A BENEFIT fraudster must serve a 200-hour community penalty and is facing a £21,587.82 bill and a suspended prison sentence.

At Southend Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, April 16, Thomas Lydon, 47, of Chalkwell Avenue, Westcliff admitted three offences under the Social Security Administration Act.

These were two counts of dishonestly making a false statement and one of dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances.

He was given a 16-week suspended sentence, ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work in the community and to pay a victim surcharge of £80 - as well as having to repay the wrongly-received £21,587.82.

Mr Lydon started claiming housing and council tax benefit from Southend Council in August 2007 for himself, his wife and five children.

He ran his own business but later said he was out of work. No employment or income was declared for Mrs Lydon.

However, investigations revealed that just a month after this joint benefit application was submitted, Mrs Lydon had started work at a school.

Her husband continued to keep quiet about this from then on - even at a subsequent verification visit, and when he completed a change of address form.

Calculations then revealed Mr Lydon had been overpaid £21,587.82 of Housing and Council Tax benefit.

Sally Holland, the council’s corporate director for corporate services, said: “We are committed to paying benefits to those who are entitled to them, but we also have a duty to protect the public purse and take action against people committing benefit fraud.

“Benefit fraud is an offence. As this case shows, repayment of benefit is not the only action that the Council may wish to take.

“If anyone has suspicions over a persons entitlement to benefit they can call the Corporate Fraud Investigation Team direct on 01702 215254, or e-mail: counterfraud@southend.gov.uk

“All information received is treated in the strictest confidence.”