A woman claiming £28,000 in disability benefits has been caught off guard by investigators after she was spotted walking around unaided. Cheryl Topham, 54, had rightfully claimed Disability Living Allowance but failed to update the DWP after a successful knee replacement.
In 2015, Topham had legally received Employment Support Benefit. But a successful knee replacement in 2017 allowed her to walk unaided again.
Topham did not inform the DWP about the improvement in his mobility. After a tip-off, she was seen walking unaided, Minshull Street Court heard, Manchester Evening News reports.
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She received an overpayment of £28,263.70 in benefits because she failed to notify the DWP of her change in circumstances. Topham, of Windemere Crescent, Ashton-under-Lyne, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to give notice of a change in circumstances affecting entitlement to benefits and dishonestly making a false statement to obtain benefits.
Her original application for disability benefit said she suffered from a number of ailments, including carpal tunnel syndrome, and that these conditions affected her ability to walk and take care of herself, said prosecutor John Richards. “As a result, her application was approved in November 1999 and she was transferred to Employment Support Benefit in March 2015,” he said.
“He was told to inform DWP if anything changed. The DWP investigator then became aware of the allegations regarding the accused and was subsequently allowed to be monitored between September 5 and September 9, 2019.
“The footage was obtained through cellphone footage, showing the defendant walking unaided. Then, during another appointment where she attempted to claim PIP (Personal Independence Payment Benefit), she was seen using crutches.
Topham was arrested and questioned on bail, and after seeing the footage she admitted she underwent surgery in August 2017 which saw her conditions no longer qualify her for the payments. In total, she got £17,558.60 in disability benefit payments and £10,675 in ESA payments. She said she had no previous convictions.
Saul Brody, mitigating, said she found the legal process “excruciating” and was “very ashamed” that she had not given notice of the changed circumstances. “This is a case where there was a genuine claim for at least 18 years,” he said.
“The defendant first received benefits related to her disability in 1992, in 2008 the DWP recognized that her condition was so serious that she did not need to continue making claims. She was entitled to the performances, but things went wrong in 2017.”
Mr Brody said Topham underwent knee placement surgery in 2017 and acknowledged that her condition had improved and she had not clarified this to the DWP. He added that she is currently in poor health and in financial difficulty but that a payment plan will be put in place to repay the monies.
Recorder Jon Close said: ‘The system has to rely on the trust given primarily to those who are not able to look after themselves. People are trusted to do and declare and clearly do the right thing – you haven’t.
Topham was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, a 12-month suspended sentence, ten days of rehabilitation activities and a nine-month alcohol treatment program.