A widow who fraudulently claimed more than £64,000 of state benefits after she remarried claimed she was in an ‘open relationship’.
Shannon Ford, 44, continued to claim Widowed Parents’ Allowance after she married Brian Armstrong in 2005.
But when it emerged she had been cheating the system, Ford, a member of the travelling community, said she had not wanted to declare her marriage as she would be shunned by her community, in which widows are not expected to remarry.
She also insisted the marriage was an open relationship and that both had been involved with other people, in what was described to the court as an ‘on and off’ relationship.
Between 2005 and 2014, Ford claimed £30,820.89 of Widow’s Allowance and £34,820.79 of Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit from Lancaster City Council and Craven Council.
Throughout that period she changed address a number of times and updated her address details with the authorities - but failed to mention she was now married.
As a married mother she would no longer be entitled to the benefits she was claiming.
Ford, of Moor View, Lower Bentham, pleaded guilty to seven counts of benefit fraud.
Her defence lawyer, Mr Hall, said she had notified the authorities of her change in circumstances as she had limited literacy, and relied on family members to help with filling out forms.
But Judge Simon Newell, sentencing, pointed out that she had given her occupation as a secretary when she registered her marriage.
Cecilia Pritchard, prosecuting, said: “Some of the claims were fraudulent from the outset. There have been false declarations when she was capable of doing so. She had advised of a change of address on a number of occasions.”
The court heard Ford has four children and is the primary carer for her youngest child who is disabled.
Judge Newell accepted that during the period Ford was claiming benefits, there would have been times when she would have been eligible and times when the claim was fraudulent, due to the instability in the marriage.
He handed her a 12 month sentence, suspended for two years.
A DWP spokesman said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are rooting out the unscrupulous minority who are cheating the system and diverting taxpayers’ money from those who really need it.
“We are determined to find those we suspect of abusing the welfare system by following up on tip-offs and undertaking surveillance If you suspect someone of fraudulently claiming benefits, then call our National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440.”