A mum scammed the government for thousands by continuing to claim benefits for her children after they went into social care.

Walton mum Danielle Muirhead's two youngest children went into care on March 29 2018. But the following month, the 32-year-old continued to claim a number of benefits by failing to disclose to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that they no longer stayed with her and she was not their primary carer.

Joanne Maxwell, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court this morning, Thursday, November 23 that Muirhead saw an opportunity to make a gain for herself. Ms Maxwell said between April 6 and May 29 2023, the defendant claimed Universal Credit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.

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Muirhead claimed £19,234 in Universal Credit, £9,258 in Child Benefit and £8,602 in Child Tax Credit for a total of over £36,000. The court heard her activity was "something Muirhead knew to be fraudulent", and on at least two occasions she also asked for additional help with her children's clothing despite not being their primary carer.

The DWP eventually caught wind of Muirhead's scheme and the police were notified. Ms Maxwell told the court the defendant's criminality was "sustained over a significant period of time", with the fraudulent activity going on for five years and one month. The court heard Muirhead had 12 previous convictions for 12 offences dating back to 2006, including charges of burglary and production of cannabis.

However, Ms Maxwell said: "The defendant has shown repeated failure to comply with court orders", with six recorded breaches listed between 2007 and 2022. She added the prosecution had been contacted by the Probation Service regarding a further breach this year and were awaiting the outcome of the sentencing.

Ms Maxwell said she was unaware if the DWP wanted to claim repayment of the money, but if so, it would be done through a different forum.

Michael O'Brien, defending, said when his client was told the amount of fraudulently-obtained money, she was "surprised to hear it was so much". He acknowledged her activity was fraudulent from the outset, but added there was little or no planning when it came to the scheme.

In his continued mitigation, he said his client had not used the money to "live a lavish lifestyle" and she was still in debt. Mr O'Brien said Muirhead had a "chaotic history", but she was playing a more proactive role in her children's lives. Her youngest children were no longer in care and were at her nan's, with the defendant seeing them every two weeks.

Mr O'Brien briefly addressed the most recent breach which took place in October this year. He said Muirhead's uncle, who had been taking care of her oldest child, had fallen ill and died. Her oldest son was now in the care of her mum, and Muirhead now saw him "almost every day" although not as his primary carer.

Mr O'Brien said his client "implored the court for another chance" - and asked for any custodial sentence to be suspended so she could benefit from a specific rehabilitation programme. Muirhead pleaded guilty to three counts of benefit fraud - by dishonestly discharging information to make a gain - at Sefton Magistrates' Court on September 27 of this year.

Recorder Gavin McBride accepted Muirhead, of Church Road, Walton, had not used the money to live a lavish lifestyle; she did not work and she was in debt. But he said her actions were fraudulent from the moment she first told the DWP that her children still lived with her in a "prolonged series of offending".

He added she had shown some remorse for her actions - he put her lack of maturity down to the fact she did not show more - and acknowledged she had gone through some recent difficulties with the death of her uncle. However, he looked at her long history of poor compliance with court orders and decided he could not suspend a custodial sentence.

Muirhead, who wore a black and grey blazer in court, was sentenced to 16 months in prison. She will also have to pay the court surcharge. Muirhead was accompanied in court by two men, one of whom was ordered to leave the sentencing after he laid down on the seats at the back of the courtroom.

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