A DROITWICH Spa woman has been prosecuted for benefit fraud.

Melissa Ross, aged 29, currently living at Farriers Corner, Droitwich, claimed Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit from 2002, as a single person, in relation to the property she rents.

As a result of a joint investigation between Wychavon District Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), it was found that from August 18, 2008, Ross had failed to declare that she was living together with her partner at the same address. Her partner was working whilst she was claiming benefits.

When she was interviewed about this matter in May 2011, she admitted that he was a regular visitor to her and said that he would stay over three nights per week and at weekends.

The investigation resulted in total overpayments of £8,989.94 in Income Support and a total of £13,600.58 in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

The case was heard at Worcester Magistrates Court on January 10, where Ross pleaded guilty to a total of six charges of benefit fraud.

In mitigation, her solicitor Sam Lansdale advised the bench that Ross was often in an on/off relationship with her partner and she thought that he could stay up to three nights per week. She said that it was a case of her client burying her head in the sand and that she now realised that she should have reported it to the relevant agencies anyway.

In their sentencing, the Magistrates told Ross that this was a very serious offence and sentenced her to a total of 49 weeks in custody for the six different counts of benefit fraud.

However, as these were to be served concurrently it effectively meant a sentence of 18 weeks – the longest of the six sentences – suspended for two years.

Ross was also given a two year community service order, which orders her to perform 240 hours of unpaid work in the community. Costs of £100 were awarded to the prosecutors.

Ross will also have to fully repay all the benefits to which she was not entitled.