Couple spared jail for £75k fraud

A SUFFOLK couple who swindled £78,000 of taxpayers' money have avoided jail because of their disabled children.

Helen Skene

A SUFFOLK couple who swindled £78,000 of taxpayers' money have avoided jail because of their disabled children.

Angela Easterlow claimed £53,864 in income support and £24,292 in housing and council tax benefits while her husband Lee Easterlow was working full-time.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that, between April 2003 and June 2007, Mrs Easterlow signed benefit forms and attended interviews declaring that she lived alone when in fact she had lived with Mr Easterlow, had married him and had two children by him during this period.

Miranda Jollie, prosecuting for the Department of Work and Pensions, said Mrs Easterlow had been legitimately claiming for herself and her other three children before Mr Easterlow moved in.

She had then continued to claim benefits and lie to the authorities with her husband's knowledge.

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Ms Jollie said that only through a bizarre twist of fortune were the couple able to pay back the amount in full because an elderly neighbour Mrs Easterlow had cared for had died and left them his house.

Mr Easterlow, 39 and Mrs Easterlow, 40, both of Beaconsfield Road, Lowestoft, pleaded guilty to making false statements to obtain benefit.

Richard Potts, mitigating for Mrs Easterlow, said her five and 12-year-old sons suffered severe disabilities and as their mother she was their prime carer.

He said she “bitterly regrets” what she did and that she could have been claiming legitimate tax credits during the time she was falsely claiming income support.

He added: “It is clear they are not a high income family. The money did not pay for luxury holidays but for living hand-to-mouth with children who have health problems.

“This lady has fallen from grace in quite a spectacular manner but she is of previous good character and the offence is not one of violence.”

Sentencing the pair, Andrew Thompson, for Mr Easterlow, said although his client was aware his wife was claiming benefits, he had not signed the forms or received the money.

He said his client's employment was low paid at £270 per week and although he worked six days a week he would be willing to do unpaid work as punishment.

Judge David Goodin said: “It is to your benefit you have paid in full the money you took dishonestly and deceitfully from the tax payers of this country.

“This amount of money over this period of time should result in an immediate loss of liberty but it would be inappropriate to send you straight to prison because of the effect on the children and the effect on you knowing your actions had resulted in them going into care.”

He sentenced the couple to 12 months in prison but the terms were suspended for 12 months.

They were each told to do 200 hours unpaid work for the community and each pay £150 towards court costs.

They were warned that any breach of the orders or further offending would result in custody.

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