On 23rd May 2013 Amanda Webber, a mother of eight, was found guilty of multiple counts of benefit fraud. It was different, and far more serious, than most of the cases that a Court will see in this category of offences.
Ms Webber claimed that five of her children had disabilities or medical conditions that impacted on their lives, and claimed various benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Carers Allowance and tax credits) as a result. There was a lengthy trial – five weeks – where the jury heard evidence that the children were leading “active lives, taking part in PE and activities including music, drama and dance. Some even auditioned for ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent show“.
The total value of the fraud was £353,000 over a 12year period.
When dealing with benefit fraud, it is common for there to be a Pre-Sentence Report, but in this case the Judge has adjourned the sentencing for tomorrow (which won’t be enough time to do a report). This is probably because it is so serious that he will send her to prison.
The starting point is the Fraud Sentencing Guidelines (page 25).
Webber was sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment.
It is assumed that this was not professionally planned but was fraudulent from the outset. We know that the fraud was committed over a significant period – 12 years. A 4-year sentence is within the guidelines – just – which suggest a starting point of 3 years and a range of 2-4 years.
As this is at the top of the range, the judge must have determined that an uplift was appropriate. It is certainly relevant that Webber was using her children in order to commit the fraud. That will have been an aggravating factor. Similarly, the fact that the fraud was used to fund a lavish lifestyle – including private education and “every material advantage” – will also have been an aggravating factor.
Bear in mind there is no credit for a guilty plea.
In mitigation, it can be assumed reliance was placed on the fact that courts are reluctant to separate children from their mothers, especially when they are still of school-age. Courts are mindful of the effect upon the children and of course have to bear in mind the human rights of the child and of the mother. R v Petherick 2012 EWCA Crim 2214 examined this subject.
In this case, clearly the Judge determined that notwithstanding that factor, the offending was so serious that a 4 year sentence was warranted.
Judge Niblett said: “You have chosen to have eight children and to live your life as you have, but you are not entitled to do so at the expense of your fellow citizens who work hard and struggle on modest incomes.”
Expect an appeal. The argument is likely to be two-fold, namely a) the sentence is too long in any event, having regard to the guidelines and b) the sentence failed to pay proper regard to the effect upon the children of an immediate custodial sentence of 4 years.
A reduction in sentence is certainly possible, however I certainly see nothing wrong with a sentence of 4 years.
Prosecutor Andrew Evans said the Crown would be looking to start confiscation proceedings against Webber to recover some of the money.