A JUDGE has hit out at benefit cheats after sentencing a Port Talbot woman for claiming more than £61,000 she was not entitled to.
Melanie Evans, of Marine Drive, Sandfields, fraudulently claimed £61,144.03 of income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit from 2005 to 2010 while living with her then partner Mark Boucher.
She had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of dishonestly failing to notify changes of circumstance to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which brought the prosecution.
Yesterday at Swansea Crown Court, Judge Keith Thomas said Evans should have notified the DWP that Mr Boucher was living in her house.
"You should have declared that, and you chose not to," he said. "Those who continue to claim benefit place a great strain on the welfare system as a whole and divert funds from those who require them rather more."
Prosecutor Christian Howells told the court that Evans, 40, began claiming for the three types of benefit in 2002 as a lone parent with two young children, one of whom had disabilities.
A complaint was made in 2009 that she was living with her partner, who was found to be working full-time for a scaffolding firm. Evans was advised repeatedly that she was required to inform the DWP of changes in her circumstances.
An investigation subsequently revealed that Mr Boucher had applied for finance using the Marine Drive address in 2007 and had obtained Sky television there back in 2004.
The couple also had joint bank accounts, and surveillance carried out in 2009 showed Mr Boucher was living there.
In an interview with the DWP, Evans said Boucher was living with her but that he would only stay a few nights a week. But she accepted that almost all of his mail was delivered there and that they had joint bank accounts.
Mr Howells added that Evans had been making voluntary repayments to the DWP — deducted from her carers' allowance — of £17.96 per week since last July.
Defending Evans, Robin Rouch said that his client had pleaded guilty, and described her relationship with Mr Boucher as "turbulent".
He said: "That is one of the reasons she didn't declare it, although she accepts this was not any excuse."
He added that, according to Evans, there were difficulties between Mr Boucher and her daughter.
Mr Rouch added: "She said, 'I have lost my self-respect'.
"Mr Boucher has left her and left her with debts. He paid the rent on the property, and when he left she realised there were 14 weeks unpaid."
He added: "She has no assets now."
Evans was given a 24-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
The DWP said she must repay the money she owes.
Lord Freud, DWP Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "When people receive benefits from us they enter into a contract to tell us of any change in their circumstances. Deliberately not doing so is a crime."