Wrafton benefits cheat escapes jail

Joseph Bulmer

Undisclosed bank account held thousands of pounds from sale of late mother’s house

A WRAFTON benefits cheat has escaped jail after dishonestly claiming nearly �5,000 in social security handouts.

Tina Chugg, of Barn Park, was ordered to do 80 hours of unpaid work after falsely claiming �4,715.68 housing and council tax benefits, despite inheriting thousands of pounds from the sale of a house left by her late mother.

Chugg, 50, pleaded guilty to four offences over a period from February 2007 to March this year.

Prosecutor Trevor Blatchford told North Devon Magistrates that Chugg had declared “minimal” savings when in fact two undisclosed Britannia accounts held between �14,000 and �30,000 during the time of the claims.

When interviewed under caution, Chugg told investigators that she knew someone with substantial savings was not entitled to claim benefit.

She said that when her late mother’s home was sold, she had had to pay all the bills and there was “nothing left”.

“She claimed her mother had left literally nothing,” said Mr Blatchford.

Representing herself, Chugg told the court that she had looked after her mother when she was ill and struggled to adjust to a new life after her death.

“I just didn’t think,” she said. “There was so much going on in life what with losing mum and having to move.

“It was the first time in my life I had to live on my own. I had never claimed benefits before. It was the first time I had done it and I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Magistrate Susan Poxon told Chugg: “These offences are so serious that a custodial sentence could have been imposed, however, I am going to suggest a community order with some form of unpaid work so that you can repay the community for having taken from the community.”

Chugg was ordered to undertake 120 hours reduced to 80 hours because of her guilty plea. The court also made an order for �75 costs.

The case was one of three benefit fraud cases totalling more than �30,000 in overpayments dealt with by magistrates on Thursday.