Benefit fraud sentence overturned

Last updated 15:16 03/07/2014

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A woman who stole nearly $110,000 in a decade of benefit fraud has had her jail sentence overturned.

Beverly Ann Walker was jailed for 21 months by an Auckland District Court judge last year for taking $109,000 in unlawfully obtained benefits.

She successfully appealed against the sentence to the High Court, which has replaced it with a five-month term of home detention.

In his ruling, Justice Simon France said Walker and her husband had been married for 46 years.

In the late 1990s they had briefly separated, and during this time she applied for and obtained benefits - firstly the unemployment benefit and then a sickness benefit.

The couple got back together again, but Walker did not tell the authorities and continued to receive the benefit.

Her offending was uncovered when her husband, who was unaware she was receiving an unlawful benefit, applied for national super when he turned 65.

When interviewed, Walker said she needed the money mainly because of her gambling and alcohol addictions.

She did not control the family finances because she had twice "cleaned her husband out" because of the addictions, the judgment said.

In her appeal, Walker said people convicted of similar offences had been given home detention rather than a prison sentence.

Justice France agreed and, taking into account the five months in jail she had served, quashed her sentence and replaced it with one of five months' home detention.

He noted that the district court judge had apparently seen the fact that Walker had acted to feed her gambling and drinking addictions as an aggravating factor, "and it was suggested that this motivation was worse than a situation where the money is expended on general household expenses, children or matters such as that".

"The difficulty with this is that if one accepts these were true addictions, the reasoning assumes a level of choice that may be unrealistic," he said.

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