A MOTHER of three dishonestly claimed more than £20,000 in benefits over a seven year period, a court heard.

Tracy Groves, 42, of Emley Moor Road, Darlington, pleaded guilty at Darlington Magistrates’ Court today (Tuesday, December 11) to two counts of failing to notify the authorities of changes in her circumstances that affected her benefit entitlement.

The court heard that Groves failed to tell the Department of Work and Pensions and Darlington Borough Council that she had started working at Cash Retail Ltd in July 2004 while continuing to claim housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support.

She dishonestly claimed a total of £23,896 between July 2004 and May 2011.

John Garside, prosecuting, said: “Had the department been aware of the employment, the benefit would have been withdrawn."

Chris Bunting, mitigating, said that since Groves was first interviewed by the authorities last year, she had been paying the money back voluntarily and was still entitled to a similar amount in benefits despite having a job.

He said: “She has rectified her claim and the outcome of that is that she is still in receipt of a combination of wage and tax credits; an almost identical amount she had before she was working.”

Mr Bunting explained that during the time of the offence, Groves was in an abusive relationship with her now estranged husband who is currently serving time in prison for dishonesty offences.

“When he isn’t in jail, he has placed her under an awful lot of pressure, there has been a lot of abuse in the relationship,” said Mr Bunting.

“When somebody gets in a situation they know they shouldn’t be in, they can become too frightened to do anything about it.”

Magistrates sentenced Groves to a 12-month community order with 150 hours unpaid work.

She was also told she must continue repaying all the money.