An employee at The Bronte Parsonage Museum cheated the taxpayer out of around £60,000 by failing to declare that her health had improved and that she was in paid work.

Charissa Hutchins, 44, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 22 years ago and had ongoing physical and mental health problems, Bradford Crown Court heard today.

She pleaded guilty to two offences of fleecing a total of £59,373 in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was sentenced to five months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

Prosecutor Nadim Bashir told the court that Hutchins, of Tyne Street, Haworth, had been working at the museum in Church Street in the village since August 2012.


The mother of a three-year-old son was of previous good character.

Mr Bashir said that in respect of the £19,720 ESA fraud, Hutchins failed to declare that she was in paid employment between August 15, 2014, and November 3, 2016.

The £39,652 DLA offence arose from her failing to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that her mobility had improved, and her care needs had reduced, over a period of five years, between August 2012 and September 2017.

Mr Bashir said that Hutchins was awarded the highest rate of the care component of her DLA. She declared that her legs could give way without warning “anywhere – at any time.” She was unable to lift her foot high enough to negotiate paving stones and she was unsteady, both on her feet and in a wheelchair, when she was outdoors.

Hutchins said she needed to use walking sticks, furniture or walls to hold herself up inside her flat and that she was prone to falling and injuring herself.

She claimed to need someone to watch over her at night and that she needed help to manage most aspects of her personal care.

Hutchins was also awarded the highest rate of the mobility component of her DLA after declaring she could walk only ten metres before feeling severe discomfort and it took her up to 15 minutes to make it that distance.

Mr Bashir said the DLA award was for an indefinite period and it was paid on the basis that Hutchins would notify any change of circumstances.

The court heard that Hutchins was found to be working at The Bronte Parsonage Museum as an assistant after being a volunteer there.

It was reported that she did not use a walking stick or crutches at work and had to climb up to 15 stairs between six and ten times a day.

Hutchins told benefit fraud investigators that she had “messed up and got things wrong.”

But she said her mobility was limited and she was in pain with every step she took.

She stated that she worked only 12 hours a month but then conceded she had completed up to 103 hours.

She had not told her employer about her MS because she did not want them to know.

Mr Bashir stressed that the Crown did not dispute that Hutchins had MS but that she was able to do much more at work than her claim for DLA would suggest.

Jo Shepherd said in mitigation that Hutchins pleaded guilty at the outset and the amount was nearer £56,000.

She had ambitions to be a singer and the MS diagnosis 22 years ago had “weighed heavily on her.”

Hutchins was the carer for her young child and had buried her head in the sand about the fraud.

She was now paying the money back.

Miss Shepherd said that Hutchins was disabled, with mobility problems, and she had suffered from medically documented depression for many years.

She had not many friends and had isolated herself.

Judge Jonathan Gibson said: “Benefit fraud is fraud on the public and the taxpayer.”

But he did not expect Hutchins to appear before a court again.

“I think you have learned a very hard lesson in a very hard way,” Judge Gibson said.

Hutchins was ordered to carry out a rehabilitation activity requirement and to keep to a 16 week overnight electronically monitored curfew order.