Former Sunderland computer programmer ‘disgusted with herself’ after £40,000 benefit fraud

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A WOMAN has admitted wrongfully claiming more than £40,000 in benefits.

Doreen Smith, of Hillcrest, Sunderland, claimed income support and council tax benefit which she was not entitled to for more than 13 years.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 57-year-old claimed a total of £42,086.02 between 1999 and 2012 after failing to declare she was receiving payments from a health insurance policy.

Stuart Graham, prosecuting, said: “The defendant was in receipt of income support from July 1998. She was incapable of working due to her health. She started receiving council tax benefit in September 1999.

“On November 3, 1998, she received her first payment from her insurance policy.

“When the defendant was interviewed on March 13, 2012, she said she thought of the insurance policy as compensation, not income.

“She said it was her fault for not reading the forms properly. She was unaware she was doing anything wrong.”

Nigel Barnes, defending, said: “These proceedings have caused the defendant a great deal of anguish. She has broken down several times.

“This is a woman who through her 20s, 30s and early 40s never relied on state benefits. She was devoted to her career and worked as a computer programmer in Newcastle and then Sunderland.

“What happened next is every employee’s nightmare. She did something wrong in her programming and the consequences were quite substantial for her employer.

“She had a complete breakdown, and she has never been able to work since.

“She had no idea how long this condition would last. She hoped she would recover and get back to how she was. She had no idea in 1999 that she would be how she is now.

“This is a terrifying ordeal for her. She is humiliated.”

Smith pleaded guilty to four charges of producing a document which she knew to be false.

Mr Recorder Kerr QC said: “The information that you gave was to the effect that the insurance policy payments were not available to you.

“You did not disclose that they were available to you. This is a serious offence.

“I am conscious that you are a woman of good character. I am also conscious you have had a difficult time.

“You are genuinely, unlike a lot of people, sorry and disgusted with yourself.”

Smith, who has paid back the debt, was sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £250 in prosecution costs.