Published: 00:01, 12 July 2014
A mum whose job it was to pay benefits to claimants has narrowly avoided prison – for diverting the cash into her own bank account.
Alison Barrett, 49, was working for the Department for Work and Pensions as an admin officer when she cooked up the deceitful plan.
But after she was found out and appeared in court, she told her barrister: “My husband is disgusted with me and I have ruined my life!”
Now the mum-of-two, of Querns Road, Canterbury, has been sacked from her post at the DWP and is, ironically, dependent on benefits.
Prosecutor Alison Ginn told Canterbury Crown Court how Barrett had worked at the Canterbury DWP Centre since 2008.
She said: “As part of her employment she had access to the department’s computer systems, which she was trusted to use to deal with claims.
“On November 8, last year, it came to light that an arrears payment for Employment Support Allowance was paid into a bank account not belonging to the person entitled to it.”
Investigators checked with their own employees’ bank details and realised the money had gone into the same account as Barrett used for her salary.
Ms Ginn added: “She had left a footprint on the computer because she had changed the details to ensure the money was paid into her account and then changed them back.”
In a two-month period, the thieving admin officer had diverted almost £9,000 of benefits, which should have gone to six claimants, into her own account.
The prosecutor said that Barrett thought she would get away with it because she knew her victims were not aware they were due the money.
Barrett said that she had “accidentally” pocketed £4,000 which was a payment due under the Severe Disability Premium, which she later claimed she believed the person was not entitled to.
She later excused the thieving saying she had “misread” the date and instead of £300 going into her account, £4,000 was transferred.
The prosecutor added: “When she was arrested she made full and frank admissions.
She said the idea had come to her when she saw someone’s bank details were very similar to her own,” she added.
Paul Hogben, defending, said Barrett came from “a close and loving family”, but got into debt after she suffered three bereavements.
“Sometimes intelligent people can make catastrophic errors of judgement. It was madness, a complete and catastrophic misjudgement,” he said.
Mr Hogben said Barrett turned to payday loans to manage her increasing debt of £20,000 but it got out of control.
“She did not mention one word of her financial difficulties to her husband,” he said.
“He has remained oblivious to all the debt and it was only when she was arrested he found out what had been going on.”
Barrett said her husband was “as honest as the day is long” and told her that he is now disgusted with her.
She revealed: “I couldn’t tell him because the problem had arisen through my side of the family. I didn’t know how to tell him. If only I had spoken to him, this would not have happened.
“I have hurt my family, my friends and my former colleagues. I have ruined my life" - Alison Barrett
“I have hurt my family, my friends and my former colleagues. I have ruined my life,” she added.
Barrett said she wants to repay the stolen money and is now claiming benefits after being sacked.
She pleaded guilty to fraud and was given a six-month jail sentence, suspended for a year, and ordered to do 300 hours of unpaid work.
She was also ordered to repay the money at £80 a month.
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