£20,000 Chesterton benefits cheat mum Sarah Sargeant spared jail
MUM-OF-THREE Sarah Sargeant, who cheated the state out of more than £20,000 benefits, has been spared an immediate jail sentence.
The 31-year-old, right, claimed income support together with housing and council tax benefits while living with her partner Andrew Holding, also known as Andrew Jones, Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard yesterday.
Harpreet Sandhu, prosecuting, said the pair had a child together in 2003 and began to live together from the middle of 2007.
But Sargeant failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the local authority they were living together.
She failed to inform them of a change in her circumstances when in 2009 Sargeant made a fresh claim for income support and made no mention of the fact she and Mr Holding were cohabiting.
And in June 2010 she had another opportunity to inform the authorities about them living together.
But again there was no mention of it on the claim forms.
Sargeant, of Brittain Avenue, Chesterton, pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to notify a change of circumstances in relation to her claims for benefits and one charge of fraud, by stating information on a claim form was correct when she was living in the same household as Mr Jones.
In total Sargeant was overpaid by £21,464.42 in benefits.
The court heard the defendant is repaying the money at a modest rate.
Elizabeth Power, mitigating, said the claims were not fraudulent from the outset.
She added that the defendant has faced the shame and stigma of her offending in her own neighbourhood.
"She and her family have been shouted at and faced a torrent of abuse," said Miss Power. "It has had an effect on her family."
Miss Power said Sargeant is unlikely to appear before a court again and asked Judge Robert Trevor-Jones to draw back from passing an immediate custodial sentence.
The judge sentenced the defendant to five months in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 12 months' supervision and 160 hours unpaid work.
He told Sargeant: "Over a considerable time, 10 years or more, you have been in receipt of benefits.
"It began as a legitimate entitlement. That is money that does not simply grow on trees, it is money produced by people working and paying tax to the government and then it is distributed to people in need. But there came a time when you dishonestly received money to which you were not entitled."
Judge Trevor-Jones added: "There is little surprise when there is anger in the community when someone like you has been effectively stealing from them, because that is what it is.
"Many will consider you fortunate to avoid immediate custody."