A fraudster who received almost £35,000 in benefits while having more than £100,000 in the bank has been told she’s lucky not to be in jail.
Lorraine Mearns claimed thousands of pounds in taxpayer-funded benefits by lying to officials about how much money she had in the bank over the course of six years.
Between January 2012 and April 2018, Mearns knowingly made false statements to the Department for Work and Pensions about her income to claim £13,368 in employment and support allowance she was not entitled to.
She claimed another £19,960 in housing and council tax benefit between November 2012 and March 2018 by doing the same to Aberdeen City Council.
‘Ludicrous’ to claim it was accidental
The 65-year-old landed in court because she failed to disclose the fact that she had £100,000 in other bank accounts, including some of the proceeds from the sale of her dad’s house.
Defence agent David Sutherland told Aberdeen Sheriff Court it was “ludicrous” that his client maintained she did this “accidentally”.
“For someone to at one point have £100,000 in a bank account and think she could still get benefits is just ludicrous,” he said.
“There is an unexplained £40,000 opening balance in one of the accounts then a significant income from the sale of her father’s house, which was split between her and other family members.
“Those two large deposits clearly breach the terms of agreements. She failed to disclose a material change in her situation.”
He added his client was “lucky” she was appearing in court on a lesser ‘summary’ charge rather than a more serious ‘solemn’ one – for which she could have faced jail time.
“If you were to ask 100 people on the street outside what should happen to Ms Mearns most would say she should be sent to prison,” Mr Sutherland added.
She told social workers it was accidental
He added that the sheriff’s “hands were tied” by the fact this was being dealt with as a summary procedure but suggested the maximum hours of unpaid work and restrictions of liberties be the next suitable alternative to jail.
Sheriff Kevin Duffy agreed it was “fortunate for her” that it was a summary complaint or she might certainly have faced time in prison.
“A lot of things concern me about this,” he said. “But one that I find more concerning is that she said to the social workers that this was all accidental.”
Mearns currently receives universal credit payments and a disability allowance.
Sheriff Duffy added: “These are very serious charges you have pled to, that involve substantial amounts of taxpayers’ money to which you were not entitled.
“Your conduct was clearly deceitful. You had a number of accounts that you did not disclose to the Department for Work and Pensions. You persisted in this deceit as you did not disclose those accounts when cautioned and questioned.”
Mearns, of Jesmond Avenue North, Bridge of Don, has paid back some of the cash but has £18,074 still to return through deductions from her existing benefits.
The balance will need paying back “for some time”, her solicitor added.
She has been ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and will be subject to supervision for 12 months.