£40k benefit cheats walk free from court
A COUPLE who plundered nearly £40,000 in benefits they weren't entitled to by setting up a bogus claim have walked free from court.
Toni Smith,35, got income support and housing benefit after saying she was a single woman, when in reality she was living with long term partner Andrew Verlander, 42.
And he wrote a letter claiming Smith, now the mother of his child, was just a lodger so they could get their hands on £280 a month housing benefit.
But after hearing how the couple's nine-year-old son has heart problems a judge at Swindon Crown Court decided not to jail them.
Rosie Collins, prosecuting, said they had lived together in Portsmouth claiming benefits as a couple until July 2004, when they moved to Swindon.
In July 2004 Verlander sold their home in the city for £144,000 and bought a house in Newbury Drive, Freshbrook, for £132,000.
Within a few days Smith went to sign on to get income support saying she was a single woman renting a room from a family friend called Andy Steele.
To back up her application 'landlord' Verlander wrote a letter in the name Steele saying it was a business relationship and he charged her £280 a month in rent.
In 2012 it was discovered that Verlander and Steele were the same person and an investigation was started.
When Smith was questioned she initially lied but later accepted he had put her up to making the claim.
Verlander told investigators he used to be called Steele but changed his name by deed poll but insisted they were not a couple and that he didn't much like her.
As a result of the deception Smith had received £23,915.52pm in housing and council tax benefits and at least £13,763.05p income support.
Miss Collins said the second figure does not include the period from August 2004 to March 2008 as the authorities are not aware what she may have been entitled to during that period.
Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of making a false representation to obtain benefits and Verlander producing a false document to obtain benefits.
Alex Daymond, for Smith, said she had been a heroin addict as a younger woman and they moved from Reading to Portsmouth to change their lives.
After moving to Swindon they started the deception because they were short of money and in 2005 had a son who has heart problems.
He said none of the money was spent on luxuries, just day to day living.
Rob Ross, for Verlander, said his client had not claimed any money, just written the bogus letter claiming to be her landlord.
Following the recent death of his mother he said he had received a large inheritance which meant he could repay all of the £37,678.57p they were not entitled to.
Passing sentence Recorder Nick Rowland said "There is a feeling in some quarters that these sort of offence s are victimless, when it come to benefit fraud.
"It is quite the opposite, the victims of behaviour like yours is the honest tax payer and those people who are entitled to benefits who either don't get them or don't get as much as they should because of the fraudulent activities of people like you.
"It seems to me that these matters are so serious that only a prison sentence can be justified to mark them given they were fraudulent from the outside.
"But given the circumstances of this case I am just prepared to suspend the sentence.
"The principal reason I do this is the health of your child who is wholly innocent in all this. But for that you would have no complaint of going in to custody today."
He imposed eight month jail terms suspended for two years and told them to do 250 hours of unpaid work.
He also ordered Verlander to pay £37,678 in the next 28 days or get a one year jail term and pay £1,000 costs.