A BENEFITS cheat claimed more than £80,000 while her husband was banking tens of thousands of pounds selling second-hand computing equipment on eBay.
Mum-of-four Michelle Stening, 33, of Canberra Way in Blacon, fraudulently claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit over an eight-year period.
Chester Crown Court was told she received £73,866.70 in income support, £4,060.68 in housing benefit and £2,691.52 in council tax benefit on the basis she and her husband were unemployed.
But her husband Craig Stening was running an online business and his bank accounts had tens of thousands of pounds being paid in and out.
On one occasion police officers went to the family home and found suitcases packed and the family preparing to go to Spain on flights Craig Stening had paid for.
Jailing Stening for nine months, Judge Ian Trigger said the sentence should act as a “clear message” that benefit fraud will not be tolerated.
He said: “The provision of welfare benefits in this country is designed to assist those who are in financial need. It is designed to assist those at the very bottom of the economic pyramid.
“Sadly, there are many cases where the provision of benefits to people like yourself is abused.
“There is a feeling of frustration quite often in the minds of those who work legitimately at seeing their hard earned taxes being frittered away.”
Andrew Downie, prosecuting, said the fraud had taken place between 2004 and 2012.
He said: “She knew what he was doing and she failed to inform the Department of Work and Pensions.”
Mr Downie said text messages showed Stening knew about her husband’s business and she had sent items for him through the Post Office.
Craig Stening had not registered his company, failed to declare an income and failed to pay National Insurance and Mr Downie said investigations were ongoing.
Stening, who began legitimately claiming benefits in 2000, admitted three counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change in her circumstances.
Peter Moss, defending, said his client was the primary carer for her four children and had never been in trouble before.
He said she regarded her husband as having a hobby selling second-hand laptops and had no idea of the figures involved.
Mr Moss said: “She was flabbergasted when she discovered it.”
Mr Moss said an expert report found Stening would have been entitled to notional benefits anyway and asked the court to suspend any prison term.
Judge Trigger dismissed the report as “based entirely on estimates” and told Stening an immediate sentence was warranted. He told her: “It may well be that you did not fully understand the amounts your husband was earning but that was because you were turning a blind eye to it.”
Speaking after the sentencing, Cllr Les Ford, executive member for resources on Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “The council is committed to uncovering benefit fraud, which in this case, amounted to a very large sum of public money that can now be recovered.
“This sort of offence is theft and will not be tolerated and the council will always pursue any attempt at fraud.
“I am pleased that this prosecution has been successful and hope that it will serve as a warning to others that benefit fraud will not be tolerated in West Cheshire at the expense of the borough’s law-abiding tax payers.”