AN ACCRINGTON woman has been found guilty of a £20,000 benefits fraud.

Shabina Nawaz, 31, claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit, totalling £21,794. However an investigation led by Hyndburn Council discovered she had assets of £55,000.

Ms Nawaz, of Kingston Avenue, Accrington made claims for benefits while hiding from the authorities that she owned a terraced house on Buxton Street in Accrington.

In sentencing her at Burnley Crown Court, she was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. She was also ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing is also expected to take place in the New Year looking into whether Ms Nawaz has profited from claiming fraudulently. If the hearing rules that she has it will examine whether she has assets which can be seized to repay the amount taken.

Hyndburn Council’s fraud team led the investigation into Ms Nawaz’s circumstances. They examined whether she was entitled to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit and worked in partnership with the DWP to investigate her claims for income support.

Hyndburn’s cabinet member for finance Joan Smith said: “We have a tough attitude to benefit cheats and have no hesitation in taking people to court wherever necessary to protect the majority of honest council tax payers in the borough.”

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “Benefit thieves are costing the taxpayer almost £1billion per year. This money is intended to help those most in need not line the pockets of criminals.

“We will continue to tackle this problem at the frontline but also at the root by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse."