Benefit cheats stole £66,000 from Hampshire councils in eight-year scam

FRAUDSTERS Peter Brown, 40, leaving Portsmouth Crown Court. Inset, Elizabeth Austin hides behind an umbrella

FRAUDSTERS Peter Brown, 40, leaving Portsmouth Crown Court. Inset, Elizabeth Austin hides behind an umbrella

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A COUPLE who falsely claimed more than £66,000 in benefits have been spared jail.

Elizabeth Austin and Peter Brown pocketed a total of £66,549.70 of taxpayers’ money in an eight-year period.

FRAUDSTERS Elizabeth Austin hides behind an umbrella

FRAUDSTERS Elizabeth Austin hides behind an umbrella

The pair – caught after an anonymous tip-off – claimed to be living at the same property as landlord and tenant.

In reality they were living together with shared outgoings between 2002 and 2010.

Mum-of-one Austin claimed £66,549.70 in income support, housing benefit and child tax credit for addresses in Drift Road, Clanfield, Court Lane, Cosham and Flint Close, Netley Common.

East Hampshire District, Southampton and Portsmouth City councils all paid benefits to Austin.

Brown sent documents falsely claiming to be Austin’s landlord and pocketed £30,267.92 of the total sum.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard in mitigation that unemployed Austin, 33, and Brown, 40, are no in a relationship.

Nick Cotter, defending Austin, who is in poor health and previously a victim of domestic violence, said their relationship was based on kindness: ‘This is a relationship founded on kindness and it is a kindness that perhaps went too far and that is the element of this case that has always troubled me,’ he said.

Roderick James, defending Brown, who works for Southern Water, said benefits were not paid directly to his bank account, but he did derive some financial gain from them.

Austin was found guilty of three counts of obtaining money transfers by deception, two of making a false representation, two of fraud and one of making or adapting an article for use in fraud.

Brown was found guilty of one count of making a false representation, one of fraud, two of obtaining money transfers by deception and one of making or redacting an article for use in fraud.

Neither Austin or Brown, both of Drift Road, Clanfield, has any previous convictions.

Austin was sentenced to 12 months in jail suspended for a year and told to do 120 hours of unpaid work. Brown was sentenced to nine months in jail suspended for a year and told to do 90 hours of unpaid work and to pay £1,955 costs.

Nicholas Haggan QC, sentencing, said: ‘Those who commit such offences commit fraud on society as a whole.’

A confiscation order was made for Brown to repay £30,267.92 within seven days.

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