Stradbroke/Essex: Couple to sell house in France to pay court order after claiming £35,000 in benefits

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A SUFFOLK couple who dishonestly claimed more than £35,000 in benefits have been ordered by a court to sell their home in France to pay compensation for the money they were overpaid.

Darren and Susan Ward, of Kersley Hall Lane, Stradbroke were both given suspended prison sentences last December after admitting fraud.

At a proceeds of crime hearing at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday Alison Lambert, prosecuting, said the Wards’ home in France was expected to realise £23,000 when it was sold.

She said the couple had each benefited from their criminal conduct by £17,067 and their realisable assets were £11,500 each after the French property was sold.

Judge Rupert Overbury made a confiscation order of £11,500 in respect of each of the defendants and ordered the money to be paid as compensation to Mid Suffolk District Council.

After being told that the Wards had no money and were entitled to benefits Judge Overbury said he would not make them pay £2,500 costs.

Miss Lambert said the outstanding amount owed by the couple after their house had been sold would be deducted from their benefit entitlement.

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At the couple’s sentencing hearing last year the court heard that Darren Ward claimed benefits in 2007 as a single parent for a privately rented property near Chelmsford while he was living in France and his children were attending a French school.

Meanwhile his wife Susan, who worked for HM Treasury in London, was living in the rented house at Stock and was travelling to France to join them at weekends, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

When Darren Ward returned to the UK in 2009 the whole family moved to privately rented accommodation in Stradbroke. He continued to say he was a single parent but his wife was living with him and still working at HM Treasury.

Officers became suspicious when the letting agents for the property in Stradbroke wrote to Mid Suffolk District Council to inform them that the new tenants were a Mr and Mrs Ward. It was then that the tenancy agreement supplied by Darren Ward was found to be false. It was also discovered that Darren Ward had supplied Chelmsford Borough Counil with a false tenancy document for the address in Stock.

Darren Ward, 42 admitted six offences of fraud and two offences of counterfeiting and forgery and was given a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work.

Susan Ward, 49 admitted four offences of fraud and was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 100 hours unpaid work.

Jonathan Goodman, for the couple, said they had moved to France as a temporary measure after Darren Ward suffered a breakdown and had to stop work.

Susan Ward had taken a career break, but had been forced to return to work in the UK when their money ran out.

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