Benefits cheat who swindled £27,000 tells judge she can’t afford £20-a-month fine

Sandra Howell, 49, was previously jailed for swindling £27,000 in benefits fraud but now claims she can’t afford to pay £20-a-month in fines to Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council

Sandra Howell outside court on Thursday

An ex-magistrate who previously swindled £27,000 in benefits told a court she couldn’t afford to pay a £20-a-month fine after ignoring a council notice.

Sandra Howell said she has “not got any money” as she repeatedly argued with the judge during a sentencing hearing yesterday.

The 49-year-old had carried out unauthorized alterations to her driveway and then failed to comply with an enforcement notice in 2018 to put it back the way it was.

The defendant was accused of “bloody-mindedness” by Judge David Swinnerton, which had resulted in Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council running up £25,865 in costs.

And despite only being ordered to repay a fraction of the money owed, she said she couldn’t.

Howell was jailed for nine months for fraud in October 2018 over disability living allowance claims made between 2011 and 2016, resulting in around £27,000.

She was seen outside court on Thursday holding a purple crutch and claims to have agoraphobia and complex regional pain syndrome.

The swindler used to sit as a magistrate in the Greater Manchester town.

She was caught on CCTV moving around normally while working as a cleaner despite claiming she can barely walk.

During that trial, she was wheeled into court in a wheelchair.

Howell appeared at Liverpool Crown Court


Liverpool echo)

The jury was also shown footage of her walking across the court precincts and ground floor of the building.

Howell, of Stockport Road, Marple, failed to attend court for her one-day trial earlier this year and was convicted in her absence of failing to comply with an enforcement notice.

She claimed she had been refused a video link for the hearing, which followed four applications for the hearing to be postponed.

She told the court that it “was not because of my sheer bloody-mindedness” but because when she opted for crown court trial she thought she would be there to defend herself.

And she didn’t know she would be “as low as I am now”, mentioning her health issues, including having had a hysterectomy.

Howell agreed yesterday that the unauthorized driveway is still there but claimed, “It hasn’t been used”.

When Judge Swinnerton pointed out that she had been told to replace the lawn and hedge she interrupted to say “it was never a lawn”.

He said she had been told the consequences if she did not do as directed and “you didn’t do it”.

She had been given more time because she had been jailed and was sent further reminders in 2019 after her release.

Howell submitted details of her income – £623 Universal Credit – and her outgoings ready for the latest hearing and told the judge, “I have not got any money.”

When he pointed out that her monthly outgoings for her house insurance, compared to his own, seemed “enormously expensive”, she replied: “Well welcome to where I live. It was the cheapest one I could get.”

She maintained she needs the Ring doorbell system she pays for following attacks on her property after publicity about her fraud convictions.

Judge Swinnerton said that the only sentence for the offense was a fine.

“It was a deliberate and flagrant ignoring of the enforcement notice because you took the view you knew better and you did what you wanted to do, you did not seem to feel you needed to obey the council application,” he told her.

He said that unfortunately her means are very limited.

“The council have incurred £25,865 costs – money which could much better have been spent on other needs within the local community.

“But money has had to be spent on enforcing this against you because of your blatant ignoring of the enforcement notice.

“If you had the means I would make you pay every penny of that but you simply do not have the means to do so,” he added.

The judge fined her £350 and ordered her to pay £350 towards the prosecution costs and £35 surcharge.

“I cannot afford this,” she said.

She was ordered to pay it at the rate of £20 a month and warned that she faces 14 days imprisonment in default.

“Where do you expect me to get this from? I don’t have this money,” she protested.

“You will have to make some savings,” replied Judge Swinnerton.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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