DECEPTIVE Helen Batchelor fraudulently claimed more than £34,000 in benefits – despite having nearly £50,000 sitting in several different bank accounts.
The 54-year-old carried out the fraud over six years and was caught by officers at Fareham Borough Council only when data on a shared government system flagged up that she earned an unusually high amount of interest.
We have a zero tolerance of benefit cheats because it is the public’s money that they are stealing and in this case it was clearly not a mistake as it was a prolonged and intricate fraud.Fareham’s council leader Sean Woodward
The brazen fraudster appeared at Fareham Magistrates’ Court charged with five counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit, which took place from July 2007 until February 2013.
The court heard that not only did Batchelor, of Blaven Walk, Fareham, hide the fact that she had up to 17 undeclared bank accounts, she even had the gall to complain to the council about bedroom tax in 2013 while she was £48,000 in credit.
She also moaned to the council in 2008 about her council tax account being £20 in credit, which she made the authority refund her.
Prosecuting Duncan Milne said: ‘Audacious is a word that I have used earlier to describe these acts, and it is a word that I will use again.’
After Fareham Borough Council became suspicious of Batchelor’s activity, it requested information from her in November 2013, which she ignored.
When she was eventually interviewed in April 2014, she submitted a prepared statement admitting to four undeclared bank accounts with a total balance of around £10,000, which kept her below the £16,000 per year threshold she needed to carry on claiming benefits.
When Batchelor, who works for Hampshire County Council as a part-time child minder, finally accepted that she was caught out, she paid back the £34,016.64 she owed in full within one month.
Her defence Umar Khan said: ‘In short, she expresses that she had concerns about her long-term financial security and she had accumulated savings and has separated them from her bank account.’
He added: ‘The money has been repaid in full and there is no suggestion that the monies were used to support an ostentatious lifestyle or a lifestyle beyond her means.’
Magistrates sent Batchelor, who pleaded guilty to all five counts, to Portsmouth Crown Court for sentencing.
Leader of Fareham Borough Council, Councillor Seán Woodward, condemned the fraud.
He said: ‘It is absolutely scandalous, beyond audacious. She committed a series of outrageous acts out of pure greed. We have zero tolerance of benefit cheats because it is the public’s money they are stealing and in this case it was clearly not a mistake as it was a prolonged and intricate fraud.’
Cllr Woodward also urged people with suspicions about benefit cheats to call the council’s hotline on 01329 824667.