A mum who falsely claimed more than £22,000 in benefits by saying she lived alone when she was actually sharing a house with her former partner has been spared jail.
Eileen Mitchell, who cares for her disabled daughter, had been receiving housing benefit and income support since 2011 while claiming she lived alone.
However, Mitchell had been living with her former partner Ian Gibson, who had moved in with her after they met up again in the street.
Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard that Mitchell, 58, who suffers from Crohn’s Disease and has depression, falsely claimed a total of £22,554 from between July 2011 and February 2016.
The mum-of-two pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting entitlement to benefits.
Defence solicitor Cheryl Ford told the hearing: “Ms Mitchell was initially making a claim that was legitimate.
“She separated from her ex-partner in 2006 because of his gambling habit.
“She has a disabled daughter who suffers from severe mental health problems.
“She was struggling to cope on her own.
“You could say her ex-partner has manipulated his way back into the home and she was dishonest in not admitting this.
“Any income she was getting from him was sporadic and not regular.”
Ms Ford added that her client, who was tearful in court, is remorseful for her actions.
She is now paying the money back at a rate of £20.40 per week for the income support overpayment and £20 a month for the housing benefit overpayment.
“She has spent her life dedicated to looking after her daughter and she is ashamed of the position she is now in,” said Ms Ford.
After interviewing Mitchell, Probation Service officer Alan Cutting told the court: “She and her ex-partner split up because he had a severe gambling problem.
“They had to remortgage.
“She moved into a different property and started claiming benefits which were legitimate at the time.
“She bumped into him in the street and he gave her a tale of woe about how his life was.
“She took pity on him and invited him into the home where she was living.
“Ms Mitchell carried on claiming but is very sorry for that. She says she was desperate.” Mr Cutting added that Mitchell’s ex-partner is still living with her but “like a tenant” and has a job meaning he can contribute financially.
District judge Roger Elsey sentenced Mitchell, of Dartington Close, Pennywell, to an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.
He told the defendant: “Benefit fraud costs honest taxpayers millions of pounds a year.
“It is an offence which is easy to commit and it has to be punished when detected.
“I am satisfied that a custodial sentence can be justified. The sentence can be suspended however.”
Mitchell was also ordered to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work, pay a victim surcharge of £115 and £85 in costs.