Barnsley benefits cheat claimed £17k

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A benefits cheat said she did not declare she was married because her husband was gay - and she did not consider them to be a real couple, a court heard.

Mum-of-three Julie Matthews, aged 48, narrowly escaped jail after she admitted dishonestly claiming £17,541 in benefits.

She was ordered to pay back the money at a rate of £19 a week - which will take her 17-and-a-half years.

Barnsley Magistrates’ Court heard Matthews and her husband Ian married in 2003 but had not lived together ‘for a significant period of time’ before he moved back home in 2011.

But she failed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions and the council of the change in her circumstances, the court was told.

When confronted by benefits investigators, Matthews said her husband stayed with her ‘now and again’ and she had failed to declare she was married.

“She said she did not consider them to be a couple because Mr Matthews was gay,” prosecutor Jayne Ormrod said.

Matthews, of Hough Lane, Wombwell, Barnsley, admitted falsely claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, housing and council tax benefits and two social fund loans.

The prosecutor said: “On one occasion she said she lived alone, was not working, and had no other finances.

“On another occasion she said she was too ill to work.

“She later said she should have declared that she was living with her husband and there had been a change in her circumstances.”

Morgan Hogarth, defending Matthews, said before 2011 her husband had not been living with her.

He said she had suffered problems with the neighbours and was ‘frightened’ so her husband had moved back in to help her.

“They were husband and wife, but were not necessarily living together as husband and wife,” he said.

Mr Hogarth said the former carer’s father was terminally ill with cancer and she would miss his last few months if she was jailed.

He said she had three children from her first relationship, which broke up when she was 23, and now has five grandchildren.

Mr Hogarth said she regularly cared for four of them, along with her niece.

Matthews’ husband was in court to support her.

She was given a 20-week jail term suspended for 12 months.

“You committed a clear fraud on the public purse over a significant period of time,” said the bench chairwoman.

Matthews was also told she must do 100 hours’ unpaid work, was given a night time curfew, and must do a specified activity for 15 days which would involve working with female offenders.

Matthews, who now has a job as a cleaner, declined to comment as she left court.