A 36 year old mother-of-three claimed £13,000 in state benefits - even though she had almost half a million pounds hidden in a secret bank account, a court heard today.
Hannah Chandler had accumulated more than £460,000 after receiving a big inheritance from her late mother - but that did not stop her claiming income support from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and housing benefit from Gloucester City Council while she blew her fortune on shopping, gambling and gifts for her children.
Her offences were all the more serious because she had a previous conviction for benefits fraud, said Judge Ian Lawrie QC at Gloucester crown court.
Hannah Chandler, 36, claimed Income Support from the Department for Work and Pensions and housing benefit from Gloucester City Council, despite accumulating £460,000
Chandler, appearing via video link because of the coronavirus crisis, could be seen weeping and wiping her eyes as the judge called her 'greedy' and 'thoroughly dishonest.'
With her long dark hair piled up, Chandler, of Bowly Road, Gloucester, wore black framed spectacles and a brown and black animal print top, as she sat in a video suite at Cheltenham Magistrates Court listening to the case.
She admitted two offences of obtaining benefits dishonestly from the council and the DWP between July 2017 and June 2018.
Prosecutor Nicholas Lee said she had claimed the benefits despite repeated warnings that she should notify any change in her financial situation or any previously undisclosed assets.
She had started receiving the benefits in 2016 and had notified the authorities that she had only one current account and one savings account.
'At some point, an allegation was made to the authorities that she had in fact had a large amount of income going through an undisclosed bank account,' said the prosecutor.
'The DWP investigated and found she had two further current accounts which had not been notified to the DWP or the council. Statements were obtained and she was asked to attend for interview in May 2018 with her solicitor present.
Chandler appeared in court via a video link because of the coronavirus crisis, could be seen weeping and wiping her eyes as the judge called her 'greedy'
'She was questioned in relation to £114,473 which had passed through her accounts between March and December 2017.
She said she had inherited money following her mother's death when she was still at school, had bought various items over a period of time which she was now selling online via Gumtree.
'She was asked to provide further details and her bank statements were sent for further analysis.
'Mark Holland of the DWP discovered that between October 2017 and June 2018, excluding her benefits payments, payments into her account totalled more than £460,000.
'Across the same period she had withdrawn £462,915 in cash or cheques.
'On 4th June 2018 she had moved address before presenting a new form for housing benefit in which she declared she had no other income. She again said she had only one bank account.
'There was a second interview with her in December 2018 when she was shown the results of the analysis. In a third interview in March 2019 she said she had sold items she had collected over the years and had spent the money on household items, gambling and her children.
In addition to claiming State Income from the DWP, Chandler also claimed housing benefits from Gloucester City Council
'It was pointed out to her that the amount over the period of just less than a year was over £460,000 and she said it had all gone on shopping, gambling and items for her children.
'Yet while doing all this she had been claiming a total of £13,241-73 in benefits.'
The prosecutor said her previous conviction for benefit fraud was very similar, with her failing to notify she had funds when she was applying for benefits.
'This makes her even more culpable,' he said. 'A further aggravating feature is the number of false declarations she made during the course of these offences.'
As Sarah Jenkins, defending, began her mitigation, Judge Lawrie interrupted, saying: 'Let's cut to the chase - she has three dependent children. That is her life raft, is it not?
'Let's adopt a sentence which means she gets punished and at the same time her children do not bear the consequences of her dishonesty.'
The judge told her 'You were not stuck for money - you had all that money to yourself and I take the view that you got greedy. There was no hint of poverty to excuse your behaviour.'
He sentenced her to six months in jail suspended for 18 months and ordered her to attend 20 rehabilitation activity sessions.
He also ordered her to pay £200 costs - and he said she would have to return to court next January for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act to ascertain what assets she had available to be seized from her.