A tax office worker who hijacked a woman’s identity and invented four children to fraudulently claim £90,000 in benefits has been jailed. Emily Barrass, a call centre adviser at tax offices in Dundee, began claiming a stranger’s benefits after moving into her former home in Arbroath. She then added four children to Susan Lindsay’s claim over the course of four years before she was finally caught. Barrass, 39, pleaded guilty to the charges and was jailed for two years.
Dundee Sheriff Court heard she began working at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HRMC) office in Dundee in March 2004 and moved into Miss Lindsay’s home a year later. Miss Lindsay, who was unknown to Barrass, had a live claim for tax credits which were being paid into her bank account. She advised HRMC that she was emigrating to the US, but payments continued to be made. Barrass, from Carnoustie in Angus, then amended Miss Lindsay’s file to claim a higher rate of child tax credit – and changed her bank details twice. The court was told she also updated the telephone contact history on Miss Lindsay’s file to indicate she had processed a call from her and removed the bank account details.
Over a three-year period, she updated the account to claim Miss Lindsay had informed her of three separate children being born, increasing the payment amounts. None of the children existed. Suspicions were raised in 2009 over Miss Lindsay’s account and Barrass’s involvement, and an investigation was launched. Fiscal depute Vicki Bell told the court the fraud on Miss Lindsay’s account amounted to £77,401. In 2009, Barrass had also accessed the tax credit account of the former partner of a relative and amended the account to make payments into Susan Lindsay’s Post Office account. She then added a fourth fictional child to the claim. That fraud ran in to May 2010, with Barrass obtaining a further £15,493 over a 15-month period. The court was told the total amount received by Barrass was £92,589.
Barrass pleaded guilty to two charges of repeatedly accessing and amending tax credit claims in the name of two women between 2005 and 2009. Defence lawyer Joseph Myles said the fraud had started because Barrass, who now works as a slimming consultant, was struggling with household bills. He said: “Her children knew nothing of her conduct or her appearance in court until she pleaded guilty and told them what she had done and the likely consequences.”
Sheriff Alistair Duff told Barrass she had committed “very serious offences”. He added: “You obtained a total of more than £90,000 as a result of your participation in these crimes and that puts this case in a situation where only a custodial sentence is appropriate. There are not significant mitigating circumstances in my view. You were short of money with a number of children and times would be difficult as they are for most people. However, most people don’t resort to dishonesty. It was made worse by the element of breach of trust.”