Widow loses appeal after illegally collecting $373,000 in ACC payments

Janice Walker was found guilty of fraud at the Blenheim District Court last year.
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Janice Walker was found guilty of fraud at the Blenheim District Court last year.

A Marlborough widow who fraudulently collected $373,000 from ACC has lost an appeal against her convictions.

ACC discovered Janice Walker was receiving a widow's pension while living with another man. They had a child together, shared a bank account and started a family trust, but Walker told ACC she was not in a de facto relationship.

Walker denied nine criminal charges and took the case to trial. She was found guilty and ordered to pay the money back.

Her lawyer Rob Harrison appealed the decision, arguing last month that Autism Spectrum Disorder could have affected her communication with ACC and the court. She was diagnosed after her sentencing at the Blenheim District Court last year.

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However, the Court of Appeal in Auckland rejected Walker's appeal on Friday.

She knew what a de facto relationship was and deliberately lied on the forms, the appeal decision said.

Walker raised four children, managed nine or ten rental properties and ran a business, so she must be a "mentally capable" person, the decision said.

Walker was eligible for weekly compensation from ACC after her husband died in an accident in the late 1980s.

She signed an ACC form every year until 2012 stating she was not married or in a de facto relationship. 

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However, an ACC investigation discovered Walker's new partner moved into her 400-acre Okaramio property in 1992, and helped to build a family home there.

ACC's investigation in 2013 found their relationship was "in the nature of marriage", and weekly compensation to Walker should have stopped in 2004.

Walker was recorded as saying in an interview with ACC that she had lied about the man living with her in case it affected her payments.

But she maintained the relationship was not de facto because there was no sexual element.

"We were still living under the same roof, but there was no intimacy, no sleeping together, no talking," she told an ACC staff member.

After the trial, Walker was found guilty on two counts of using a document for pecuniary advantage, and seven counts of dishonestly using a document.

She was sentenced to two years imprisonment, converted to 12 months' home detention, and 150 hours community work. She was to repay $373,000 within 40 days.

Judge David Ruth said during her sentencing last year the couple did "lead separate lives in many respects" but it was still in the nature of marriage - and Walker knew it.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Judge Ruth that Walker deliberately tried to hide her relationship from ACC.

They may not have been intimate, but all other factors indicated a de facto relationship, the decision said.

Harrison sought permanent name suppression, arguing details of Walker's new diagnosis would cause undue hardship to Walker and her family.

But the Court of Appeal said heightened social anxiety was not undue hardship.

Walker's interim name suppression was lifted on Friday.

 - The Marlborough Express

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