A benefit cheat who claimed he was so disabled he could hardly walk was caught out – after being spotted working as a National Trust volunteer at the top of Penshaw Monument.
Throughout his three years volunteering at the iconic Wearside landmark, accessible only by a steep climb including about 70 steps, Graham Maughan pocketed disability living allowance (DLA) at the highest mobility rate, Sunderland magistrates heard.
Information was received that he was working as a volunteer for the National Trust at the top of Penshaw Monument. He had declared that he could only walk 25 yards or for five to 10 minutes before experiencing severe discomfort and that he suffered from this seven days a weekLaura Johnson, prosecuting
The 48-year-old had told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was in constant pain, seven days a week, and could walk only a few steps.
However, his cover was blown after an anonymous tip-off was made to the National Benefit Fraud hotline.
Prosecutor Laura Johnson said Maughan claimed a total of £8,710 he was not entitled to during a 158-week period between February 19, 2012, and March 3, 2015.
He had been in receipt of the same benefit since September 8, 1993, on the basis that he was unable to walk, the court heard.
She said the money was paid into his post office account on the basis that he would notify the department of any changes in his circumstances.
“The defendant was prosecuted on the basis that he failed to declare a change in his circumstances, namely that there had been an improvement in his mobility,” Mrs Johnson said.
“On February 22, 2015, information was received that he was working as a volunteer for the National Trust at the top of Penshaw Monument.
“He had declared that he could only walk 25 yards or for five to 10 minutes before experiencing severe discomfort, and that he suffered from this seven days a week. He completed a claim on that basis.
“He said he was forced to use a walking stick and wore a brace on his left foot and was still in pain.”
Maughan, of Gelt Crescent, Easington Lane, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to declare a change in circumstances.
James Palmer, defending, said Maughan made full admissions in interview and has started to make repayments.
“He is still on DLA just, not at the higher level,” Mr Palmer said. “He still has difficulty walking, but not to the same extent as in 1993.
“He was in a car accident and both his legs were shattered. He was in a wheelchair for a year. This was not a fraudulent claim at the start.
“He was entitled to the DLA at the higher level.
“As the years have gone by, he’s been able to become not better, but more capable, and because over the years he’s become more capable, he’s no longer been entitled to the higher rate.
“He took this job to get out of the house. He volunteered with the National Trust.
“Of course Penshaw Monument is up a hill, 70 steps up a hill. That’s clearly not someone who needs the higher rate of DLA.”
Bench chairman Janet Hutton said: “We have noted that it is over 30 years since you have committed an offence and given your clean history and your original qualification for benefits, we are prepared to deal with this offence by means of a fine. We also note that you are paying back the benefits that you were overpaid.”
Maughan was fined £80, with £85 costs and £20 surcharge.
The Department for Work and Pensions has warned that those found abusing the benefits system will be brought to justice.
A spokesman for the department said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are rooting out the unscrupulous minority who are cheating the system and diverting taxpayers’ money from those who really need it.
“We are determined to find those we suspect of abusing the welfare system by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils.
“Deliberately not informing us of a change in your condition that may affect your claim is a crime.
“Don’t wait for our fraud investigators to find you – tell us of a change now.
“If you suspect someone of fraudulently claiming benefits, then call our National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440.”