MORE than £38,000 in benefits were dishonestly claimed by a St Austell woman over a three-year period, a court was told.
Kerry Hayward, 41, who had failed to tell the authorities that her husband was living with her, was given a suspended prison sentence by Bodmin magistrates on Friday.
Hayward, who has no previous convictions, was told by bench chairman Peter Martin: "We are satisfied you are making efforts to pay the money back."
Hayward, of Barton Road, Central Treviscoe, pleaded guilty to two offences relating to housing and council tax benefit and Employment Support Allowance.
Between January 25, 2010, and February 4, 2013, she dishonestly failed to promptly notify Cornwall Council that she was maintaining a common household with her husband, John Hayward, and a similar charge between January 19, 2010 and January 18, 2013 in respect of the Department of Work and Pensions.
Graham Calderwood, for the prosecution, said that during that time Hayward was claiming benefits as a single person who was "not well enough to work" while living with Mr Hayward, a self-employed builder.
Investigations showed that Mr Hayward had financial links to the address, paid various bills at the property and had a car and bank account registered there. The couple had also been on a cruise together in July 2011 which had been booked several months earlier, said Mr Calderwood.
Interviewed in March, Hayward accepted that she had claimed as a single person.
Mr Calderwood said that Hayward was paying back the money at £120 a month and it would take her "many years" to repay it.
Lucy Bryant, for the defence, accepted that a large sum of money was involved but she pointed out that Hayward had had "horrendous" family problems as well as personal health issues.
In 2009, when Mr Hayward had moved out and returned to live in Telford, she told the authorities. However, from the start of 2010 he had returned to live in Cornwall and from then on they were sharing a common household although he did not stay there every night. It was not, said Miss Bryant, a case of "living happily ever after".
"Life was very difficult for her (Hayward) at the time," said Miss Bryant. "Initially it was a slow reconciliation but she had got so far in (with her benefit claims) that she didn't tell anyone." She eventually told the benefits agency in January 2013 that Mr Hayward was living there.
Hayward was "extremely distressed and very sorry", said Miss Bryant, pointing out that she had acted in a way which was "enormously out of character".
After considering a probation officer's report, the magistrates imposed a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, with a female specified activity requirement. She was ordered to pay £85 costs.