Strontian benefit cheat fined £1,500 for £24,000 false claim
A BENEFIT cheat who falsely claimed almost £25,000 has been ordered to pay £1,500 as punishment.
Charles Wright, of Larch Cottage, Monument Park, Strontian, gave false information to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in March 2008.
The 73-year- old claimed he had only £4,000 of savings and owned no other properties. This allowed Wright to fraudulently claim benefits of £24,340.52 between March 2008 and June 2012.
Wright eventually pleaded guilty to the charge in 2015. Last month he presented a cheque for £16,000 to cover the remaining amount owed and on Tuesday he appeared in Fort William Sheriff Court for sentencing.
Sheriff William Taylor presided over the case, during which it was heard the fraudulent claims were made by Wright during a phone call and because of the nature of the conversation and the fact he was in his own home, Wright had taken a more ‘cavalier’ approach to his finances.
Defence lawyer Hamish Melrose also confirmed Wright’s cheques had cleared and that he had actually paid slightly in excess of what was owed.
When explaining Wright’s current situation, Mr Melrose said a social background report was conducted a year ago and since then his circumstances have not materially changed but that Mr Wright now qualifies for benefits. The court also heard it was decided there was no need for a proceeds of crime application to be made as long as full reimbursement was made to the DWP.
Sheriff Taylor interjected, raising the point that this was a ‘continued crime’ which took place over many years and where a man who had claimed more than £24,340 in pension credit was believed to have nearly half a million pounds worth of assets.
With regards to the figures Mr Melrose replied: ‘That is disputed.’
Mr Melrose added: ‘ Mr Wright receives £120 per week and that is the sole income for both he and his wife and he has no assets.’
The Sheriff questioned Mr Melrose’ statement that Wright has no assets.
When informed the prop- erty he currently lives in is now owned by his daughter, Sheriff Taylor said to Wright: ‘It seems to me that that was an attempt to divest yourself of assets in order to prevent any money being obtained.’
Mr Melrose defended Wright and said the false claims had been made in relation to inheritance tax but since then the correct information has been submitted.
He also said: ‘Irrespective of the assets, Mr Wright believed he was entitled to that money because of his age.’
Sheriff Taylor replied: ‘It seems to me that you are a person who is a stranger to the truth.
‘ You defrauded the public purse and expected to be patted on head and the sent away. Custody is a real option here.’
Mr Melrose replied: ‘ Mr Wright is aware of that.’
He told the court Wright had attended court regularly and he had discussed this with his client but he urged for the seriousness of Wright’s crimes to be mitigated by his age, the fact the money had been reimbursed and that he has no previous convictions and hoped an alternative route may be available.
The Sheriff replied that the route he found attractive was a financial one.
He added: ‘Given the facts that are available to me, I think a financial penalty is appropriate.’
After discussing the fine with his lawyer, it was agreed Wright would pay £1,500 in £100 instalments on a monthly basis.
Charles Wright leaves Fort William Court in disguise on Tuesday. Photograph by Anthony MacMillan Photography.