A Horley woman has been jailed for 20 weeks after pleading guilty to benefit fraud of more than £51,000.

Julie Watkinson of Wheelwright Court, Horley, and formerly of Lansdowne Road, Purley, and Hillbury Road, Whyteleafe, was given a twenty week custodial sentence at Guildford Crown Court on March 13, after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing. The court heard that in 2007, Mrs Watkinson applied for housing and council tax benefit from Croydon Council, while living at Lansdowne Road, and also claimed Income Support. Mrs Watkinson declared she was not employed.

In July 2008, after moving to Hillbury Road, Whyteleafe, Mrs Watkinson applied for housing and council tax benefits from Tandridge District Council. She declared she received Income Support and had no income from earnings.

However, the court was told it was later established that Mrs Watkinson had been employed by Surrey County Council in a children’s nursery since 2006. As a result of her failure to declare the true facts to either council or the Department for Work and Pensions, she received Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit she was not entitled to. After initially pleading not guilty at a hearing on January 31, Mrs Watkinson changed her plea to guilty to six counts of having dishonestly made false statements to obtain benefit, and of having failed to notify changes of circumstances she knew would affect her entitlement to benefit. Four other charges remain on file. In total, the sum of benefit overpaid was £51,000. The judge gave Mrs Watkinson credit for her guilty plea and the fact she had not spent the money on a lavish lifestyle by reducing the sentence, but said the seriousness of the offence was too great to suspend the sentence. There were no orders made for a contribution towards the cost of the investigation conducted jointly by both councils and the Department for Work and Pensions. Councillor Martin Fisher, chairman of Tandridge District Council's Resources Committee, said: “Judges do not often send people to prison for benefit fraud, but in this case it was justified, as Mrs Watkinson claimed a large amount of public money she was not entitled to.”