Sunderland mum pretended to have 18 children to claim £434,000 in tax credits

Her husband was spared instant jail

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A "greedy" mum who made fraudulent tax credit claims worth £434,000 for 18 children has been put behind bars.

Robert and Tracy Ashbridge. Pictures c/o Northumbria Police.Robert and Tracy Ashbridge. Pictures c/o Northumbria Police.
Robert and Tracy Ashbridge. Pictures c/o Northumbria Police.

HMRC worker Tracy Ashbridge applied for handouts for kids that did not exist, lied about her own family having severe disabilities and used her position at work to change former legitimate claimant's details to get her hands on cash.

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The 44-year-old, who earned 11k-per-year in the role she had held since 2012, used a total of nine bank accounts to receive the dishonest payouts between 2015 and 2019.

Tracy Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.Tracy Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.
Tracy Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.

Newcastle Crown Court heard mum-of-four Ashbridge, who admitted six charges of fraud, tried to pocket a total of £434,128 but managed to get away with £238,799.

Her husband Robert Ashbridge, also 44, who worked as a chef at a care home, admitted one fraud charge, relating to £182,000 of the fake claims but prosecutors said he also "encouraged" his wife's outrageous dishonesty.

The court heard the court during one text exchange, Ashbridge asked him: "Shall we have another child?"

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When he asked how they would manage, she responded with: "Not physically, LOL".

Prosecutor Andrew Espley said fraudulent claims were made for 18 children, both real and fake and told the court: "She received £238,799. In all she used nine bank accounts to facilitate the fraud.

"She was in control of all nine bank accounts."

Miss Recorder Caroline Sellars said the married mum's dishonesty was exposed after she got "greedy" and told her: "Losses like this are not simply swallowed up to nowhere.

"Only a custodial sentence can be imposed."

Recorder Sellars sentenced her to two years and four months behind bars.

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The recorder told the husband: "The Crown's case is you must have been aware of the claims, you encouraged your wife in her offending.

"You must have been aware of the conduct by your wife."

As an act of "mercy" for the Ashbridge family, his prison sentence of 18 months was suspended for two years, with rehabilitation requirements.

Robert Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.Robert Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.
Robert Ashbridge. Picture c/o Northumbria Police.

Tom Storey, defending, said the mum, who was dismissed by HMRC, felt like a "weight had been lifted" when her scam was uncovered and that she suffers from physical and mental health problems.

Mr Storey added that Ashbridge has waited a long time for her case to conclude and is a low risk of re-offending: "There is absolutely no prospect at all of her being before the courts after today."

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Nicholas Lane, defending the husband, told the court: "He says he did not appreciate the full extent of her activities until the point he was arrested and only when interviewed fully did he learn the sums involved."

The couple, from Plough Road, Sunderland, now face proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act where prosecutors will attempt to seize any assets they have.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We welcome the prison sentence handed down to Tracy Ashbridge who abused her position of trust and responsibility.

"By stealing from taxpayers Ashbridge also stole from public services used by us all.

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“HMRC is committed to the highest level of integrity, and we take the strongest possible action against the tiny minority who let us all down by falling short of those standards.

“We encourage anyone with information about tax fraud to report it online.”

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