An Ashton-Under-Lyne Inland Revenue officer who was assigned to inspect child tax credit claims secretly stole £50,000 in welfare handouts to pay off payday loans she took out with Wonga.
Mother of two Caroline Bryon’s job was to process applications from parents – but over a four year period she filched money from the public purse by making false claims herself for her own childcare costs.
The 34-year-old, who was in debt due to her love of socialising, illegally pocketed double the child tax credits and working tax credits she was entitled to when she moved in with a partner who was in full-time employment.
Prosecutor Jonathan Rogers said: “In January 2011 she telephoned HMRC to say her child care costs were £300 per week. This was while she worked for the HMRC processing and checking claims.
“One of the childcare providers cites the defendant, knowing there was an investigation into her claim, had asked her to tell tax credits that she had paid the childminder almost double what she had and asked her to backdate a claim but the childminder refused.
“The defendant had a greater knowledge than average members of the public on the street would have. She would know what checks took place because she carried them out herself.”
Despite working in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office processing and checking other benefits claims, Bryon thought she could avoid detection using her knowledge that only a certain number of claims would be checked.
But after banking the stolen money from 2010-2014 she was eventually unmasked as a fraudster during an investigation last year by the DWP. She later claimed she had taken out a payday loan with Wonga – only to be left facing interest rates of 4,000 per cent.
At Manchester Crown Court Bryon, mother of two sons aged 10 and five, wept as she escaped with a 14 month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was ordered to fork out just £100 to cover court costs.
She was also given 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to undergo six months of supervision after pleading guilty to four counts of fraud by false representation.
The court heard she had narrowly avoided immediate custody on the basis that she didn’t use her job to obtain the cash – because ‘if she had applied her mind she would have realised she was always going to get found out’. The loss amounted to £50,344.
Prosecutor Jonathan Rogers said Bryon wasn’t fraudulent from the outset, but began submitting andl claims saying her circumstances were correct when they had, in fact, changed.
From May 2010 Bryon began spinning three different lies to obtain the cash – initially claiming that her child care costs were double to what she was actually paying. She even tried to hook a babysitter into the scam when she realised she was under investigation, Mr Rogers added.
In mitigation defence counsel Andrew Evans revealed that 85% of fraudulent overpayments come from co-habitation cases. “There were no thoughts to the checks that would be made because any thought would have led to her thinking ‘this is not the way to do it’,” he said. ‘’The least that can be said is that she should have known better.”
He added: “The upshot is she is unable to claim lack of knowledge. The offence was always going to end in discovery. It was very unsophisticated.
“It stems from debt. The name Wonga appears. Interest rates of 4,000%. It was a debt spiral. She separated from the father of her eldest child and decided to use payday loans to bridge the gap, not only her own outgoings but socialising.
“What she has realised is this is a problem with alcohol that she uses in periods of stress. The stress was she was going to move from home and away from her family and from Lancashire to Manchester to move in with her new partner.
“She had been hiding this debt. She will be a very unlikely candidate to darken the court’s door again. She has paid off huge interest rates to those people who prey on people in crisis.”
Passing sentence the judge Mr Recorder Andrew Thomas said Bryon had ‘lived beyond her means’ and had cheated hard-working taxpayers rather than the State.
He said: “There came a point when you positively told lies in applications you made. The offending involves lies told over a period of two years but the claims persisted for five years. I regard it as a significant aggravating factor that you were employed by HMRC throughout the period, carrying out work processing tax credit claims yourself.
“I recognise you didn’t use this position in order to interfere with your own claim. You of all people know what the system is. You of all people know that our revenue system, both payment of taxes and payment of benefits, depends on trust.
“People in your position know that we rely on the honesty of people submitting their forms when you process payments and you know the proportion of forms routinely checked.
“We all know those who cheat the system aren’t cheating the State, you are cheating all honest people who work hard and pay taxes and don’t claim benefits to which they aren’t entitled.
“You were cheating your own colleagues, friends and neighbours by stealing in that way. This is a case of someone who lived beyond their means and got into debt for that reason.”
Image courtesy of Mikey, with thanks.