CAUGHT: Matlock woman fraudulently claimed almost £13,000 in benefits

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A Matlock woman has pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming almost £13,000 in benefits over five years.

Mahalah Sherwin, formerly of Church Street in the town, but now living at 53 Hazel Grove, was sentenced by magistrates this week to a community order of 100 hours’ unpaid work, £500 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

Derbyshire Dales District Council, which successfully prosecuted the case, is in the process of recovering a total of £12,988.87 in housing and council tax benefit that Ms Sherwin claimed between May 2010 and February last year, despite being aware she should have notified the council that her employment circumstances had changed.

Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court heard on Wednesday that in November 2009 the accused submitted an application form to claim housing and council tax benefit from the District Council, indicating she was employed by Derbyshire County Council as a home help for 16 hours a week, earning £124 a week.

But Ms Sherwin failed to inform the District Council of a subsequent increase in hours or three changes to her employment and income, including, from February 2014, full-time employment with the Presentation Sisters Care Centre in Matlock, earning on average £465 per month more than had been declared originally.

An anonymous tip-off from someone who had heard the defendant “bragging” about having worked an extra 40 hours one particular week led to a District Council investigation in which enquiries revealed that from June 2010 to January 2011 Ms Sherwin earned approximately £150 a month more than previously declared as a County Council home help.

From January 2011 to February 2012 her earnings as a healthcare assistant at Bakewell Cottage averaged £340 more per month more than previously declared - but still Ms Sherwin did not inform the District Council. There was no notification either when she re-joined the County Council as a care assistant at Bakewell’s Gernon Manor from March 2012 to January 2014 on a higher income than previously declared.

The court heard that when Ms Sherwin was interviewed under caution in February 2015 she admitted she knew these changes would have affected her benefit entitlement and that she should have been contributing more towards her rental and council tax liabilities.

After the case, a District Council spokesperson said: “Benefit fraud is not a victimless crime because it takes away money that is set aside for the most vulnerable people in our communities. If anyone has information about someone who is claiming benefit to which they may not be entitled, you can report your suspicions - anonymously if you wish - using the National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440 or online at www.gov.uk/report-benefit-fraud.”