A MUM has been spared jail over a £90,000 benefit fraud – and given almost 300 years to pay it back.
Maureen Howlett, 47, was paid income support, along with housing benefit and council tax relief, on the basis that she lived alone.
But Newcastle Crown Court heard yesterday that between April 2004 and March 2012, the mother of three had a live-in partner contributing financially towards her household.
Lee Fish, prosecuting, said Howlett, of Ada Street, South Shields, picked up handouts of £90,845 to which she was not entitled.
The court heard that she made a one-off £40 repayment in July last year, and a judge yesterday ordered her to pay back a further £5,000 at a rate of £100 a month.
The remaining £85,805 will be taken from jobless Howlett’s current benefits.
That, said Peter Schofield, defending, would see her repaying the money she owes at a rate of a further £25 a month.
Her current repayment rate means that it would be 286 years before the balance was paid off.
Recorder Philip Engelman told Howlett: “This is a fraud on the state and on the council and a fraud upon every taxpayer in this country.
“It cannot and will not be tolerated by the courts. This is an extremely serious matter.”
The judge said Howlett’s 18-month prison sentence could be suspended for two years, however.
Mr Schofield said Howlett had never been in trouble before and had not “set out to deceive anyone”.
Her relationship with her partner was not one she could rely on, he said, adding: “She was concerned about the long-term basis and consideration of his fidelity.”
Mr Schofield said Howlett is now making a bid to find work and is remorseful for what she did.
Howlett was at crown court for sentencing after pleading guilty to two charges of failing to notify the authorities of a change in circumstances at an earlier magistrates’ court hearing.
Mr Fish told the court: “The facts are very simply stated.
“The prosecution case is that this defendant has received benefits she was not entitled to for a period of eight years on the basis that she failed to disclose, between April 2004 and March 2012, she was living with her partner in a relationship akin to husband and wife, although they were not, in fact, married.
“It is clear from the evidence that he provided financial support within the household.”