Monday, 24 May 2010


A Ramsgate woman has been given a six month suspended prison sentence, after pleading guilty to falsely claiming more than £65,000 in benefits.

Julie Coombs (35), previously of Telham Avenue, was claiming Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit on the basis that she was a lone parent. The council's benefit fraud team received an allegation that she had been living with her husband, David Coombs, throughout the period of her claim and that he was in employment.

The team began investigating these claims and gathered enough evidence to recommend that the case should be looked at for a possible police arrest, due to the period of the overpayment and the amount of money involved. This was carried out in January 2008 and both Mr. and Mrs. Coombs were found at the property. They were interviewed and both denied the allegation.

They attended Margate Magistrates Court and Mrs. Coombs did not enter a plea to the charges. The case was passed to Canterbury Crown Court. On her first appearance at the Crown Court, Mrs. Coombs pleaded guilty to two charges of dishonestly obtaining benefits that she was not entitled to, as she was living at the property with Mr. Coombs.

In total, she was overpaid Housing Benefit of £21,061.58, Council Tax Benefit of £2,947.38 and Income Support of £41,731.68.

She was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with the condition that she is not to commit any offence in the UK during this period. She was also ordered to serve 200 hours of a Community Punishment Order, which is to be completed within 12 months. She was put under curfew for six months between the hours of 10am and 6pm, although she was not electronically tagged. A Compensation Order was also issued.

In his summing up, the Judge stated that he had given her credit for her previous good character, her early guilty plea, her family circumstances and responsibilities, and also for voluntary work she has undertaken since this matter has come to light. He also stated that the suspended sentence was reached "on the very edge of my discretion", as the offences were serious enough to warrant imprisonment.

Cllr. Simon Moores, Cabinet Member for Customer Services and Business Transformation, said: "This case is perhaps at the top end of some of the benefit fraud we've seen in recent years, in terms of the amount that was swindled from the public purse. The council will do whatever it can to ensure that, in cases like this, people do feel the full weight of the law. Over the years, more than £65,000 has been fraudulently claimed in this case. I'm sure that's not something that any of us is prepared to tolerate."

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