BERKELEY benefit cheats who fraudulently claimed more than £5,000 have been sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work.

Stephen Earley, 50 and his wife Sharon, 43, of Jubilee Way in Newtown were sentenced at Cheltenham Magistrates Court on Monday (February 3) afternoon.

They were each charged with three offences relating to dishonestly failing to notify the district council of a change in circumstances which affected their entitlement to benefits, and dishonestly making a false statement with a view to obtaining benefits.

Before the couple were caught out by Stroud District Council (SDC) officers, they had claimed housing and council tax benefit they were not entitled to for over a year – to the tune of £5,297.

They were sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work and each ordered to pay £115 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

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.

He had, however, started a new job just a week later, which he failed to tell the council about.

Mrs Earley also 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.

The council became suspicious in May 2013, leading to an investigation. 

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 has now been repaid.

After the initial hearing, a SDC spokesman said the case demonstrated their commitment to prosecuting people who abuse the system.