A mature student nurse from Sible Hedingham who swindled £23,000 in benefits has been spared jail.
Alison Campbell, of Summerfields, falsely claimed she was living as a single woman to receive income support over a period of four years, despite sharing a house with a man she would go on to marry.
Judge Anthony Goldstaub told the 44-year-old, who is in the third year of a nursing degree at Essex University, that she had acted shamefully and “stolen from the community” at Chelmsford Crown Court on Thursday.
Campbell pleaded guilty to failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions of a change in her circumstances between October 2007 and July 2011.
She also admitted making a false representation to Chelmsford Borough Council in April 2010 to obtain housing benefit and council tax benefit by failing to declare she was living with Stephen Parish in the same house as husband and wife.
Prosecutor Laura Kenyon said the overpayment was £23,824 – of which £17,000 was in income support.
In mitigation, Gavin Burrell said Mr Parish had been a family friend of Campbell when they began living together, before marrying in December 2010.
“It was very short and they are now getting divorced,” he said. “She is still in the same property as her ex-husband and he has agreed to continue to pay rent until she qualifies as a nurse.”
Judge Goldstaub imposed a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered Campbell to pay £200 costs.
He told Campbell she ought to go to prison but the taxpayer would lose out again by having to meet the cost of keeping her in jail.
The Department of Work and Pensions and council are reclaiming the money back directly.