A former teaching assistant pocketed almost £68,000 by fraudulently claiming her elderly partner’s state pension and winter fuel allowance for 12 years after he was jailed for life.

Dianne Smith, 46, even pretended to be the prisoner in letters to the Department of Work and Pensions appealing for the payments to be reinstated after they were stopped in 2011.

Writing in the name of the 80-year-old, who was given a life term for sex offences, Smith claimed he was too deaf to use the phone and now had to rely on handouts from his family to make ends meet.

Her pleas were answered and further cheques were paid in by the DWP, Bradford Crown Court heard yesterday.

Smith, of Great Horton, Bradford, pleaded guilty to three charges of concealing criminal property and one offence of fraud by false representation.

She was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with supervision and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Prosecutor Nigel Hamilton told the court yesterday that Smith’s partner was on a state pension when he was held in custody in 1999 and then convicted of sexual offences and imprisoned for life.

His pension payments should have stopped when he became a prisoner but for the next 12 years, the pension, winter fuel allowance and pension credit was paid into a bank account controlled by Smith, who had a cash card in her partner’s name.

In all, she dishonestly claimed a total of £67,142, Mr Hamilton said.

Smith withdrew all the money from the account and spent it. She told investigators it went on household bills and “the odd luxury”. She visited her partner in jail and gave some of the money to him.

Mr Hamilton said Smith was working as a teaching assistant when she began withdrawing the money in 2004 but now claimed incapacity benefit.

She was arrested in December 2011 and said she did as her partner told her and it was his idea.

In mitigation, Smith’s solicitor advocate, Anne-Marie Hutton, said she was vulnerable and easily manipulated.

“She realised that she had got herself into very deep water indeed and it was only a matter of time before these matters were going to catch up with her,” Miss Hutton said.

Smith had never been in trouble before. She lived a modest lifestyle and dreaded going to prison.

She acted under the influence of “a significantly older man who was capable of making her do anything he wished”.

Judge David Hatton QC said he doubted Smith would ever appear in court again.

Sentencing her he said there had been “inducement and pressure” from the prisoner for her to commit the fraud.