VIDEO: £35k benefits cheat escapes jail

A benefits cheat who pocketed more than £35,000 in disability payments while working as a delivery man has escaped jail.

Andrew Mitchell, 59, was handed a four month suspended prison sentence by a judge at Lancaster Crown Court.

Andrew Mitchell.

Andrew Mitchell.

Mitchell, of Barley Cop Lane, Lancaster, had earlier pleaded guilty to five counts of benefits fraud.

He had been claiming disability living allowance (for mobility and care), incapacity benefit (now called employment support allowance), housing and council tax benefits.

But when he started work as a self-employed parcels courier three years ago, he failed to notifiy both the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Lancaster City Council.

He claimed £35,793.33 which he would not have been entitled to.

Prosecuting, Mr Roger Baldwin said: “He said he needed crutches to walk and could walk only eight yards in three to four minutes.

“He said he needed someone with him at all times outdoors in case he fell, and said he never walked without crutches.

“He also said he required personal care and that he couldn’t make meals, bend, lift or carry.”

When evidence came to light in March 2010 that Mitchell was working as a delivery driver, undercover surveillance was carried out which caught him in the act loading his vehicle, delivering parcels, driving alone and walking at a normal pace.

He was not seen using crutches at any time and was able to walk without stumbling.

He had been paid up to £1,265 a month during that time.

In interview, Mitchell admitted immediately that he had received benefits he was not entitled to.

He said he knew he should have reported his job to the DWP and city council.

He said a change in medication had helped improve his condition.

Defending, Mr Fraser Livesey said Mitchell had suffered the sudden loss of his son at the age of 33, and had struggled to pay the funeral costs, leaving him with a debt of around £3,000.

While legitimately claiming benefits for a serious medical condition, he began working and failed to inform the authorities of his change in circumstances.

Mr Livesey said: “The situation snowballed and he felt he was unable to face up to what he knew he ought to do.”

Sentencing Mitchell to a four month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months, plus supervision and curfew orders and £430 costs, Recorder Stephen Bedford said: “You should be thoroughly ashamed of the way you have behaved and cheated the community and taxpayers at a time when the country can ill afford it.

“You do a disservice to the majority of claimants of benefits because you perpetuate the view of scroungers in the minds of some people.”

The judge said while Mitchell deserved to serve a prison sentence, it would be more helpful if he continued to work to repay his debts.

After the case, DWP fraud area manager Roy Paul said it was “a good sentence” and that the DWP would pursue Mitchell through a civil court for the money.

Outside court, Mitchell said: “I am ashamed and genuinely embarrassed.”