A BENEFIT fraudster who claimed more than £12,000 when he had £145,000 in his bank account has narrowly avoided jail.

Stephen Ayrton, 51, formerly of East Street, Rochford, admitted six offences of failing to notify Rochford Council of changes in his circumstances over a three year period.

It meant he was paid £10,989.36 in housing benefit, £1376.59 in council tax benefit and council tax support of £110.24.

He was paid the cash despite receiving a total of £145,000 into his bank account which had come from an industrial injuries payment and income from his wife’s employment.

Ayrton also failed to declare that he was receiving an income selling fishing items on EBay. The council traced the claims back to between September 27 2010 and May 20 2013.

Ayrton was sentenced to two months in prison which was suspended for 12 months. He was given a curfew between 8pm and 7am for six months during which he will be electronically tagged. He was also fined £250, must pay costs of £250 and the overpayment must be repaid in full.

Cheryl Roe, Rochford Council’s portfolio holder for governance, said: “It is important to remind all benefit claimants that they should report any change to their circumstances immediately. To ignore it is not an option.

“The benefits system is there to help those who are in genuine need and it is only a small minority who attempt to abuse the system.

“However, we do have a very proactive fraud department at Rochford Council, and we will not tolerate anyone who seeks to commit benefit fraud. We will not only put them before the courts, but we will also seek to reclaim every single penny which has been overpaid.”

Anyone with suspicions about a potential fraudulent benefit claimant can call the council’s investigation team anonymously on 01702 318041 or email fraud@rochford.gov.uk.