A BENEFITS cheat who falsely claimed more than £33,000 while living with her transgender partner has been ordered to pay it all back.
Grandmother Helen Ratcliffe, 44, received four seperate benefits over a 10-month period but failed to declare that she shared a house with Kate Nuttall - formerly known as Andrew, her husband.
Ms Ratcliffe was spared jail at Burnley Crown Court yesterday after a judge accepted that the couple had ‘considerable domestic problems’.
Investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) discovered the scam after receiving an anonymous tip-off that Ms Ratcliffe was lying about her circumstances.
Between February and November 2012 she claimed a total of £33,111.59 in housing benefit, income support, council tax benefit and disability living allowance (DLA).
On one occasion she was observed arriving for a DWP interview on foot despite claiming DLA for being unable to walk for more than 90 seconds.
Kimberley Obrusik, prosecuting, told the court Ms Ratcliffe had not informed the authority about ‘a reduction in her care’.
Miss Obrusik said: “She stated she had got a taxi to the interview and had not contacted her husband since 2008.”
The couple, from Mosley Street, Barnoldswick, care for two of their grandchildren full-time and also look after another granddaughter regularly.
Philip Holden, defending, said: “What effectively happened here, and I accept there has been an element of dishonesty, is that the two split up when he (Andrew) told her that he had been cross-dressing.
“She (Ms Ratcliffe) was confused. There was a period of time they didn’t live together. For a couple of years, they didn’t know what was going to happen to their relationship.
"Although she continues to live with her husband, who has now undergone her gender reassignment, the two of them effectively care for their grandchildren.
“The position now is that their relationship is likely to last for some time."
He added: “There no doubt that these are exceptional circumstances.”
Ms Ratcliffe pleaded guilty to six offences of failing to notify the DWP of changes in her circumstances affecting her entitlement to benefits at an earlier hearing.
Sentencing her to six months in prison, suspended for two years, Judge Andrew Woolman said he had taken into account the couple’s childcare issues.
He said: “You will have to pay back (the money) at a very slow rate.”
The couple, who were married for more than 20 years, tied the knot for a second time in a civil partnership ceremony last December.
Roy Paul, the DWP’s fraud manager in the North West, said: “Benefit fraud is a crime and we are dedicated to catching those who commit it.
“Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this cost the taxpayer money that should be used to help those in need.”