Couple who defrauded Hampshire councils of more than £66,000 spared jail

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

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

The pair - who were caught out following an anonymous tip-off - claimed they were living at the same property as resident landlord and single parent tenant.

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

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 Auston.

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

Portsmouth Crown Court heard in mitigation that unemployed Austin, 33, and Brown, 40, are not in a relationship and no longer live together.

Nick Cotter, defending Austin, who is in poor health and previously a victim of domestic violence, said the pair’s relationship was based on kindness.

Mr Cotter said: ‘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 into his bank account, although he did derive some financial gain from them.

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

Neither Austin or Brown, 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 in the next year.

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 in court costs.

Nicholas Haggan QC, sentencing, said: ‘Offences of this nature are difficult to detect, difficult to investigate and difficult to prove.

‘For that reason they are easily committed.

‘Those who commit such offences commit fraud on society as a whole and in my view this is a serious case.’

A confiscation order was made under the Proceeds of Crime Act for Brown to repay £30,267.92 within seven days.