A BENEFIT cheat who fraudulently claimed more than £34,000 - despite having nearly £50,000 sitting in several different bank accounts - has been sent to jail.
Helen Batchelor was condemned by Recorder Michael Parroy QC, who said her actions had deprived people making ‘proper claims’ and it had taken money from other public expenses.
Batchelor, 55, appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court today for sentencing for five counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit, which took place from July 2007 until February 2013.
The part-time childminder, who works for Hampshire County Council, pleaded guilty to all five offences at Fareham Magistrates’ Court when she appeared there last month, but magistrates sent her to crown court so she could receive a higher sentence.
Batchelor, of Blaven Walk, Fareham, was caught by officers at Fareham Borough Council when data on a shared government system flagged up that she earned an unusually high amount of interest.
When she finally admitted the fraud, she had nearly £50,000 in 17 undeclared bank accounts and she paid back the £34,016.64 she owed in full within one month.
Batchelor, who appeared at court wearing all black with a packed bag, said she had set aside the money for her ‘future retirement.’
Her defence Tom Wilkins said she had acquired the savings by selling jewellery and said that she was of previous good character.
Although, he said: ‘There’s little I can say to mitigate the offence, it was a long fraud with some unattractive features.’
Prosecutor Duncan Milne said that Batchelor even had the gall to complain about bedroom tax and to claim a £20 credit back from the council, despite having £48,000 in savings.
He said: ‘The court may think that audacious when she had enough funds to maintain her lifestyle.’
Recorder Parroy QC did not look kindly at the offences.
He said: ‘This was actually obviously carefully planned, it was actually quite sophisticated. All these different accounts... It seems to be me the purpose of opening all these different accounts was to conceal the true nature of her available resources.’
He said he believed that ‘conscious thought’ had gone into the opening of accounts so that she could get the most advantageous rates.
Recorder Parroy told Batchelor: ‘Thousands and thousands and thousands of people in this country deal with the various government and local authority departments that administer the benefits system and they do so honestly and make honest declarations and receive what they are entitled to.
‘They and the taxpayer, who have to fund this process, are entitled to look with considerable horror at what you have done because those who dishonestly obtain benefits in the way you have, discredit the system and bring a measure of unwarranted suspicion on those who claim benefits and do so honestly.
‘I have no doubt at all that you embarked on a careful, methodical and some might say cynical exploitation of the benefits system.’
He sentenced her to 12 months imprisonment for each of the five offences to run concurrently, totalling one year. As the court had heard she had no money left, after she had spent all her savings paying rent when the council stopped her housing and council tax benefit, he made no order for costs, but did impose a victim surcharge.