A Rugby father dishonestly received £40,000 in benefit payments after failing to declare he and his wife had up to £50,000 of savings in a bank account.
But despite a judge at Warwick Crown Court telling him ‘that sort of benefit fraud has to be discouraged,’ Stephen Ford escaped an immediate prison sentenced.
Instead he was given a nine-month sentence suspended for two years, with supervision for 12 months, and was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work and to pay £500 costs.
Ford, aged 48, of Bawnmore Road, Bilton, Rugby, had pleaded guilty to four offences of failing to declare that he and his wife had capital and savings above the allowed limit for benefit.
Prosecutor Amrisha Parathalingam said the charges related to his claim for income support and, as a result of that, his receipt of housing and council tax benefits.
Since 2008 Ford had received a total of £40,060 to which he was not entitled, made up of £15,678 in income support, £19,395 in housing benefit and £4,987 in council tax payments.
He had begun claiming incapacity benefit, which does not have a limit on capital, and income support in 2008.
But when he filled out the income support claim forms he not only failed to declare the capital he had, but made assertions that he had a bank balance of just £237.
Ford said his mother-in-law was living with them at the time to help care for their son, who had been diagnosed as autistic, and that they did not receive any money from her.
But in fact there had been deposits, some of which were for large amounts, from her into his and his wife’s bank account over a three-year period.
And Recorder Christopher Tickle observed that at one point there was more than £50,000 in the account.
Sums of money were being paid in by Ford’s mother-in-law, and his wife was a partner in her mother’s business, said Miss Parathalingam.
When Ford was questioned about his fraud, he said the payments into the account were ‘gifts’ to help with the care of his son.
And he added that although he may have been working during some of the period, he was only claiming expenses.
Sally Hancox, defending, commented: “This is an offence where there is a deal of wrong prioritisation.”
She said Ford’s son is ‘significantly autistic and requires a great deal of assistance,’ but following the initial diagnosis the family, ‘through ill-judgement or otherwise, fought the diagnosis.’
“The finances being paid into the family account it would seem went, in the main, to assist his son, even to the extent that the family used approximately £8,000 to help pay for a teaching assistant to help keep him in mainstream education.”
And in reference to a psychiatric report on Ford, Miss Hancox added: “At the same time they were fighting for assistance for his child, there should have been some thought on his part to getting some assistance for himself.”
Sentencing Ford, Recorder Tickle told him: “You obtained from the public purse over £40,000 by falsely claiming benefit over a period of time.
“I appreciate there is a background which partly explains what you were doing, and that part of the money may have gone to help look after your son; although I am by no means convinced that all of it did by any stretch of the imagination.
“You had large sums of money coming in, and at one point we know there was over £50,000 in the account, and your wife was working in a business.
“That sort of benefit fraud has to be discouraged, and this is not a trivial case.
“Those involved in cases of this nature, in my judgement, do have to be seen as receiving custodial sentences, albeit that the sentences can be suspended.”