A MARRIED couple who swindled more than £34,000 in benefits have escaped an immediate jail sentence.
Michael and Erica Denyer continued to claim council tax and housing benefits between 2009 and 2013 – despite him earning £46,000 in one year.
Judge Roger Hetherington said he was persuaded not to send them to prison because they had two children and it would prevent them repaying their debt to the public purse.
The couple, of Juniper Road, Horndean, were sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard Mr Denyer was declared bankrupt and their house was repossessed.
They moved into rented accommodation and signed benefits forms with East Hampshire District Council saying only Mrs Denyer was in work.
In fact Mr Denyer, 46, was working as a taxi driver.
Shortly afterwards Mrs Denyer, 36, fell pregnant and informed the council that she was not working.
What she did not tell them was her husband had secured a well-paid job fitting window blinds.
The council tax benefit overpayment was £6,105 and housing benefit overpayment was £28,737.
At a previous hearing in May, Mr and Mrs Denyer admitted fraud and failing to notify the council of their true income.
The judge deferred sentencing to see how a repayment plan would fare.
The court was told they were paying back £240 a month. But at the latest hearing, it transpired the monthly repayment was in fact £70. The other £170 was liabilities for other council tax debts.
Defending, Naomi Gyane said: ‘This is not a case of lavish spending but a couple who buried their head in the sand. This £70 they are paying is what they can pay.’
Judge Hetherington said: ‘Although there was no evidence of extravagant living, you were both aware of what you were doing and that’s a substantial sum defrauded from the council taxpayers.’
He said the £70-a-month repayment could be increased if there was a change in finances. He added: ‘I want to keep you in employment and keep repaying these amounts.’
The couple were ordered to pay court costs of £511 over an 18-month period.