Dundee benefits adviser jailed for false claims

A GOVERNMENT benefits hotline adviser was yesterday jailed after a court heard that she illegally claimed £33,000 worth of benefits.

Avril Murray falsely claimed 33,000. Picture: Alan Richardson

Avril Murray, who was employed by HMRC in a Dundee call centre, claimed to be a single parent in order to qualify for the benefits.

However it emerged that Murray, whose job entailed advising callers about tax credits and required a “good knowledge of the benefits system”, was living with her husband who was in full-time employment.

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As a result, the mother-of-three was paid £33,000 in benefits to which she was not entitled over a ten-year period.

Fiscal depute Vicky Bell told Dundee Sheriff Court that Murray’s crime was “exacerbated” by the job she held.

She said: “She was employed at the Dundee call centre until 11 September last year when she resigned ahead of an interview under caution with investigators the next day.

“During the period of her employment she claimed working and single tax credits, as well as housing benefit, council tax benefit and a single person’s discount on her council tax.

“These offences spanned 10 years for the tax credits and six years on the housing benefit.

“A total of £33,000 was fraudulently claimed. She didn’t declare that she was living with her husband who was in full-time employment.

“This case is exacerbated by the fact she was employed by HMRC to answer general inquiries about tax credits which necessitated her to have a good knowledge of the tax credits system and advise on them.

“The effect of excluding her husband and his income from her claim is that she received tax credits at an inflated rate and was given housing benefit as a single person.

“Her husband was interviewed and said he had no knowledge of the claims.

“During a meeting with her manager at HMRC the accused said she had been ‘silly’ claiming as a single person.”

Murray, 50, of Dundee, pleaded guilty on indictment to charges under the Tax Credits Act and the Social Security Administration Act.

Defence solicitor Jim Laverty said: “I’d ask that bail be continued in the meantime so that matters can be put in order.”

Sheriff George Way jailed Murray for nine months and 15 days.

He said: “You didn’t do this so that you could feed your children. You say yourself that you did this so that your kids could have the things other people had.

“You took a conscious decision and this lasted for a decade.

“These crimes are easy to commit compared to, for example, planning a bank robbery.

“The court has to think about deterrents.”

Joff Parsons, from HMRC’s internal governance department, said: “Mrs Murray no longer works for HMRC, having resigned the day before she was interviewed under caution.

“This offence, which would be serious no matter who committed it, is made significantly worse by Murray’s thorough understanding of the tax credits system.

“She knew how serious her actions were as she stole money from taxpayers in Scotland.

“The honest customers Murray would have dealt with day-to-day would rightly expect far higher standards of behaviour from HMRC staff.

“HMRC is committed to high levels of staff integrity and we will investigate any suspected misconduct. As this result shows, any wrongdoing is pursued vigorously.”