Benefits cheat claimed £41k while living in Spain

Kathleen Jones, 63, lied in interview even after she was caught and presented with flight information obtained by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Hull Crown Court heard.

Jayne Bryan, prosecuting, said of her interview on April 24 last year: “She was to say initially that she only visited Spain about once every three months and stayed with her cousin, and latterly friends.

“She denied ever living permanently in Spain. When shown the flight details and other evidence she accepted that in fact she had spent long periods of time in Spain, but didn’t accept that she had ever lived there – despite having a registered address in Malaga.”

Jones, of Trinity Garth, Skidby, later changed her position, accepting she moved to Spain as a resident in 2015.

In total, she was overpaid a total of £41,467.19 in disability living allowance (DLA), housing benefit, and council tax benefit between 2012 and 2017.

But that figure did not take into account Jones’s basis of plea, which was accepted by prosecutors, the court heard.

In her basis of plea, she said: “The period of the indictment ranges from 2012 to 2017. I did not live in Spain throughout that period.

“I was visiting friends in Spain regularly in 2012 and 2013. I should have notified the department of this.

“Following back surgery in 2014 I started to spend more time in Spain and agree that from 2015 I would be considered to be resident in Spain.

“Throughout the period that I claimed DLA I had genuine health problems that were alleviated by warm weather.”

Jones pleaded denied three counts of fraud at a pre-trial preparation hearing, but later changed her pleas to guilty.

Miss Bryan said she had been in receipt of disability allowance between August 1, 1997, and October 24, 2017. That was awarded on the basis Jones was deemed “virtually unable to walk” and needed help to prepare meals due to spondylosis in her neck, shoulders and lower back.

“That benefit was paid directly into Mrs Jones’s bank account,” Miss Bryan said.

“She had a duty to inform the Department for Work and Pensions of any change in her circumstances, including any change of address, and to inform them if she intended to leave the country for more than four weeks.”

Jones received housing benefit between March 16, 2009, and December 16, 2018, and council tax benefit between March 16, 2009, and March 31, 2013. These benefits became payable to her because she received DLA.

Jones was under a duty to inform East Riding Council of any change in circumstances that may affect the amount of benefit or entitlement to benefit.

Flight information recovered by the DWP suggested Jones spent “the majority of her time in Spain” between January 13, 2012, and September 10, 2017, Miss Bryan said.

“She accepts that she visited Spain regularly in 2012 and 2013 and that she should have notified the relevant department of this,” the prosecutor said.

“The defendant accepts that in 2014 she started to spend even more time in Spain and moved there as a resident in 2015.”

“Any mechanism in place for recovery of the overpayment?” asked Judge Paul Watson QC, Honorary Recorder of Hull and East Riding.

“I anticipate that is the case,” Miss Bryan said. “I’m told she has a lack of funds.”

The judge said a pre-sentence report said funds were being stopped, but then reinstated because that “left her with nothing”.

Richard Thompson, for Jones, said she was paying £50 a month back for council tax benefit, but nothing was in place to recover the other overpaid benefits.

Judge Watson said the case had had a “salutary” effect on Jones, whose mental health had suffered. It was also said she was not living a “lavish or luxurious lifestyle”.

Jones, who attended court with a walking stick, was sentenced to ten months in jail, suspended for 12 months. She was ordered to attend an alcohol treatment course and have up to eight days rehabilitation.