Havering’s biggest benefits cheat: wife of company director scammed �140,000

The wife of a company director is Havering’s biggest ever benefits cheat after scamming a whopping �140,000 over 13 years.

Mother-of-three Samantha Austin, of Saddleworth Square in Harold Hill, was jailed for 16 months at Basildon Crown Court on Wednesday after falsely claiming she was a single mum – when in fact she was living with husband John Austin, a director and shareholder of engineering company Academy ENG.

Mrs Austin, 37, was raking-in more than �250 a week in benefits in a scam that began in 1996, when the couple married.

But the con was finally unravelled by Havering Council fraud investigators following an anonymous tip-off.

Even under investigation, Mrs Austin tried to keep up the single-parent scam, claiming she and John had separated 11 years ago.

At one stage Mrs Austin even said she hadn’t admitted being married because her husband was imprisoned for 18-months and she was unsure whether he was going to return to the family home.

But investigators found Mr Austin’s post was delivered to the address, they were listed as joint tenants, they had a joint bank account, his name was on their children’s birth certificates and the addresses of both parents were the same on their two children’s school records.

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Mrs Austin also has an older child from a previous relationship.

She changed to a guilty plea for two counts of dishonest representation for obtaining benefits at Basildon Crown Court on September 5.

Sentencing on Wednesday, Judge Saggerson, said: “Benefit fraud on this scale, over this period of time is criminality of such seriousness that only an immediate prison sentence could possibly be justified.

“I have taken into account your very late guilty plea and that you have no previous convictions against you, but also bear in mind good character is somewhat diminished as in this case you have, over a period of over ten years, defrauded in excess of �140,000 from the public purse.”

Cabinet member for value, Cllr Roger Ramsey, said: “This was a benefit con on a new scale for us and I hope that such a strong sentence will send a message to any other benefit cheats out there.

“We will do our utmost to find and stop anyone who thinks it is their right to defraud money meant for the most vulnerable members of our community.

“People who commit benefit fraud are as good as stealing from the pockets of law-abiding, Havering Council tax payers and we will not tolerate it.”

When Austin is released from prison, the council will set up a payment plan to ensure the defrauded money is recovered.