Sunderland benefit cheat faces 33 years repaying £60,000

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AN NHS worker could spend the 
next 33 years repaying nearly £60,000 he fraudulently claimed in benefits – despite being 66 now.

William Garner, of Hereford Court, Sunderland, was sentenced to 10 months in prison but allowed to walk free from court so he can continue working to pay back his debt.

Garner started legitimately claiming income support and incapacity benefit in June 2001 when he was unable to work because of sickness. From June 2003, he also claimed council tax benefit while still unemployed.

But in 2006, he got a job as a community support worker at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust where he worked until 2012, earning between £1,470 and £2,403 a month.

Garner continued claiming benefits and, in April 2007, even applied for pension credit, saying he was still out of work.

Lee Fish, prosecuting, said: “When the defendant was interviewed, he described being rather naive and assumed that when he started work, those paying the benefits would automatically become aware and stop paying.

“He did move from that position and say he was trying to put things right.”

Over a period of six years, Garner was paid £58,949 in benefits while working for the NHS.

Lewis Kerr, mitigating, said: “Naive is a word that is fair to describe his position.

“He is a man of 66 years of age with no previous convictions, and it is my submission that he will never enter this building again.

“Mr Garner is continuing to work and will continue to work indefinitely to meet the terms of the confiscation order.”

Garner is currently paying £143 a month in a voluntary agreement which, in theory, will see him working until he is 99.

Sentencing him, Judge Simon Hickey said: “Until you pleaded guilty, you were of good character which could probably be described as impeccable.

“I think the public is better served, even though they may think me lenient by doing so, if you are kept out of custody and repay the money.”

Garner admitted benefit fraud at an earlier hearing and was sentenced when he appeared at Newcastle Crown Court.

He was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months, and also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

He may also have property repossessed in order to help repay his debt, but this will be decided at a later hearing.