head in the sand”.
She was a woman of previous good character who pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, he said.
“Once she failed to make the disclosures, she knew she would be in terrible trouble if she then owned up,” Mr Fleming said.
He asked Judge Hatton to spare her an immediate jail sentence as an act of mercy because she is disabled.
Sentencing Phillips, Judge Hatton told her: “Once you embarked on this course of conduct, the only alternative to continuing was to report it yourself and admit it.
“Fearful of doing that, you had no choice, as you saw it, but to continue in this course of dishonest conduct that snowballed out of control.”
Christine Caine, a DWP fraud investigator, said: “Most people claiming benefits are honest, but there are some who abuse our welfare system and we will catch them. Small amounts of weekly overpayments build up and you could end up having to pay back tens of thousands of pounds.”