A COUPLE from Berkeley have pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefit to the tune of £5,297.

Stephen Earley, 50 and his wife Sharon, 43, of Jubilee Way in Newtown were caught out by Stroud District Council (SDC) officers after they had spent over a year claiming benefit they were not entitled to.

On Friday, February 7, Cheltenham Magistrates Court heard how Mr Earley had contacted SDC in December 2011 and informed them he had lost his job in November and provided his P45 to prove it.

But prosecutor Zoe Lash said that, unbeknown to the council, he had gained employment a week after he had lost his previous job.

“He simply told us he had stopped working,” she said.

“He contacted the council and gave them his P45 in December. But he had started a new job a week later and didn’t tell us this.”

The court also heard how Mrs Earley had failed to tell SDC that she had increased her working hours from 18 a week to 30 in December 2012, which would mean she was entitled to less benefit.

Ms Lash explained that their dishonest actions started to unravel when Mrs Earley eventually called the council in May 2013 to inform them that her husband had found employment and she was working more hours within the last month.

“Sharon had given in one month of details to us, whereas both had been in work for a considerable time before that,” she said.

“The council became suspicious and made some enquiries.”

Both were interviewed under caution and admitted being dishonest in claiming £4,106.34p in housing benefit and £1,191.28p in council tax benefit, which they are now repaying at a rate of £100.

At Cheltenham Magistrates Court on Friday, February 7 the couple pleaded guilty to two counts each of dishonestly failing to give prompt notification of a change in their circumstances.

They also both admitted guilt to one charge each of dishonestly making a false representation to obtain benefits.

Ms Lash added the council was asking the court for costs of £230 each to be paid back by the defendants.

Defending, Mohammed Iqbal said a report would be needed by probation services on the pair to guide sentencing because of the length of time since the offences took place.

Bench chairman Roger Schofield adjourned the case for sentencing until Monday, March 3 at Cheltenham Magistrates Court.

After the hearing, a SDC spokesman said:

"We take benefit fraud very seriously and will prosecute people who abuse the system.

"This case obviously showed intention to defraud and we are pleased with the outcome."