An estate agent who claimed nearly £4,900 in housing benefit despite renting out a house she part-owned has been found guilty of benefit fraud.
Toni Wenlock, of Frewen Road, Rugby, denied dishonestly making a statement to Rugby Borough Council in order to claim £4,830 in housing benefit, and failing to tell the council of a change in her circumstances.
But the 46-year-old was found guilty at Nuneaton Magistrates Court and on Monday was sentenced to a 12-month community order.
Wenlock applied for housing benefit in July 2012, claiming she had no income to pay her rent. When she started work as a self-employed estate agent in October 2012, she still qualified for housing benefit due to her low income.
But in April 2013 the council received information Mrs Wenlock part-owned a house in Lytham Road, Rugby, which was rented out for more than £650 a month.
Council fraud officers launched an investigation, and when Wenlock was interviewed she confirmed she had failed to declare her part-ownership of the property and the bank account her share of the rent was paid into.
But at a hearing at Nuneaton Magistrates Court in February, Wenlock pleaded not guilty to the two charges and the case was sent to trial on June 11.
Her defence told magistrates Mrs Wenlock’s ill health - and the medication she was taking - led her to fill in the housing benefit application form incorrectly, and her actions were not dishonest.
Magistrates were also told Mrs Wenlock had now paid back all the falsely claimed housing benefit to the council.
After finding her guilty of both charges, magistrates adjourned the case for sentencing at Monday’s hearing, when Mrs Wenlock was given a 12 month community order, consisting of a 12 month supervision order and a three month curfew from 8pm to 8am, enforced by an electronic tag.
Mrs Wenlock was also ordered to pay £3,198 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.
Speaking after the hearing, Cllr Leigh Hunt, the borough councillor responsible for ‘sustainable inclusive communities’, said: “This sentence sends a clear message to benefit cheats - the courts share the council’s commitment to cracking down on benefit fraud.
“We’re here to make sure those who need the support of the benefits system receive it.
“However, those who try and cheat the system need to know we’ll have no hesitation in taking the case to court.”
Anyone with concerns about their benefit claim should contact the council’s benefits team on (01788) 533433.
Residents who wish to report suspected cases of benefit fraud can call the council in strictest confidence on (01788) 533460 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.