A BENEFIT fraudster who was overpaid nearly £20,000 has avoided jail despite lying to investigators.

Charlene Pereira’s application for housing benefit and income support allowance was initially entirely genuine, however she failed to notify authorities that her partner – who later became her husband – had moved into her home in Highwoods, Colchester.

Investigators became suspicious in June last year after it became clear her husband had set up an account for the utility bills at the property and froze her benefits.

But during a phone call, Pereira lied to authorities saying it was only a care-of address and she had asked him to desist.

Her benefits were then restarted but her genuine circumstances were uncovered last November.

Pereira, 30, came clean to authorities saying the relationship had been on and off, they had broken up at one stage but accepted they had reconciled and later married.

She admitted failing to notify the Department of Work and Pension and Colchester Council about changes which would affect income support and housing benefit between March 2017 and November 2018.

The total amount she was overpaid was £19,950.83.

Caroline Woodley, mitigating, said Pereira, of Inspiration Avenue, Colchester, had a history of mental health difficulties and had found court proceedings difficult.

“It is difficult to quantify as initially her partner worked away a lot,” she said.

“They did get married in July 2017 and it should have been notified.

“This is not a situation where she had to sign on every two weeks – leaflets are sent out quarterly for income support and ad-hoc for housing benefit.”

She said Pereira was now legitimately claiming personal independence payment as well as working and had set up a system to payback what she had been fraudulently claimed.

The cash was used on day-to-day expenses and not outlandish purchases.

Sentencing her at Chelmsford Crown Court, Judge David Turner QC said would show mercy because she is the primary carer for her children.

“Nearly £20,000 of benefit payments have been taken which you were not entitled to,” he said.

“The changes should have been notified but they were not and in fact you lied about the situation.

“This sort of offending cheats the system and it cannot be tolerated.”

Pereira was handed an 18 month community order with 180 hours of unpaid work and 15 rehabilitation days.