A Bury St Edmunds employee who stole almost £5,000 of taxpayers’ money did so to afford debts racked up by payday loans, a court has heard.
Tina Smith was employed by the Department of Work and Pensions, in Bury, when on June 26, last year, she stole £4,836.70.
Prosecuting, Emma Howson said that Smith, working in the housing cost section, had made a payment to a customer entitled to benefit arrears. She then made a second payment to a fictional customer under the name Tracey Smith, which she paid into her own bank account before moving it to two other accounts, also in her own name.
In mitigation, Claire Lockwood told Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday that Smith, who admitted the charge, felt ‘some sort of relief’ over being detected and brought before the court.
She said Smith was a single parent who had borrowed money from a work colleague to pay for her daughter’s university accommodation, which had to be paid before her daughter’s student grant came through.
Not qualifying for a bank loan, she took out a payday loan to repay her colleague.
“The interest on these types of loans is extremely high and thorough checks aren’t carried out on a person’s ability to pay back the loan,” said Mrs Lockwood, adding that Smith ended up taking out a second loan with the same company.
Mrs Lockwood said Smith had initially dealt with the case properly but that the claim for back-payment kept coming across her desk and ‘in a moment of madness’ she had decided to make the payment into her own account.
She said it was not a sophisticated crime and that Smith, desperate, had used the stolen money to repay her loans.
Presiding magistrate Sandy Carmichael said Smith had demonstrated ‘a severe breach of trust’.
Smith, 60, of Shackleton Road, Ipswich, was released on unconditional bail until May 1 to allow time for an ‘all-options’ pre-sentence report.