St Albans benefits cheat evades prison term

A BENEFIT fraudster from St Albans who illegally claimed over �20,000 has escaped an immediate prison sentence.

Barry Bracey, 51, of Cairns Close fraudulently claimed �24,348 of incapacity, housing and council tax benefits over a six year period by failing to inform St Albans district council or the Department for Work and Pensions about changes in his employment circumstances.

As well as not declaring shifts he worked for various employment agencies, father-of-one Bracey continued to receive benefits even after taking on full-time employment as a night storeman in March 2007 for a local electrical firm.

St Albans Crown Court heard last Friday that Bracey, who initially claimed incapacity benefit in 2002 due to depression and psychiatric problems, had been slowly paying back the money he owed since April this year at a rate of �50 a week.

Speaking on his behalf, the defence said that Bracey “deeply regretted” his actions and that he was committed to paying back all he owed in the space of four years.

Judge Griffith, who warned that such a crime could warrant up to 18 months in prison, chided Bracey for his dishonesty, but added: “It seems to me that you have got yourself into a position to repay these payments and I am confident that you won’t be back in the docks again.”

Bracey, who was accompanied to court by his daughter and partner, was given a suspended sentence of 40 weeks imprisonment for each fraud offence, of which there were two, and must also abide by a daytime curfew every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Speaking of benefit fraud cases, minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said last week: “Benefit thieves are costing the taxpayer almost �1billion per year. This money is intended to help those most in need not line the pockets of criminals. We will continue to tackle this problem at the frontline but also at the root by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.”

Portfolio holder for community engagement and support cllr Chris Oxley added: “This case demonstrates that there are reliable system checks in place to ensure that anyone seeking to defraud the benefit system will be detected and prosecuted. Benefit cheats will be rigorously pursued because their crime impacts on all taxpayers.”