Numbers are up for bingo benefit cheat

GUILTY Suzanne Downie outside court
GUILTY Suzanne Downie outside court
Bob Higgins at an earlier court hearing  Picture Habibur Rahman/Solent News

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A BENEFIT cheat claimed thousands of pounds in incapacity payments while secretly working at a bingo hall.

Suzanne Downie, 52, of Braintree Road, Wymering, got £41,200 in money she wasn’t entitled to over at least seven years.

The 52-year-old, of Braintree Road, Wymering, was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, after admitting six counts of falsely claiming cash.

Prosecutor Michael Newbold told Portsmouth Crown Court: ‘She was a claimant from 1997, but worked for Peter Arnett Leisure, at Crown Bingo, as a cleaner, from 1999 to 2009 and didn’t declare it.’

Downie claimed £30,800 in incapacity benefit from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). She also claimed £8,000 in housing benefit and £2,400 council tax benefit from Portsmouth City Council, a total of £41,200.

At one point in 2004, she was working 23 hours a week, for £86.06, and was paid £81.95 per week in incapacity benefit.

In September 2009, when she heard the DWP was investigating her, Downie contacted her employers.

In a letter, she told the firm: ‘I want to leave your employment because of personal reasons. I’m hoping you don’t give out information about your workers. Lots of people leave their jobs and that should be that. Otherwise it could cause unnecessary trouble.’

Robert Bryan, defending, said: ‘When she first made the claim, she wasn’t working. She has back problems and walks with two crutches. She had credit card bills to pay off. She wasn’t using the money to live a rich lifestyle.’

He added: ‘She has lived in a council flat for 15 years and she qualified for the benefits when she first applied for them. It is not as if she has lived an extravagant lifestyle, she just hoped to pay off debts and her crime was to fail to inform the DWP of her change in status.’

Recorder Michael Norman said: ‘I could have given you an immediate six-month prison sentence, but because you did this to pay a credit card bill, it will be suspended for 12 months.’

He ordered a three-month curfew. Downie must be at home between 7pm and 7am each night.