A BENEFITS cheat who dishonestly claimed more than £1,600 has been given a ‘slap on the wrist’ by West Somerset magistrates after the district council prosecuted him.
Eric Gitsham, aged 49, of Maglands Road, Watchet, pleaded guilty to failing to notify the council of a change in circumstances while he was receiving housing and council tax benefits.
By not declaring that his wife had been working during the 15 months from April of last year to July of this year, Gitsham was paid £1,377.02 in housing benefit and £251.02 in council tax benefit to which he was not entitled.
The magistrates gave Gitsham credit for making an early guilty plea and they took into account his current financial circumstances - both he and his wife were now unemployed.
Gitsham was conditionally discharged for 12 months, which meant he would not be further punished for the offence if he stayed out of trouble during that time.
A compensation order was also made for Gitsham to repay to the council the overpayment of benefit at £10 a week.
District council finance portfolio holder Councillor Doug Ross said after the court hearing: “People who break the law by claiming benefits they are not entitled to should be aware that our fraud team will take action against them.
“If convicted in court, they will also find themselves with a criminal record.
“It is vital that people claiming benefits report changes in their circumstances to our benefits team immediately, as we are here to help those facing hardship.
“If people suspect somebody of claiming benefits fraudulently, they can report them anonymously on our confidential benefit fraud hotline on 01984 635236.
“All the caller needs to do is leave the name of the person suspected and details of the alleged fraud.
“We can simply check out the details and if fraud is proven, we can act to stop hard-working taxpayers footing the bill for this criminal activity.”