Benefits cheat put under surveillance

Blackpool Magistrates' Court
Blackpool Magistrates' Court
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A council employee was put under surveillance when she was suspected of cheating the taxpayer.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)staff suspected her of playing the system she knew all too well – because she advised callers to the council.

Officers from the DWP followed mum-of-two Anita Cockbain as she worked at Wyre Council.

They discovered that rather than struggling to walk 50 yards in over five minutes using walking aids, the 43-year -old went at a rapid pace to buy sandwiches and coffee during her break from work giving telephone advice to callers.

Cockbain, of Kingston Close, Knott End, admitted two offences of fraud over her claims for Disabled Living Allowance – not telling the DWP her medical condition had improved. She also admitted two offences of failing to tell Wyre Council – her employer at the time – of a change in her circumstances which would have affected her claims for housing and council tax benefits.

Blackpool magistrates heard Cockbain had been summarily sacked from her post when legal proceedings started against her.

Adrian Hollamby, prosecuting, said that as a result of her cheating Cockbain had been overpaid £11,937.

He added:” The authorities involved are taking action to claw their money back. The claims cover a three-year period. In 2010 she should have told the authorities her physical capabilities had improved and she was no longer entitled to Disabled Living Allowance.

“Her original claim was on the basis that she could hardly walk 50 yards in five minutes,needed walking aids. She would often fall and on a bad day could not walk at all.

“However, the authorities decided to undertake surveillance and she was seen to walk without restrictions at a rapid pace over hundreds of yards.”

“One aggravating circumstance in this case is the fact she was employed by the local authority as a call centre benefits advisor.”

Kathryn Sinclair-Jamieson, defending, said: “My client has many medical problems and medications to take. What she has been doing is overdosing on steroids to alleviate symptoms and that gave her greater mobility.

“All she wanted to do was work. I would contest whether or not a fraud investigator can give a medical opinion on someone but that is what has happened since he saw her walking. These proceedings have absolutely crucified her. She is mortified. She is now living on other benefits.”

Cockbain, in tears throughout the hearing, was given a four-month curfew and ordered to pay £160 costs.

A spokeswoman for Wyre Council said: “We work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to investigate and prosecute benefits cheats and maintain a no tolerance stance.

“We will now seek recovery of the overpaid money directly from her.”