£27k fraud funded lavish lifestyle of overseas trips

Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court
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A pensioner who fraudulently claimed almost £27,000 in benefits enjoyed a string of trips abroad and even owned overseas property.

Sandra Openshaw, 63, of Apple Tree Close, Upper Rawcliffe, near Garstang, claimed housing and council tax benefits plus widow’s pension and pension credits despite having savings of more than £100,000 and owning property abroad.

Openshaw claimed benefits on the basis she was a widow living alone, with low income and no savings. But a joint investigation by Wyre Council and the Department for Work and Pensions uncovered a different story.

The council says she was found to have been living with her partner for more than five years and the couple had more than £100,000 between them in various bank accounts.

A town hall statement said she enjoyed a ‘lavish lifestyle’ while claiming benefits, including holidays to Singapore, Bulgaria, Spain, Greece and Tunisia.

Officers also discovered she had purchased a property in Goa, India, as well as owning a holiday home in Garstang.

In addition, Openshaw failed to declare a private pension and her partner’s earnings.

As a result she was overpaid £26,987 in housing benefit, council tax benefit, widow’s pension and pensions credit between August 2007 and July 2012.

Alan Vincent, cabinet member with responsibility for benefits at Wyre Council, said: “Benefits cheats deprive not only taxpayers of their hard earned cash, they also reduce the cash pot available in the future for legitimate claimants, so everyone ultimately loses out.

“We will maintain a no tolerance stance against a tiny minority of offenders to protect the law abiding 
majority.”

Openshaw pleaded guilty to four charges relating to benefit fraud on 30 May and appeared at Preston Crown Court where she was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.

She was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work, made subject of a 16-week curfew between the hours of 7pm and 5am and told to pay costs of £580.

Wyre Council says it is now in the process of recovering the money directly from her.

Members of the public can report benefits cheats online at www.wyre.gov.uk/benefitfraud or by calling (01253) 887348.

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