Sunderland pensioner cheated system out of Â£72,000 by hiding wife's existence
A benefit cheat pocketed more than Â£72,000 by hiding the fact he had a wife.
Louis Bell claimed state handouts for around 15 years on the basis he was a single man and did not mention he was married to a woman who was working.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the 69-year-old accepts his actions were "despicable" but said it started off due to his debts then he felt he "couldn’t get out of the hole he was in".
The court heard he is remorseful, apologetic and has started paying back the money he should never have claimed.
Bell, of Felstead Crescent, Sunderland, admitted four charges of benefit fraud and was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with a six month curfew from 7pm to 7am.
Prosecutor Nick Lane told the court: "Over the course of the life of the payments, there were a number of occasions when he was required to make new claims or confirm his details.
"He failed to declare he was in fact a married man and his wife was in receipt of a salary.
"He said his daughter lived with him but made no admission his wife was living there.
"Evidence showed she worked 24 hours a week and they were living together.
"The fraud was clearly fraudulent from the outset and he had numerous opportunities to set this right which he did not do."
The court heard Bell began claiming income support in 2000 on the basis he was a single man with no other source of income and this continued until 2008, when he reached retirement age.
From then until 2016 he got pension credit on the basis he was a single man.
Also, from 2000 to 2008, he was receiving housing benefit and council tax benefit from Sunderland Council.
Recorder Anthony Kelbrick told him: "For a long time you have been utterly dishonest and fraudulently claimed benefit and have deprived the public purse of £72,806 by your dishonesty.
"The only question I have to decide is whether or not, in the circumstances of your offending, it would be right to suspend the sentence of imprisonment.
"There are many judges sitting in this court who would simply say they would not even consider suspending such a sentence, despite your age and previous
good character. In this case I am prepared to suspend the sentence."
The court heard Bell has started paying back the money at a rate of £330 a month.
Jennifer Coxon, defending, said: "He is a well thought of father and husband and will do anything for his family to ensure they are supported.
"In 2000 there was a sense of desperation as he was in financial difficulties.
"He fully accepts this was an unlawful and despicable thing to do. It was out of sheer desperation to ensure he didn’t lose his family and property. He used the money to keep him afloat, for his debts and the mismanagement of his finances.
"After his interview with the DWP he felt such a sense of relief. He explained he couldn’t get out of the hole he was in. He didn’t appreciate the help that could have been offered from other services to manage his debts.
"He is now in a position where he is no longer in debt.
"He has to deal with the shame. His family are now fully aware of what he has done and are shocked at his behaviour.
"He wholeheartedly apologises to everyone involved."