Benefits cheat spared jail

Cupar Sheriff Court.
Cupar Sheriff Court.
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A benefits cheat who fraudulently claimed almost £9500 has narrowly avoided a jail sentence.

Helen Gracie (52) was told by Sheriff Charles Macnair in Cupar that a custodial sentence was appropriate but because of health difficulties she would be spared.

She was ordered to perform 250 hours of unpaid work and placed on a restriction of liberty order for a year - but was warned that if her health problems prevented her from carrying out the work a prison sentence would be ‘the only option’.

Gracie, of 6 Lyall Place, Newburgh, had previously admitted failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions between November 30, 2011, and June 8, 2012, that she was in receipt of a private pension from Dundee City Council and that between June 6, 2012, and August 1 last year she obtained £8263.07 in income-related Employment and Support Allowance to which she was not entitled.

She further admitted failing to notify Fife Council that she was in receipt of a private pension between November 21, 2011, and May 6, 2012, and receiving Housing and Council Tax benefit to which she was not entitled.

The total amount she received was £9422.42.

Her solicitor, Gordon Fowler, had told the court that Gracie had been ‘an upstanding member of the community’ who had been a social care worker for 17 years but left work due to her health problems.

Her husband of 28 years died suddenly of a stroke in 2011 and she had had a heart attack the same year.

She had been making payments towards the debt.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Macnair told Gracie: “This was a very significant sum over an extended period.

“I have to have regard to the High Court guidelines that say that unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances only a custodial sentence is appropriate.

“It seems to me, just and only just, that your health difficulties are such mitigating circumstances.”