Couple avoid jail after admitting £25,000 fraud

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A COUPLE who committed more than £25,000 of benefit fraud were spared an immediate jail sentence.

Stephen and Ann Webb of Hertsfield in Titchfield Common pleaded guilty to nine counts each under the Social Securities Administration Act at Fareham Magistrates Court.

Mr Webb, 58, was charged with nine counts of failing to declare his employment with a number of businesses from November 2008 through to February 2011.

Over this period he had been earning money through two self-employed businesses, Eastleigh IT and Diary UK, and three employment agencies.

His 56-year-old wife was charged with nine counts of failing to declare her husband’s employment when applying for benefits for herself.

Both were given an 18 week jail sentence, suspended for 12 months. Mrs Webb also has a six-month curfew with an electronic tag and Mr Webb must complete 300 hour of unpaid work.

Fareham Borough Council, which brought the prosecution, asked for the money to be repaid, but the court rejected any order for compensation on the grounds that the couple have very little money and are currently seeking an individual voluntary arrangement as an alternative to declaring bankruptcy.

They made £9,868.08 in housing benefit, £1,598.99 in council tax benefit and £14,264.46 in income support, making a total of £25,731.53.

The couple first caught the attention of Fareham Borough Council’s fraud team in 2009 after claiming in an email to the council about their benefits claim that they weren’t working – using a business email address.

Mr Webb later walked in on a home visit by a benefits officer still wearing an employer’s ID badge.

However, the investigation dragged on for two years until officers eventually traced the money to a hidden bank account.

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of the council, said: ‘The taxpayers of Fareham will feel absolutely fleeced.

‘We put a great deal of effort into these investigations and taking them to prosecution.

‘It’s a slap in the face to get no compensation.’

‘And where is this £25,000? In these sorts of cases I think the bailiffs should be sent in to see what can be recovered.’