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Divorcee forced to repay £26k benefits

A GRASPING divorcee who claimed benefit payments despite receiving a settlement of more than a quarter of a million pounds has been ordered to pay back every penny.

And Assa Brown was told by a judge at Warwick Crown Court she is facing eight months in jail if she does not pay a total of £26,642 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Earlier this year Brown was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to failing to notify a change in circumstances and making false statements to obtain benefits.

Over a period of four years Brown (50) of Wordsworth Avenue, Warwick, claimed a total of just over £27,000 in housing and council tax benefits and jobseeker’s allowance.

When she was sentenced a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act was adjourned for an investigation into her finances.

And at the resumed hearing prosecutor Henry Skudra said it had been calculated that Brown’s benefit from her dishonesty had been £26,642 – and she had assets worth £325,355.

So Judge Andrew Lockhart QC ordered the confiscation of £26,642 under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with £21,731 of it being paid in compensation to Warwick District Council.

The judge, who imposed an eight-month prison sentence in default of payment, also ordered Brown to pay £800 costs.

During the original hearing Mr Skudra said Brown had claimed housing and council tax benefits from October 2010, having said she was single and had a child in the household.

But she failed to declare she owned another property, bought with funds from her divorce settlement, or that she had an income from it.

Judge Lockhart observed: “She chose to claim benefits across a period of four years when she was in receipt of a quarter of a million pounds and £250 a week from the flat.”

Mr Skudra said that when Brown, who has a law degree, first made her claim for housing and council tax benefit, it was legitimate – but it became fraudulent just a month later when she received the divorce settlement.

And two false declarations she later made for jobseeker’s allowance were fraudulent from the outset.

By the time her dishonesty was discovered, she had been paid £21,731 in housing benefit, £2,233 in council tax benefit, and £3,114 in jobseeker’s allowance to which she was not entitled.

When she was interviewed she failed to give details of the divorce settlement, and claimed money going into her account was a loan from her father which she would have to repay.

Amiee Parkes, defending, had said: “What triggered this is an acrimonious divorce from her partner. When she first made this claim it wasn’t fraudulent, and she was advised to make it by the domestic violence unit.

“She didn’t know she was going to get the sum of money she did, but accepts she did not declare that or the property in Kingston-upon-Thames bought from the proceeds of the divorce.”

Miss Parkes said Brown had repaid a total of £4,640 and was having £3.70 a week stopped from benefits she still received.

Judge Lockhart commented: “I’d have been more impressed if she had repaid it all. She is a woman who is no doubt still sitting on enormous assets.”

Sentencing Brown in March, he told her: “It was only a proper claim for a matter of months. Thereafter, every day you knew you were receiving money to which you were not entitled.

“You knew that others who did not own their own home and did not have a house to rent did not receive the benefit they were entitled to because the benefit system was pushed into difficulty by people like you.

“You were a wealthy woman in every sense across the course of those years, and you chose to enhance that wealth. Dishonesty of this length and of this gravity is a serious matter.

“You received in excess of a quarter of a million pounds in the divorce settlement at the time you made fraudulent claims.”

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