A Nelson mother has avoided prison after admitting benefit fraud of more than $23,000.
Tegan Marie Aldridge, 23, of Stoke, pleaded guilty in the Nelson District Court last month to eight separate charges of obtaining by deception and fraudulently using a document for financial gain.
Lawyer for the Ministry of Social Development Margaret Gifford told the court yesterday that Aldridge lied on various benefit application forms between 2010 and 2013, by neglecting to advise that she was living with a partner in a de facto relationship.
In one instance, Aldridge told the ministry that her partner was a boarder, because she knew that telling the truth about their relationship would have resulted in a cut to her domestic purposes benefit, Mrs Gifford said.
The deliberate omissions and falsifications led to her receiving more than $23,000 that she was not entitled to, Mrs Gifford said.
Defence lawyer Ian Miller said Aldridge had been concerned to ensure she had enough money to look after her children, which had driven her to falsify the forms.
Ironically, a sentence that inevitably included reparation payments now meant she must repay the money, which would take income away from the household, he said.
Aldridge was young and remorseful, which her sentence should reflect, Mr Miller said.
She had no previous convictions and had accepted responsibility by pleading guilty at the first opportunity, he said.
Judge Tony Zohrab said Aldridge's fraud was on the threshold of what people used to be sent to prison for, but determined that a custodial sentence was not appropriate because of her age and parental responsibilities.
He sentenced her to six months' community detention, and ordered her to complete 350 hours of community work, which he said would be difficult to achieve but was designed to hold her to account. "People need to be deterred from rorting what is an honesty-based system," he said.
Aldridge was ordered to repay the $23,000 at a rate of $30 a week, and was told she would probably be sent to prison if she committed a similar dishonesty offence.
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