A SELF-EMPLOYED landscape gardener short of work ended up getting involved in a Universal Credit scam which saw him fraudulently claim nearly £4,000 in benefits.

Burnley Magistrates Court heard how father-of-two Darren Paul Riley managed to exploit a loophole in the online system which saw him fraudulently obtain between £1,200 and £1,500 on three separate occasions.

The court heard the scam started in November 2018 when 30-year-old Riley said he was approached by a man in a pub wearing a Job Centre badge who asked him if he wanted a Universal Credit loan.

For setting up the “loan”, the unidentified man was paid £500.

Prosecuting, Paul Robinson said there was a glitch in the online application form, which has since been fixed, where claimants could obtain a Universal Credit loan which they were not entitled to.

Claimants would go online and initially fill out the form to say they were single, had no dependants and they were not paying rent. At that point they would receive no advance payment.

However, the following day they would go back to the form and amend it to say they had rent and other outgoings. An anomaly in the system would then show that they were entitled to a cash advanced payment.

Mr Robinson said: “One of the things the Universal Credit system does is it only makes payment when it is satisfied about a person’s identity. It seems this was always going to come back on Mr Riley when they realised these payments were fraudulent.”

Riley, of Burnley Road, Rawtenstall, pleaded guilty to three counts of retaining a wrongful credit.

Defending, Jeremy Frain said his client was entitled to credit for his early guilty plea.

He said: “Mr Riley cooperated fully with Rossendale Borough Council. He would have been interviewed on a voluntary basis. He made full admissions, He said he made three fraudulent claims. He was approached by a guy who knew there were gaps in the system to provide Mr Riley with that money. He took part of that sum for himself.”

In an interview with a probation officer, Riley said he had committed the offences at a time when he was having financial difficulties and although he knew it was wrong continued with the second and third “loans” because he had faced no consequences after the first occasion.

Sentencing Riley to a 12-month community order with 150 hours unpaid work, chairman of the magistrates Graham Jagger said: “One thing I find telling about the whole thing is you feel you have let your children - who are six and eight – and your partner down. I am sure you feel that way. You are there to be a role model as a father. That is what they expect of you and on this occasion you were not.”

Riley was ordered to pay £85 costs and a £90 victim surcharge. No compensation order for the £3,968 was made after the court heard the council would make arrangements of its own.