A Burnley mum of three has escaped a jail sentence after admitting a three year benefits fraud totalling £18,000.
Burnley Crown Court was told that Nicola Higginbotham committed “fraud from the start” with the Department of Work and Pensions when she claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit between October 2012 and July 2015.
Prosecutor David Potter told the court that Higginbotham (28), of Moorland Road, was “dishonest from the outset” and was actually sharing the home with her partner Brian Kearney, a shift worker.
There had only been a temporary spell of one or two months where Mr Kearney had lived with his grandmother in 2013, the court heard.
Mr Potter told the court that two days after setting up the support, Higginbotham and Kearney jointly signed for a loan for a car.
Among other evidence, Mr Potter said a number of white goods paid for by Mr Kearney were delivered to the address and his Facebook described Higginbotham as his missus.
Mr Potter said that one year after claiming she was a single parent, she and Mr Kearney welcomed their third child and both put their home address as Moorland Road.
When first interviewed in 2015, despite the overwhelming evidence put before her, Higginbotham said the couple had split in 2012 because of his gambling issues.
When interviewed again in July 2015, the court heard she had changed tack and that he had moved back in but only for a period of eight weeks.
Higginbotham, who had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to four counts of benefit fraud at Burnley Magistrates Court.
She was given a 10 month prison sentence suspended for two years.
Philip Holden (defending) said the relationship between Higginbotham and Mr Kearney had been on/off and there were periods of time that they were not together.
All of Mr Kearney’s wages were now going into her account, Mr Holden told the court, because of his gambling problems and drinking problems for which he was seeking help.
Mr Holden told the court that if Higginbotham was jailed, Mr Kearney simply would not be able to look after the children because of his job.
Judge Mark Brown said: “I have no doubt that you knew exactly what you were doing and you were defrauding the Department of Work and Pensions in a serious way.”
Judge Brown said Higginbotham had “foolishly” tried to deny the offences at first in interview but “very wisely had the good sense” to plead guilty when it came to the magistrates court. He also said she had been “greedy”.
Judge Brown added that Higginbotham should consider herself very lucky not be going to prison and that her children had saved her from an immediate jail sentence.