Widow had not acted dishonestly

A disabled widow falsely claimed almost £20,000 in benefits after failing to declare that she had £22,000 in a building society account, a court heard yesterday.

A disabled widow falsely claimed almost £20,000 in benefits after failing to declare that she had £22,000 in a building society account, a court heard yesterday.

Carol Cooper, from Lowestoft, escaped punishment when magistrates agreed she had not acted dishonestly in withholding the information.

Cooper, 61, of Robin Hill, had claimed income support and housing benefits since 2001 because she was unable to work, Lowestoft Magistrates' Court was told.

But she failed to declare the proceeds from a house sale which her late husband had asked her to keep as a nest-egg for their sons.

Attending the court with the aid of crutches and with an oxygen cylinder, Cooper pleaded guilty to three charges of failing to notify that she had capital above the prescribed limit for income support and council tax benefit, but no dishonesty was implied.

The court heard that all the money had since been paid back.

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Cooper sobbed as she told the court that although the bank account was in her name, she did not consider it to be her money.

She said: “I knew that the money was there but I knew it was not mine.

“I know the law says I have done something wrong and that is why I put the money back.

“There is no way I have ever been dishonest or intended to do anything dishonest.

“The money came from the sale of the house and what was left was for my sons. I asked my husband what he wanted to do with it and he said it was for the boys.”

Chairman of the bench Bill Kent gave Cooper a conditional discharge for two years and ordered her to pay costs of £100.

The court heard that an overpayment of £17,464 in income support and £2,268 in council tax benefit had been made for 235 weeks from September 2001.

The case was brought by Waveney District Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Kelly Fernandez-Lee, prosecuting, said: “Mrs Cooper is a widowed woman who was continuously receiving income support on the grounds that she was incapable of working.

“She obtained the income support and the council tax benefit while failing to notify a change in her circumstances, and that she had capital in excess of £8,000 in her account.

“If that had been known, no benefits would have been given.”

Martin Clarke, for Cooper, said: “My client accepts that she had the money, but she considered it to belong to her sons.

“From 1999 to 2005 the money was not touched at all.

“One of her sons was starting a business and the other had some problems so she did not give it to them straight away.

“She is a lady of good character, and she is also a very sick lady.”

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