A woman who dishonestly claimed more than £23,700 in benefits has been spared an immediate prison term.
Jaqueline Proctor, whose address was previously given in court as Greenwood Road, Penryn, pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to notify a change in circumstance between June 1, 2015 and October 19, 2018.
By failing to contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) she was able to claim Employment Support Allowance, and she also claimed Housing Benefit from Cornwall Council, having informed neither party that she and another were “living together as part of a married couple” – therefore affecting her entitlement.
Truro Crown Court heard that the 55-year-old accepted the charges on the basis that she was “involved in coercion” by the man she was living with at the time.
The prosecutor pointed out this had not been raised in earlier interviews, before going on to summarise the figures involved – a claim of just over £13,808 from the DWP and £9,914 from Cornwall Council.
The charges were brought following a visit by Cornwall Council, as a result of an anonymous tip-off that the defendant had her partner living at her address.
Proctor subsequently informed the council of this, but a week later retracted that, saying he had in fact moved out.
“The reality was he came to live at that address, when the defendant said he wasn’t living there anymore,” said the prosecutor, who added this was evidenced through bank accounts when both gave the same address, employment records of the partner giving her address, and money transfers showing the partner helping her with bills.
When interviewed in 2018, Proctor admitted there was a relationship, saying he stayed with her “most nights”, but that he returned to a different address where he lived.
However, when the police officer in charge visited the address in question – with Proctor having initially been unable to give it, before later providing details – he found no record of the partner staying there.
In mitigation for Proctor, the court was told she had been relocated to Cornwall from Manchester following “very significant domestic abuse”, but the move had given her a good degree of stability and she found work.
She then met a man who described to her a “very difficult personal situation” and she offered to support him.
Despite her suggestion of coercion “she doesn’t describe there being any threats,” said her defence barrister. “What she does describe is that the relationship was very haphazard.
“She also suggested he wasn’t financially supporting her at all.
“It’s clear this raised significant anxiety for her. I do believe she was living in very unhappy circumstances.”
He added that Proctor was now in a new, more stable relationship and was paying off a number of debts.
Judge Robert Linford told her: “You were entitled to benefit, but that entitlement changed when somebody moved in. He was working. You should have declared that fact.
“Later you said he wasn’t living with you when he was. You obtained £23,000 of which you were not entitled.”
He said this was enough to justify a prison sentence, but that he would suspend it.
For the offence against the DWP he sentenced her to 20 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, with a further ten weeks for the offence against Cornwall Council, again suspended for 12 months and to run concurrently (at the same time) to the first.