A council employee who fraudulently claimed more than £36,000 in benefits has been spared a term behind bars despite the judge saying that prison was what she deserved.
Nicole Kelly, 35, of Gladeside, Monks Orchard, appeared at Croydon Crown Court on 4 January, having previously pleaded guilty to five charges of dishonesty, under the Fraud Act 2006.
Following an investigation by the council’s corporate anti-fraud team, she was found to have told the council’s benefits department that she had no capital or income when, in fact, she owned a property, from which she received a rental income.
The fraud was exposed following a routine benefit-matching exercise, which led to an investigation that revealed that Kelly was an employee of the council. The deception resulted in an overpayment of housing benefit and council tax benefit, amounting to £36,770.04 for the period 26 September 2006 to 07 March 2011. She was subsequently dismissed from her job.
It then transpired that Kelly had sold the property, for a £75,000 profit, but made no effort to use the funds to repay the overpayment.
His Honour Judge Gold said that he had no sympathy for Kelly and that she richly deserved an immediate prison sentence. However, expressing sympathy for her young children, he imposed a sentence of 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He also ordered that she observe a curfew, between the hours of 8pm and 5am, for six months.
Councillor Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance and treasury
“Benefit fraud of this magnitude always comes as a shock; when it’s committed by a member of the council’s own staff, though, the shock and dismay are even greater.
“But for the diligent work of our fraud investigators, this woman would have profited by more than £110,000, taking into account the profit made on the sale of the property.
“That was money that she, in effect, stole from the honest people of Croydon, and we’ll be doing all we can, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, to recover the illegally gained sum for the people that genuinely need it.”