Gambling addict Sarah Williams of Totton spared jail term after admitting £18,600 benefits fraud
A GAMBLING addict from Totton who illegally claimed more than £18,500 in benefits payments has been spared a jail term.
Sarah Williams (53) of Harwood Close, was walking on crutches when she appeared in the dock at Southampton Crown Court for sentencing on one count of fraud.
Prosecutor Tim Wright said Williams’ “sustained deception” began in September 2016 after a friend of hers moved into her home to work as her carer.
The friend began claiming a carer’s allowance to look after Williams, but within three weeks the pair had a “falling out” and the friend moved out.
Mr Wright said Williams then “updated” her details with the Department for Work and Pensions so the benefits payments went directly into her bank account instead of her friend’s.
The court heard the last payment to Williams was made in April 2022, by which time she had received £18,694.45 in fraudulently claimed carer’s benefits.
Williams was interviewed about the offence last August and made a “full admission”, the court heard.
Mr Wright said: “This was not a fraudulent claim from the outset. It’s more a case that the defendant took advantage of the situation.”
However, judge Christopher Parker noted Williams’ crime was “not very far from” being fraudulent from the outset, saying her friend had only lived with her as a carer for three weeks before Williams started taking her benefits payments.
The court also heard Williams has two similar “antiquated” convictions.
Mitigating, Rebecca McKnight said Williams deserved full credit for entering a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity and for fully cooperating with investigators.
Arguing for a suspended jail term, Miss McKnight said: “She won’t be here again and she does have a very realistic prospect of full rehabilitation.”
The court heard before committing the fraud offence, Williams herself had been a crime victim and that her brother and an infant son had both died.
Miss McKnight said: “She had no support in place at the time when this happened and she had no counselling. She seems to have essentially just got on with her life.”
Williams began gambling in 2016, with Miss McKnight noting “trauma like hers often goes hand in hand with addictions like gambling”.
The court heard Williams had been gambling with household funds from the fraudulently obtained benefits payments, but she is now receiving help from groups to tackle her gambling addiction and her past traumas.
Miss McKnight said Williams has shown “genuine remorse” for her offending and she has the support of her partner and three adult children.
Handing down an eight month prison term, suspended for 18 months, Judge Parker said: “Over five and a half years you dishonestly received some £18,694.45. Every week and every month those payments came in you must have known you were stealing from the tax payer.
“You didn’t use the money for high living – you spent it on gambling.”
In addition to the suspended jail term, the judge ordered Williams to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and a 25-day rehabilitation programme.
Judge Parker added: “I have no doubt that you’re not going to come back before the court again but, if you do, that can only have one very negative outcome for you.”