Dog-sitting benefits cheat stole £81,000

A businesswoman benefits cheat who got £81,000 she wasn't entitled to by claiming she was a single mum when she was married has walked free from court.

Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 2:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 2:57 pm
Burnley Magistrates' Court

Nicola Alcock (40), who was receiving housing benefit and tax credits, was caught after she put on the website of her firm, Barking Mad, a dog-sitting service, that she lived in Earby with her husband.

She lied when she was interviewed by the authorities and only owned up to being dishonest in the five-year scam when she was shown her marriage certificate, Burnley Crown Court was told.

The defendant, now jobless, who earlier gave her address to the lower court as Red Lees Road, Burnley, had admitted dishonestly failing to promptly notify Pendle Council of a change in circumstances and being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent payment of tax credits, by failing to disclose to HM Revenue and Customs that she was living as Mr Thornton's partner.

She had been committed for sentence by Burnley magistrates. Alcock had no previous convictions.

The defendant was given eight months in custody, suspended for two years, with 150 hours unpaid work. She will face a proceeds of crime hearing at a later date.

Mr Julian Goode (prosecuting) told the court the defendant made an application for tax credits on January 17th, 2006, on the basis she was single, with dependent children. The claim was legitimate at that stage.

She also made an application for housing benefit, on October 3rd, 2008. Mr Goode continued: "Again, at that stage, albeit briefly, it was a legitimate claim."

The prosecutor said: "Matters altered on December 13th, 2008. That was the date she married Gerard Thornton and thereafter maintained a common household with him. The change in circumstances would have affected her entitlement to benefits and she failed to notify the authorities."

Mr Goode said Alcock was overpaid tax credits totalling £58,721.91 and housing benefit in the sum of £22,856.29. The total overpayment was £81,578.20.

The prosecutor told the hearing there was a series of pieces of evidence and documentation which asserted Alcock and Mr Thornton were in fact living together.

Mr Goode continued: "On the defendant's own business home page, Barking Mad, she described herself as living in Earby with her husband."

He said: "She was interviewed on November 9th 2015 and during the course of that interview initially said the relationship started in 2009. Of course, we know the marriage was in 2008."

Mr Goode went on: "She was later shown her marriage certificate and accepted what she had said during the course of the interview had been lies and she had been dishonest."

Mr Richard Dawson, in mitigation, said the defendant was currently not working. He continued: "That's primarily because she didn't want to take up employment only to lose her liberty and leave. She is keen to rejoin the workforce and gain stability in her life."

Sentencing, Recorder Simon Hilton told Alcock: "A suspended sentence order is justified notwithstanding the gravity of the offences."

Recorder Hilton continued: "You have two children who are still substantially dependent on you being around for them."

The judge added: "Everything I have read about you suggests this behaviour is out of character for you and, more importantly, is wholly unlikely to be repeated in the future."