Benefits fraudster wins appeal over prison term

A BENEFITS cheat who was jailed after picking up more than £20,000 in state handouts has won an appeal against his sentence.

Lee Gardiner, aged 45, of Honeywell Street, Honeywell, Barnsley, pocketed the working tax credit cash after failing to tell the authorities he had stopped working.

The change to his circumstances would have affected the benefits to which he was entitled.

Gardiner was jailed for six months at Sheffield Crown Court after he admitted failing to notify the change and also admitted a charge of ‘being concerned in fraudulent activity to obtain tax credit’

But he will soon be free after top judges at the Court of Appeal in London cut his sentence by a third, to four months.

Gardiner is now eligible for release after serving only two months.

“We imagine that will lead to his release, if not today, then in a very short time,” said Mr Justice Calvert-Smith, who heard the appeal with Mr Justice Hedley.

The court heard Gardiner, who appeared at court via video link from prison, began claiming working tax credit in 2005 when he was working part-time.

He continued to claim the credit even after he stopped work in April 2008, receiving almost £15,000.

From April 2008 onwards, he also claimed about £7,500 in council tax and housing benefit, failing to declare he was in receipt of working tax credit at the time.

Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said the ‘very long’ duration of the crime and ‘significant’ cash involved did justify a sentence of immediate imprisonment.

But he added the offence was at the ‘bottom of the range’ and reduced the sentence to four months.