Man with �60,000 inheritance claimed benefits

A 33-YEAR-OLD man has appeared in court after spending more than �60,000 of inheritance while claiming benefits.

James Lawlor from Bury St Edmunds appeared at the magistrates’ court in the town yesterday charged with four offences of failing to notify a change of circumstances to the relevant authorities.

In total he had been overpaid �11,496.94 in council tax, housing benefits and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

In a statement St Edmundsbury Borough Council alleged he had withdrawn the inheritance over about eight months and kept it in a plastic bag in his bedroom.

The court heard how Lawlor, who admitted the offences, had spent a large amount of the cash on outings with friends, such as taking them to football matches and concerts.

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He failed to tell St Edmundsbury Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions he had received an inheritance of �61,569 while receiving the benefits.

Clare Dawson, prosecuting on behalf of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said in August 2007 Lawlor received �50,000 which was credited to an undeclared Abbey bank account and then a further �11,569 in the October.

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Miss Dawson told how in November 2007 officers from the council’s benefits team made a visit to his house, but he failed to mention the cash, which he received when an uncle died, and also failed to bring it to light in claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

After a member of the public made an anonymous call that Lawlor, of Raingate Street, was withdrawing hundreds of pounds a day from the Abbey bank information was obtained which led to the account where the money was held.

Miss Dawson said when presented with the evidence he admitted receiving the money, saying he had lent some to friends and none had been repaid, he had given some away and some had been stolen, though he never reported it to police.

On April 21, 2008, there was only �6.06 left in the account.

Claire Furlong, mitigating, said in Lawlor’s case it was pretty much a question of “putting his head in the sand and ignoring a situation that was only going to get worse from the moment it started”.

She said the situation perpetuated itself through fear of the repercussions, adding how at the time he received the inheritance he “wasn’t quite sure in his mind”.

“He says now common sense would say it would affect your benefits,” she said.

Ms Furlong said over the years Lawlor had had difficulties with anxiety and depression and had not been in steady work since leaving school due to health difficulties.

She said in the last 10 years he had lost his mother, aunt, cousin and a number of relatives, including the uncle.

Lawlor was released on unconditional bail and will appear back in court on November 4 as a pre-sentence report needed to be completed.

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