A CLACKMANNAN mother has blamed a lack of support while she was seriously unwell for her unlawfully receiving £2500 in benefits.
Lorna Connell (30) was suffering from post natal depression when she was charged with failing to notify tax officials that her partner was living at the family home.
She claimed she was in an "on-off" relationship with her now-husband, Scott Durkin, who was infrequently staying at the house.
When she appeared for sentence at Alloa Sheriff Court on Thursday, Sheriff David Mackie hit out Connell's treatment by the benefits system.
He said the mother-of-three had needed help, not a prosecution, and admonished her of the charge.
Connell, of Zetland Street, Clackmannan, pled guilty to failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions and Clackmannanshire Council that she was maintaining a common household with Scott Durkin and obtained £2500 in Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit that she was not entitled to between 5 May 2011 and 15 April 2012.
Her lawyer, Claire McCarron, said Connell had been suffering post-natal depression at the time following the birth of her third child.
She said that was the reason for her "on-off" relationship with Mr Durkin who was "in and out of the family home".
Ms McCarron said, "She continued claiming benefits without updating them. She was worried about the consequences it would have had on her children and whether she would have been able to live."
She added, "The relationship was on-off so infrequently that it would have been difficult to update them. She is embarrassed to be here, not having been in trouble before."
Ms McCarron added that tax officials continued paying Connell her benefits in full even as she was being investigated.
An independent tax advisor, employed by the defence, calculated that had her benefits been suspended it would have "significantly reduced" the overpayment. The court heard Connell had been making repayments.
Admonishing Connell, Sheriff Mackie said, "I am satisfied that at the time of the offence you were more in need of help than what has now turned into a prosecution. I'm satisfied that this was not a planned fraud, that the offence was committed on your part as you had other concerns. You were by all accounts burying your head in the sand. I take account of your obvious remorse and willingness to repay."
Speaking to the Advertiser after the case, Connell said staff had advised her that if her partner was staying for only a few days a week it would not affect her claim. She said, "I was told that as he was only staying here three days a week that didn't classify him as living here full time and I could still claim. They gave me the wrong advice. I was embarrassed what I'd done but it was for my kids. I know what I did was wrong but I never did it for financial profit."
Connell said her depression was not diagnosed until a year after her third child was born and she struggled with it for two years.
She said, "When I was suffering from post natal depression I didn't know I was entitled to extra money as no-one told me. There was no support whatsoever. When I was standing there in court and the sheriff said I was admonished I was relieved. I thought, at last, someone believes me."
n Lorna Connell did not wish to have her picture appear with the story. The
image to the left is a stock photo.