A HUNTINGDON couple who together defrauded the taxpayer out of more than £32,000 have been handed prison sentences.

Lawrence Stevens of Brampton Road, Huntingdon, was sentenced to 12 months in jail for benefit fraud offences committed over a seven-year period.

He appeared at Huntingdon Magistrates' Court last Tuesday (December 13) where he and his partner Ruth Edley – a Cambridgeshire County Council employee – pleaded guilty to 15 charges of benefit fraud.

Edley, 46, received a two-month sentence, suspended for a year, for her part in allowing Stevens to make claims totalling £32,882 between 2004 and 2011.

The court heard that between those dates Stevens, 47, had claimed unemployment benefit eight times, declaring on each occasion that he was the sole occupant of his rented flat and reliant on state benefits.

But a tip-off from a member of the public alerted Huntingdonshire District Council and the Department for Work and Pensions to the fact that Stevens had lived with Edley for 10 years.

Investigators discovered that Edley had lived at the same address as Stevens since at least 2004, and that she owned a flat in Leicester which she rented out.

During the seven years, the couple had had concealed Edley's residence with Stevens on benefit claims, electoral roll forms, council tax liability and rent agreements.

When investigators interviewed Stevens and Edley about the allegations, both refused to answer questions.

When the scale of the fraud was revealed, Stevens was charged with making false claims for benefit and Edley with allowing him to make those claims

David Potter, mitigating for Edley, said she and Stevens had made arrangements to pay back £350 a month, and asked the court to take into account her guilty plea and previous good character.

Elaine Havord, for Stevens, said he had previous convictions dating from before 2003, and asked the court to ignore his history of offending.

Stevens was sentenced to 12 months in prison, while Edley was sentenced to two months, suspended for 12 months, with a requirement to do 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £480 in costs.