A RETIRED bus driver who claimed over £5,000 in benefits he wasn't entitled to over an 18-month period has now repaid all the money he owed, Fermanagh Magistrates Court has heard.
William Jennings (69), of Castlehill Road, Brookeborough, pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to declare a change in circumstances.
He admitted failing to promptly notify the Social Security Agency of a change in circumstances, namely being in receipt of an income, that he knew would affect his entitlement to pension credits and Housing Benefit on dates between December 15, 2013 and July 16, 2015.
The court heard the defendant did not declare to the Social Security Agency that, during the period of his claim, he was in employment or that he was in receipt of an occupational pension.
A total of £5,610.86 had been overpaid to the defendant, the court heard.
However, a Public Prosecution Service (PPS) representative confirmed that everything had been repaid and there was nothing outstanding.
Defending solicitor, Niall Bogue, told the court that his client wished to clarify that he had not been working during the period of the claim.
The solicitor said that Jennings had stopped working as a bus driver for the education board in September 2013, and had claimed for benefits the following month.
Then, in December 2013, Mr. Bogue said that the defendant had received a back payment from the board.
He told the court that Jennings now accepted that it was his responsibility to inform the authorities about this payment and he had failed to do so.
Mr. Bogue also told the court that, when his client had initially applied for benefits, he had informed the SSA that he expected to receive a private pension.
But when this private pension “kicked in” during January 2014, the solicitor conceded that Jennings didn't make the SSA aware that he had started to receive these payments.
In mitigation, Mr. Bogue said that the defendant had never been on benefits before and wasn't accustomed to the system.
He said that Jennings had never been before a court and “it was safe to assume” he never would again.
Adding that the incident had been a source of great stress and embarrassment, the solicitor said that the defendant had been assessed by Probation as posing a “low likelihood” of re-offending.
District judge, Benita Boyd, observed that the defendant appeared to express “genuine remorse” over the incident.
Taking into account the early guilty pleas, his clear record, the recommendations of a pre-sentence report and the repayment of all the money owed, the judge imposed a two-year conditional discharge.