Detention for benefit fraud couple

A former Palmerston North couple who fraudulently claimed more than $107,000 in carer support payments for their disabled daughter have been called "clumsy in their execution" and forced to pay back what they took.

Peter Thomas and Lee-Ann Hawe-Thomas, now living in Taupo, were sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday for dishonestly using documents to obtain carer support.

Carer support is a subsidy funded by the Ministry of Health or a district health board to assist an unpaid fulltime carer of a person with a disability to take a break.

Adoptive or step-parents are not eligible for the funding.

Defence lawyer Gordon Paine said Hawe-Thomas' daughter, Melanie-Jane Hawe, had extremely high needs and "is someone who needs constant monitoring".

He said Thomas and Hawe-Thomas lived under the same roof "but are not for all intents and purposes man and wife". "Both Mr Thomas and Mrs Hawe-Thomas acknowledge they have done wrong seeking the payment," he said.

"The execution of the criminal action was clumsy - there was no attempt to cover their tracks and by that I mean they didn't come up with a raft of other names."

Between 2005 and 2012 Thomas submitted 66 carer support claim forms, although ineligible to do so as a family member.

Thomas stated his relationship to the client, Melanie-Jane, as "no relation", "friend", "non-family" and "non-relative".

A police summary of facts said Thomas and Hawe-Thomas' actions were picked up by the Ministry of Health in December 2012 when a request for information was made by the Ministry of Social Development.

An investigation began when concerns were raised about the living arrangements between the pair.

The couple changed their addresses several times between 2005 and 2012 to reside in Palmerston North, Feilding and Taupo - but always remaining apart on paper. The investigation found some of the people at the addresses were unaware of Thomas and Hawe-Thomas. Further proof of address was requested from both of them, one item of which was a Rockgas statement.

When this statement was checked it showed Hawe-Thomas' initial "L" had been concealed.

Judge David Smith said it was "erroneous" that the applications named Thomas as a carer and not a family member.

"Your deceit in this matter was compounded when you offered two documents, namely a rates assessment and Rockgas statement, to make it apparent that Mr Thomas was not in the same accommodation as Mrs Hawe-Thomas," he said.

"What is an issue here is the criminality of making applications to the ministry for payments on false information.

"Benefit fraud is a continuing problem throughout New Zealand and is so in this region too."

An application for discharge without conviction was declined.

Thomas was sentenced to 200 hours' community detention and to pay reparation of $107,344.

Hawe-Thomas was sentenced to five months' home detention.

Manawatu Standard