TWO pensioners have escaped a jail term after swindling more than £140,000 in benefits.

Raymond Wood, 79, and wife Georgina, 75, carried out a string of offences including dishonestly making false statements in order to obtain benefits, failing to notify changes of circumstances, retaining wrongful credits and fraud.

Basildon Crown Court heard the couple failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions they were living together.

Mrs Wood did not declare she owned two homes- one in Little Lullaway, Laindon and one in Brentwood- and illegally claimed income support, pension credit, and council tax benefit from three separate local authorities- Basildon Council, Brentwood Council and South Kesteven Council.

Her crimes took place over a 15 year period.

She also failed to reveal she had more than £16,000 of savings in the bank.

Her husband falsely claimed income support, pension credit, and council tax benefit between July 2003 and February 2013.

The couple, of Langford Gardens, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, originally denied the 23 offences.

They changed their plea to guilty at the last minute, as their trial was due to start at Basildon Crown Court.

They were handed a twelve month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, with the judge taking into account their age, good character and poor health.

The pair have also been ordered to start paying back the £140,000 they illegally claimed.

Rob Manser, billing and benefits manager at Basildon Council, said: “In most cases, benefits are paid to those in genuine need of support but on this occasion it was not the case and the couple had undeclared capital and property and were not entitled to dip into the public purse.

“I would also like to highlight the fact that this was a particularly complex case which involved enquiries at a number of different addresses and covered many years. This case has demonstrated that effective joint working takes place between different Council’s across the country, as this will often involve other agencies.

“This Authority is committed to its duty to protect taxpayer’s money. In these times of financial austerity, when many local people are feeling the strain, it makes it doubly important that we do our utmost to ensure that public money only goes to those who are entitled.

“Benefit fraud is against the law and cheats will be forced to face the consequences. As well as paying their debt to society they will have to repay every penny they stole, back to the tax payers.”