A woman from Warwick boosted her wealth by making fraudulent benefit claims despite receiving a divorce settlement of more than a quarter of a million pounds.
Over four years Assa Brown claimed just over £27,000 in housing and council tax benefits and jobseeker’s allowance, a judge at Warwick Crown Court has heard.
Brown, of Wordsworth Avenue, had pleaded guilty to failing to notify a change in circumstances and to two charges of making false statements to obtain benefits.
The 50-year-old, who has a law degree, was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years, with 12 months supervision, and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
Prosecutor Henry Skudra said Brown had claimed housing and council tax benefits from October 2010, having said she was single and had a child in the household.
But she failed to declare she owned another property, bought with funds from her divorce settlement, or that she had an income from it.
Mr Skudra said that when Brown first made her claim for housing and council tax benefit, it was legitimate – but it became fraudulent just a month later when she received the divorce settlement.
He also pointed out that two separate false declarations later made for jobseeker’s allowance were fraudulent from the start.
By the time it was discovered, she had been paid £21,731 in housing benefit, £2,233 in council tax benefit, and £3,114 in jobseeker’s allowance, which she was not entitled to.
When she was interviewed, Brown told what the judge described as ‘manifest lies,’ claiming the money belonged to her father and that she had received nothing from her ex-husband.
Amiee Parkes, defending, said Brown had come to the UK from Iran in 1982, and after gaining a law degree was in full-time employment until 2010, working as the general manager of 12 shops.
“Her mother and father still live in Iran. She has brought shame on them.
“What triggered this is an acrimonious divorce from her partner. When she first made this claim it wasn’t fraudulent, and she was advised to make it by the domestic violence unit.
“She didn’t know she was going to get the sum of money she did, but accepts she did not declare that or the property in Kingston-upon-Thames bought from the proceeds of the divorce.”
Miss Parkes said the pressure of the divorce led to heavy drinking, which Brown stopped in 2011 but then relapsed between 2013 and 2015, but has now been sober for two years.
Brown and her ex-husband have shared contact with their daughter, and Miss Parkes said she would struggle if she was jailed, adding that Brown had so far repaid a total of £4,640 and is having £3.70 a week stopped out of benefits she still receives.
Judge Lockhart commented: “I’d have been more impressed if she had repaid it all. She is a woman who is no doubt still sitting on enormous assets. She still owns her address, and could have taken draw-down on that.”
Sentencing Brown, he told her: “You made a claim for benefits in 2010, and it was only a proper claim for a matter of months. Thereafter, every day you knew you were receiving money to which you were not entitled.
“You knew that others who did not own their own home and did not have a house to rent did not receive the benefit they were entitled to because the benefit system was pushed into difficulty by people like you.
“You were a wealthy woman in every sense across the course of those years, and you chose to enhance that wealth.
“You were arrested and interviewed. Why on earth you did not tell the truth, this court cannot understand. Someone trained in the law well knew that when they were caught, that was the time to be honest, but you sought to mislead.
“You have had a spectacular fall from grace. I give you credit for the fact that you are repaying the money gradually.”