Sunderland benefit cheat claimed £5,000

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A MAN working on a zero-hour contract fell foul of the law when he continued to claim unemployment benefits – conning taxpayers out of more than £5,000.

Fraudster Steven Wardell claimed £5,266 in job seekers’ allowance, housing and council tax benefits he was not entitled to.

Sunderland magistrates heard the 54-year-old had been claiming job seekers’ allowance for himself and his partner on the grounds that he was out of work.

Wardell, of Hedworth Court, Hendon, was caught after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) received a tip-off that he had been working for Velocity Driver Hire since October 2010.

Wardell pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances to the authorities spanning a period of almost two years.

“The original claim made by Mr Wardell was a legitimate claim for job seekers’ allowance,” defence solicitor Gavin Sword said.

“The problem here is that thereafter he works intermittently. It’s one of those zero-hour contracts. He only works when work is available.

“In 2008 he had been on benefits. He worked for 18 hours. He notified the DWP of that and was signed off benefits. It then took just over 11 weeks before benefits were reinstated. During that period of time he finds himself in the county court for non-payment of debt. He finds himself in quite a bad situation.

“He cannot face another 11 weeks without benefits. He is thinking ‘how am I going to pay my rent and keep the wolf from the door?’ as it were.

“He now accepts the over-payment. However, there were during that period of time some weeks when he didn’t work at all and he was fully entitled to benefits.

“During that period of time he says he on average worked 14.5 hours per week. The maximum he received when working a full week was £240. He was certainly not living beyond his means. He was struggling to get by.”

Wardell was handed a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work. He was told to pay £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

The DWP will seek to recover the full amount of the overpayment from him.