Village couple in court for falsely claiming benefits

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A BARROW couple falsely claimed benefits while trying to qualify for larger rented accommodation for themselves and their five children, a court has heard.

Michelle and Simon Murtagh made claims for two separate addresses and fell foul of the law by failing to notify the authorities that they were mainly using just one of the houses, where they were living with their children from former relationships, and that they had married.

The couple received a 12 month community order, with 40 hours of unpaid work for Michelle Murtagh and 100 hours for Simon Murtagh.

Last Thursday, Ipswich Crown Court heard that the couple, now of Meadow Way, Barrow, had been advised not to voluntarily crowd all the family into one of the houses as it could count against them when they applied for a larger house.

Prosecuting, Mark Rochouve said between July 2009 and December 2009 Michelle Murtagh, 28, falsely claimed just over £3,000 in housing and Council Tax benefits and income support.

Her husband, Simon Murtagh, 37, claimed £7,700 between May 2010 and February 2011 in income support, housing and Council Tax benefit.

The properties at which Simon Murtagh was claiming benefits was in Gannet Close, Haverhill, while Michelle Murtagh claimed at Cambridge Way, Haverhill.

Mr Rochouve said initially Michelle Murtagh’s claims had been genuine as she had not been living with Simon Murtagh.

When that changed, both should have notified St Edmundsbury Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions but did not, the court heard.

They each pleaded guilty to two offences of benefit fraud.

In mitigation, Carlo Coccaro said only a third of the £3,000 Michelle Murtagh received in benefits was paid in cash as income support.

Michael Proctor, in mitigation, said Simon Murtagh had received £2,533 in income support with the rest of his claims being paid directly for rent and Council Tax.

The court heard that Simon and Michelle Murtagh are currently unemployed and living on legally claimed benefits.

They are repaying the falsely claimed benefits through deductions from what they receive and now have six children between them.