Benefit cheat had two jobs

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A HARROGATE man claimed more than £5,000 in benefits while holding down two jobs.

Christopher Houghton, 46, of South Drive, claimed Jobseekers Allowance despite working as a payroll administrator at David Jones Accountants in Wetherby.

He also did casual work at the The Tap and Spile pub where, Harrogate Magistrates Court was told last Friday, he often worked more than 16 hours a week, earning in excess of £300.

He pleaded guilty to five fraud offences - committed between July 2009 and December 2010 - which also included failing to declare secondary employment for the full period of his housing and council tax benefit claim.

A joint investigation between the Department of Work and Pensions and Harrogate Borough Council uncovered his illegal activities, which saw him pocket a total of £5,493.

Defence solicitor David Cambridge told the court that Houghton, who is currently unemployed, had: “Many stress related work problems including depression, and had debts to pay, although he understands that this does not excuse what he did and fully understands the gravity of the claims made against him.”

He said Houghton was unable to pay back the money as he was currently unemployed but hoped to restart work “as soon as possible”. He asked the court for leniency - telling magistrates that Houghton had no previous convictions and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

A probation officer told the court that Houghton was: “Highly stressed and tearful and expressed suicidal thoughts. He has no social support network or support from his family,” and was in her opinion, “not a risk to society but was a risk to himself.”

She concluded that while had no physical disability that prevented him from carrying out unpaid community service, a sick note from Houghton’s GP for the next month due to stress, “prevented him from carrying out any community service”.

The court was told community service could not be enforced due to insurance purposes.

Magistrates heard how Houghton had lost his job in Wetherby as a result of the benefit fraud charges.

In sentencing Houghton, lead Magistrate John Garroway said: “You have falsely obtained benefits relating of more than £5,000 over a period of six to 12 months.

“Taking your circumstances into consideration and your guilty plea at the earliest opportunity I am sentencing you to a community order with a curfew, of which you will be electronically tagged between the hours of 7pm and 7am seven days a week for the next eight weeks, starting from today.”

He was also asked to pay back court costs of £5 a week for £75 he had incurred in court charges.