A mentally-ill woman who saved some of her benefits as a nest-egg for her old age has been convicted of benefit fraud. Had Pauline Ford, 58, spent the money on anything at all, she would have committed no offence. But because she lived frugally and saved for a rainy day, while continuing to claim benefits, she has been hit with a double punishment. She has been forced to repay more than £28,000 and received a suspended prison sentence. Jo Martin, prosecuting, told Plymouth Crown Court that prior to 2005, Ford received incapacity benefit and disabled living allowance, neither of which were means-tested, and housing and council tax benefits, which were.
In 2005, she applied for housing and council tax benefits without declaring that she had saved around £15,000-£16,000 from her previous benefits. In 2008, she applied for income support – another means-tested benefit – but failed to declare that she had by now saved £21,000, which she had invested in a Nationwide fixed bond. Plymouth City Council carried out a 'Midas' check which revealed her savings, and in 2010, Miss Ford was interviewed by the council and Department of Work and Pensions investigators. She admitted she had hoarded the money and should have told the authorities about it. Miss Martin said the total overpayment of £28,205.76 had all since been repaid, and Ford was now back living on benefits.
She said that claimants were entitled to hold savings of £3,000 to £16,000, but received lower benefits on a sliding scale. Ali Rafati, for Ford, said his client had a learning disability and had been admitted to mental health units for up to three months at a time. He said: "Miss Ford became very worried about how she would cope in old age. For many years she has been living on a shoestring in a rusty mobile home with her 15 year-old dog, saving money for her old age. She saved, not spent, but what she put in the bank resulted in overpayment." Mr Rafati added: "She has now paid back £6,000 more than she saved.
"Had she spent the money, she would never have come to court. She has no convictions or cautions, and is terrified of being here today." The Judge, Recorder Jeremy Wright, noted that Ford, of Valley Walk, Glenholt Park, Plymouth, had admitted three counts of benefit fraud. He said: "On the face of it, this is yet another benefit fraud in a large sum of money. I accept that you have problem with mental health, but I don't accept that you didn't know what you were doing." Recorder Wright passed a jail sentence of four months suspended for two years, with 12 months' supervision by the Probation Service, but made no order for costs or compensation.