A benefits cheat is today waking up behinds bars – a far cry from the luxury lifestyle he enjoyed at the expense of the taxpayer.
Paul Vickers, 46, fraudulently claimed tens of thousands of pounds in disability benefits to fund trips to his holiday homes in Bulgaria and Spain and rides on his Ducati motorbike between 2006 and 2012.
Investigators said the Blackpool businessman had a property in Cheshire worth £350,000 and two others in Lancashire.
Vickers, whose business was based in South Shore, claimed he was unable to walk following a road traffic accident.
He took the highest rate of mobility allowance despite having a gym membership which he used regularly as well as working as a self-employed builder and a motor trader.
He also claimed income support even though records showed around £500,000 went through his bank account at the same time.
In total, Vickers claimed more than £73,000 of taxpayers’ money, using it to fund his work as a motor trader, driving whatever car he wished, as well as his properties.
This “fine lifestyle”, as described by investigators, was brought to an abrupt end following an anonymous call to the Department for Work and Pensions benefit fraud hotline.
Investigators were told Vickers planned an imminent move to Spain and soon swooped on a home on Freemantle Avenue, South Shore, where he based his business buying and selling vehicles over eBay.
Vickers was arrested at the home. When investigators searched the property, where he was living with his partner, a doctor’s note was found describing him as “fit and healthy”.
The note, dated to March 2009, also told how Vickers had made a “remarkable recovery” from the accident.
Vickers pleaded guilty to falsely claiming tax benefit, income support and disability benefit and was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment at Chester Crown Court.
Vernon Sanderson, regional fraud manager for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), said he hopes the sentence will act as a deterrent.
He said: “Vickers set out to defraud the department from the start. He was living a fine lifestyle if he could afford to own properties abroad and drive a motorbike and have his choice of cars.
“Sending him to prison sends a clear message that jail is a very real option in dealing with cases like this.”
Vickers first began claiming income support, a benefit for those with no or low income, in August 2006. In 2008 he began claiming disability benefit for suffering depression and having sustained injuries in a road traffic accident.
Vickers, originally from Frodsham, Cheshire, was awarded the highest level of mobility allowance after saying he “had great difficulty walking” and the middle rate of care allowance.
On top of this Vickers enjoyed the benefits of housing allowance and council tax allowance, worth £7,054.
Now the DWP plans to claim back all of the £73,855 Vickers took over the six years.
Mr Sanderson added tip offs about falsely claimed benefits will be acted upon and monies claimed wrongly recovered.
He added: “We will be recovering every last penny.”
Vickers faces a proceeds of crime hearing in October.