A woman who claimed £144,977.88 in benefits she was not entitled to over a six-and-a-half year period has avoided jail.
Pauline Donaghy, 42, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years and she is now paying back £25 a week.
Belfast Crown Court noted it will take around 100 years to repay the money.
Judge RoseAnn McCormick said, “The overpayment appears to have been one of the largest ever prosecuted here.”
Donaghy claimed Housing Benefit and Income Support she was not entitled to.
She admitted obtaining Housing Benefit between February 2009 and August 2015 and failing to notify the Social Security Agency that she was living with her partner, and of obtaining Income Support between January 2009 and June 2015 in the same circumstances.
The court heard Donaghy’s partner was named as the landlord of the property, but that investigations revealed they were living together in the house “as husband and wife.” The court also heard that Donaghy’s partner had been in full time employment from 2000 until the detection in 2015.
Judge McCormick added that “this matter has been hanging over her head, and that has been an obvious burden on her” and she acknowledged Donaghy had engaged with medical services to address her “chronic depression and anxiety.” Judge McCormick also said the money was used “for household expenses.”
Handing Donaghy a 12-month sentence, the Judge concluded, “Her personal circumstances should be given considering weight, and accordingly I am suspending the sentence for a period of two years.”