A BENEFIT fraudster from St Ives narrowly avoided jail on Tuesday for falsely claiming more than £9,000 in hand-outs.

A BENEFIT fraudster from St Ives narrowly avoided jail on Tuesday for falsely claiming more than £9,000 in hand-outs.

Derek Leggett, 56, of Norris Road, received a six-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, for three counts of benefit fraud at Huntingdon Magistrates Court.

He had pleaded guilty to the charges on June 14, each charge related to a period of work for three separate employers between 2009 and 2010, and his case was adjourned to July 5.

On Tuesday, the court heard that Leggett had claimed housing and council tax benefit in November 2009 but within weeks of his claim being made had returned to full time work, sometimes earning in excess of £600 per week. An investigation by council officers, carried out as a result of data-matching to identify fraudulent claims, revealed several employers that Leggett had not reported while he continued to claim benefit until September 2010. As a result of his failure to declare that he had worked between December 2009 and October 2010, Leggett falsely claimed £9,214.22 in benefits.

Elaine Havord, who represented Leggett, told the court that while legitimately claiming benefit in 2009 Mr Leggett had found work but due to his family's over-burdened finances did not report this to the council as he should have.

Mrs Havord said Leggett was ashamed of his actions and had made full admissions when interviewed by council investigators - and even declared more work than the council was aware of. He made arrangements to repay the overpaid benefits in full.

The magistrates told Leggett that his actions had been dishonest and he had stolen money from the tax payers of Huntingdon and the matter was so serious that only a prison sentence of six weeks would be sufficient penalty. However, due to his previous good character, the fact that he had admitted his offending at the earliest opportunity, was repaying the sums he had falsely claimed and had co-operated fully with the council's investigation, his sentence was suspended for 12 months.

Leggett was also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and pay the council's costs of £440.

CONTACT: If you know someone who is claiming benefit they are not entitled to, you can contact the council's confidential fraud hotline on 01480 388188 or e-mail fraud.team@huntingdonshire.gov.uk. Leave as much information as possible to ensure that the council is aware of the full facts before an investigation commences. All reports received will be dealt with.