A pensioner who wrongly claimed over £36,000 worth in benefits during a decade-long deceit has been spared jail.
John Staines agreed to use his secret cash pot to pay back nearly half of his ill-gotten gains.
Magistrates in South Tyneside heard that Staines, 71, was overpaid housing and council tax benefits and pension credits over an 11-year period after staying silent over an ISA cash pot worth £15,000 and other investments.
Staines, of Charles Baker Walk, South Shields, admitted two counts of failing to disclose pension information to both the Department of Work and Pensions and South Tyneside Council.
He failed to tell the DWP about his nest egg while claiming pension credits between May 2009 and April 2014 and kept tight-lipped over the cash haul while receiving housing and council tax benefits from South Tyneside Council between April 2003 and September 2014.
He was warned that he could be locked up for up to nine months – but paid a heavy price for his freedom after agreeing to use the £15,000 in his ISA account to take a huge chunk out of the money he owes to town hall chiefs.
The court heard he has already repaid the £1,000 he was overpaid in pension credits to the DWP – leaving a sum of more than £35,000 left to pay.
Staines, who the court heard suffers from a number of health problems, was handed an eight-month prison term – suspended for two years.
Jeanette Smith, prosecuting, said: “Essentially, the overpayment is £36,748.
“This is a case where the defendant has failed to disclose his capital assets.
“During interview, he said he knew the capital and savings he had would effect his claim.
“It was over a large period of time, which led to the high overpayment.
“He knew his investments would put him over the limit.”
Staines told the court he was “embarrassed and ashamed” of his actions’ having never been in trouble with the law in his life.
David Forrester, defending, said: “He admits the offences. He knows he would have been over the limit for payment for the vast majority of the time he was claiming benefits.
“He is man who was of entirely good character and the savings are of money he has earned himself.
“The council wants the money back at £100 a month but he is willing to pay more.”
District Judge Helen Cousins said paying back the sum at £100 a month would not be “reasonable” in the circumstance.
She said: “It is not reasonable to pay back £100 a month. That would take 30 years.”
Mr Forrester added; “I am instructed the money (from the ISA account) is there.
District Judge Cousins said she took into account Staines’ age, health problems he is battling, and the offer to pay back a ‘significant’ amount immediately when decided to suspend a prison term.
She added; “You won’t go to prison providing you pay £15,000 in compensation.”
Staines was given 56 days to pay the figure.
He was handed a 32-week jail sentence –suspended for two years – and must also pay costs of £85 and an £80 victim surcharge.