A mother-of-seven who falsely claimed almost £110,000 in benefits despite receiving a £60,000 insurance payout has been spared a prison sentence.
Elizabeth Dundon was handed a 16-month suspended term after pleading guilty to two charges of failing to declare a change of circumstances and three counts of making false declarations to obtain benefits.
Prosecution lawyer David McClean told Belfast Crown Court that Dundon, from Longlands Avenue, Newtownabbey, started claiming income support in 1992. However, in 2014, a number of suspicious transactions' of between £8,000 and £9,000 were noted in her bank account.
When Dundon was interviewed by benefit fraud investigators, she revealed that in September 2009 she received a £60,000 payout from an insurance claim following a fire at her then home in west Belfast.
The court heard that while the money was lodged into her six-year-old's son bank account, "she was in control" of it. Mr McClean said further inquiries revealed that £25,000 of the money was also paid into an account in the name of her daughter.
During interviews, Dundon said she had have given £40,000 of the insurance payout to her nephew and claimed that "he had not paid it back''.
The prosecutor said the defendant should have declared that she had savings in excess of £16,000 when she renewed her claims for income support and housing benefit.
Judge McCaffrey heard that between September 2009 and May 2014, Dundon falsely claimed income support totalling £93,111 and housing benefit of £16,854, giving a total amount of £109,965. The court was told none of the money had been repaid and Dundon's benefits had since been stopped.
A defence barrister explained that his client received the £60,000 payout following a fire at her west Belfast home around nine years ago to cover the contents of the property.
The barrister told the court that Dundon gave £40,000 of the insurance payout to a nephew to help him start a business, but he did not pay back the money and has since fled the country, with the defendant now having "no contact with him".
The lawyer added that Dundon, who has no previous convictions and has seven children aged two to 18, was a single parent and that the father of the children rarely visited.
She said three of the youngsters have medical conditions that mean the defendant needs to be at home to care for them.
The barrister also urged the court to avoid a custodial sentence. "She (Dundon) is remorseful," she said. "She is ashamed and embarrassed, and her good character has been marked. She has learned a hard lesson and is willing to make repayments.''
The judge said benefit fraud was a serious matter and a dishonest abuse of taxpayers' money, adding that the public expected a significant sentence both to punish the crime and to deter future offending.
She imposed a sentence of 16 months, suspended for three years, on the charges of failing to declare a change of circumstances. She also sentenced Dundon to nine months in custody, suspended for two years, on the three counts of making false declarations to obtain benefits.