Benefits Cheat Melissa Whiting used documents as a financial ‘safety net’

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Cheat: Melissa Whiting, 33, of Darlington, who used illegally claimed benefits as a “financial safety net” while enjoying vacation abroad and a lavish lifestyle

A mother of three who used illegally claimed allowances as a “financial safety net” while enjoying vacation abroad and lavish household expenses was receiving thousands of dollars from her well-paid boyfriend, said a tribunal.

Melissa Whiting told officials she lives alone with her three children and receives income assistance, housing assistance and tax relief, a court has heard.

But in reality, she shared her Darlington home with her boyfriend Mark Briscoe – a former soldier working in private security in the Middle East.

Within a year he was able to deposit £ 9,000 into his 33-year-old girlfriend’s account – all the while claiming benefits, using them as a ‘financial safety net’.

It also allowed him to pay for a family vacation to Mallorca and Bulgaria, as well as a sofa over £ 1,000, fridge, washing machine, floor and Sky subscription.

Her deception was discovered in 2013, although she initially denied being in a relationship with Mr. Briscoe.

However, his neighbors knew they were a couple and Teesside Crown Court learned that Mr Briscoe had also registered his car on Darlington property and that his correspondence on military pensions was going there.

Eventually, Whiting admitted two counts of failure to notify changed circumstances, and yesterday she was given a two-month suspended prison sentence.

The judge, recorder Martin Bethel, QC, called his dishonesty ‘flagrant’ and also ordered Whiting, of Chestnut Drive, to pay £ 400 in costs.

Penny Bottomley, attenuating, told the court that the fathers of Whiting’s first two children “contributed very little to their education.”

She added: “Her explanation to the probation service for continuing to claim benefits is that it was a financial safety net for her and her children.

“It’s somewhat understandable considering that she has spent the past 11 years receiving very little money from their fathers.

“She admits it was wrong.”

Miss Bottomley told the judge that the unemployed Whiting had struggled with a gambling addiction at one point, but it was “now being managed”.

The youngest of the accused’s three children – Mr. Briscoe is the father – is three years old and the others are seven and eleven, the court heard.

Prosecutor Nigel Soppitt said the allegation was that she was claiming more than £ 11,800 over 18 months, but the defense case is that it was £ 5,000 over nine months.


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