Benefits claimant was not dishonest

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A woman who admitted being overpaid more than £5,800 in disability benefits was guilty solely on a technicality of failing to notify a change of circumstances, her lawyer said.

Tracy Shepherd (42), of Wignal’s Gate, Holbeach, began claiming in 1998 because she could only walk short distances due to a back problem, magistrates heard.

As her health improved and she started working, she informed the incapacity benefit section of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her change in circumstances and her hours of employment.

Solicitor Mike Alexander said she thought by telling the DWP she was working that would be “perhaps a clue” that she was able to move around a lot more.

But she didn’t specifically tell the DWP’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) section that she was getting better and the law requires claimants to inform all relevant departments.

He said: “I did suggest to this lady that she could perhaps consider entering a not guilty plea, but she wasn’t able to stand the thought of entering a not guilty plea.”

Mr Alexander said because of a DWP investigation, Shepherd – who suffers depression – had lost two stones in weight and simply could not cope.

He continued: “Today she has taken the view ‘I will enter my guilty plea, I have to on a technical basis’ because she hasn’t informed the correct department that her health has improved.

“I don’t think this is a case where she has been dishonest.

“It’s a misunderstanding, a mistake. She’s paying that money back.”

Prosecutor Paul Wood said Shepherd was overpaid £5,836.60 in DLA.

He said the DWP conducted a surveillance exercise on a number of days in October and November 2012 and saw Shepherd was far more able than described in her claim.

Magistrates gave Shepherd a six month conditional discharge and made no order for costs but she must pay a £15 victim surcharge.

She admitted failing to notify the DWP of a change that would affect her entitlement to DLA between August 2011 and February 2013.