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Walberswick: Villagers’ shame at benefit cheat tag

12:55 13 March 2014

Ipswich Crown Court

Ipswich Crown Court

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A Walberswick couple were overpaid more than £20,000 benefits after failing to tell officials they were working for a local car park company, a court has heard.

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John Harris, 68, was employed as operations manager for Walberswick Car Parks Ltd and dishonestly obtained £16,975 in pension credits by failing to disclose he and his wife were in employment, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

When he was questioned about the overpayment he admitted working for the car park company for six months a year. When asked why he had not told the relevant authority about it he said: “I didn’t think of it, to be perfectly honest.” He also said he ticked the wrong box on a claim form.

His wife Sylvia, 71, was overpaid £8,000 in council tax benefit after failing to tell Suffolk Coastal District Council that the couple’s household had increased.

John Harris, of Church Field, Walberswick, admitted making a dishonest representation to obtain benefit and was given a 13-week electronically-monitored curfew between 8pm-6am.

His wife, of the same address, admitted failing to notify a change in circumstances that would affect her entitlement to council tax benefit and was given a conditional discharge for 12 months.

Sentencing the couple, Assistant Judge Advocate General, Judge Emma Peters, said she accepted the couple had suffered great shame as a result of the offences by being labelled “benefit cheats”.

She said Sylvia Harris’s initial claim for council tax benefit had been genuine and it was accepted she had not acted dishonestly in failing to notify a change in circumstances.

Sentencing John Harris, Judge Peters said the charge was more serious but due to his previous good character and the circumstances of the case the custody threshold was not crossed.

Jonathan Goodman, for the couple, said they were both of previous good character and had lost their good names. He said they lived in a small village and were now known for being benefit cheats. “That’s not a nice tag,” he said.

He said Sylvia Harris had written out a cheque for the money she was overpaid and her husband intended doing the same after being told before yesterday’s hearing exactly how much he owed.

He said Sylvia Harris’s claim was genuine at the outset and she had not been asked to fill in another form during the next four years.

Mr Goodman said John Harris had initially applied for benefits perfectly properly. After being approached to run the car park he had written a letter to the local council in relation to council tax and housing benefit payments. However he had not notified a separate department which dealt with pension credits.

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