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Benefit cheat charged with one pound fine after claiming over 40K

Diane Halko using a walking stick
Diane Halko using a walking stick Image credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

A benefits cheat who swindled over £40,000 from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has managed to walk away from court after paying a penalty of just £1.

Diane Halko told the DWP she could only walk a short distance with a stick because of her disability, but she was caught out after being spotted working for Angus Council and Aberlour Childcare Trust walking unaided and showing no signs of being disabled.

The 56-year-old, from Arbroath, claimed £40,168.39 Disability Living Allowance between 25 May 2011 and 12 December 2017 pretending she had mobility problems.

Halko continued her false pretenses arriving at Dundee Sheriff Court hobbling with walking sticks and wheezing claiming her condition had deteriorated since admitting to the fraud.

Sheriff Lorna Drummond QC said: "This has been hanging over your head for a long time. I know you have had health difficulties and there have been difficulties with court proceedings because of Covid.

"Today you can finally draw a line under this matter. You are here because you pled guilty to a fraud of over £40,000. It's a lot of money.

"Guidelines tell us we really should send someone to jail unless there are exceptional circumstances. I take the view that there are.

"You have clearly got very serious health problems. Your criminal activity arose because you were working.

"You were suffering ill health, but you were carrying out duties in a way which contradicted what you had put on the form when you were claiming benefits."

Drumond put Halko under an eight month curfew, but told her she would only have to pay the “nominal” sum under Proceeds of Crime legislation of £1.

Fiscal depute Charmaine Gilmartin told the court: "The accused was awarded care and mobility payments of DLA in 2006 after a road accident.

"The accused failed to declare she was in receipt of earnings and had an improvement in her ability. She was employed by Angus Council as a family support worker.

"She made no mention of the job on her DLA form. The job description contradicted what she had declared she could do.

"She was then employed as a children's worker for Aberlour Childcare Trust."

The Trust’s director delivered a statement which was read out in court which highlighted Halko had shown no signs of having a physical disability whilst working for the charity.

He said: "I never saw Diane using a walking stick or crutches. She never asked for a disabled car parking space or for any aid.

"She had never reported a fall. She would go to her car outside at a normal walking pace. Having to rush did not cause her distress.

"I was aware she had titanium plates in her back but I did not think of her as disabled in any form."

The statement added the local authority family support worker had seen Halko carrying heavy loads such as paperwork and her laptop to her car without any difficulty.

Halko walked away from court – without the support of any sticks – after being fined just one pound.

Diane Halko claimed the Department of Work and Pensions she needed two walking sticks to cover a distance of 20 yards before she had to rest.