M. C. St. J. Birt, Esq., Bailiff, and Jurats Kerley and Nicolle.
The Attorney General
Angela Louise Whelan
Sentencing by the Inferior Number of the Royal Court, following a guilty plea to the following charge:
1 count of:
Withholding material information from the Social Security Department, contrary to Article 16(a) of the Income Support (Jersey) Law 2008 (Count 1).
Details of Offence:
The defendant made an application to Social Security for income support in January 2008. She failed to declare that she was co-habiting with her husband and was therefore assessed as the single parent of two young children. The defendant submitted three further income support applications in which she withheld details that Mr Whelan was living with her in January 2009, May 2010 and August 2010. The result of this deception was that the defendant was paid £55,778.35 when her actual entitlement was £39,191.39, an overpayment of £16,586.96 or 42%.
The defendant initially denied that her husband had lived at her address after the early months of 2007, saying that she was unaware of his current address and that he would only visit from time to time to see his children. She later admitted she had withheld information from the Social Security Department and that she had had multiple opportunities to declare that Mr Whelan lived at the address. The defendant also acknowledged that she intentionally withheld the information, knowing that had she declared that her husband was cohabiting with her, that her income support would be greatly affected and that she believed she "would get nothing".
Aggravating factors: the defendant completed four separate applications to the Social Security Department declaring that she was a lone parent in order to obtain a larger award. The claim was fraudulent from the beginning and took place over a 2½ year period.
Details of Mitigation:
Defendant entered guilty pleas early on; defendant has underlying personality traits which have contributed to and maintained the depressive episode which began with the birth of her second child and persisted ever since.
The defendant has three minor motoring convictions from the 1990's but is otherwise of good character.
210 hours' Community Service Order or 15 months' imprisonment in default.
Sentence and Observations of Court:
180 hours' Community Service Order or 12 months' imprisonment in default.
Ms E. L. Hollywood, Crown Advocate.
Advocate D. V. Blackmore for the Defendant.
1. Those who falsely claim income support are stealing from the entire community. Money that is paid out wrongly to fraudulent claimants is money that could have been used by government for genuine purposes with deserving causes. In many cases such conduct will require a prison sentence in order to punish adequately such selfish behaviour.
2. Now in your case Mrs Whelan you hid the fact for some 2½ years that your husband was living with you. You did that deliberately, knowing that it would affect the level of benefit that you received. You would in fact still have received income support if you had told that truth, but it would have been at a lower level so that you were overpaid just over £16,000 in all.
3. Advocate Blackmore has put forward mitigation. She has referred to your guilty plea, the fact that you told the truth after initial lies, your previous good character, the fact that you suffer from depression, that you are at a low level of re-offending, that the money was not spent on luxuries and that you have been repaying at £10 per day, which means you have already repaid some £2,900. She has also referred to the fact that your husband, although living there, certainly appears to have his own difficulties and was not really contributing, and you were in many ways a single parent. We have also been particularly influenced by the fact that you are the main carer for your two children, aged 11 and 4, and that a prison sentence would work real hardship on them.
4. Nevertheless you have been at risk of a prison sentence because the Court wishes to send out a message that those who defraud the community by obtaining income support or other benefits by telling lies are at risk of a prison sentence. But we are not going to do so in your case because of the mitigation and particularly because of the position of your children.
5. The sentence of the Court is one of community service of 180 hours and we say that the appropriate sentence would have been 12 months' imprisonment. So you must realise that if you do not do the community service, if you do not turn up when you are told to, then you will be brought back and you may then be sent to prison. So we hope not to see you before us again.
Livingstone Stewart and Others (1987) 9 Cr. App. R. (S) 135.