BROTHER and sister Mark Sturley and Deborah Collins have been forced to repay more than £15,000 of benefits following a fraud investigation.

At Swindon magistrates court, Collins, 43, of Snowhill Close, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and failure to disclose information to make a gain. Sturley, 46, of Copse Avenue, pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by false representation.

The court heard how Collins had been in receipt of lone parent benefits despite owning two properties and receiving a student loan, while Sturley had been living as a tenant under her roof since 2008 while claiming housing benefits.

Keith Bellinger, prosecuting, said: “Collins made a claim in 2010 for being a lone parent. She disclosed a financial interest in the form to the marital home but said her estranged husband was living at that address.

“It transpired she was doing undisclosed work and was in receipt of a student bursary. During the course of the investigation it was discovered that jointly with her husband she had owned a second property and rented out rooms to tenants at the address at Kelly Gardens, including renting a room to her brother, Mr Sturley.

“They also obtained information from the student loans office of student loan and grants being awarded to her, being paid directly into her bank account.

“As a result of her own claims for housing benefit the total loss to the public funds was £3,877.48.

“Sturley was renting a room at the address at Kelly Gardens. He made his claim for housing benefit in 2008 on the basis of having no money to pay rent. In his claim form he stated he was not related to the landlord, Mr Collins.

“Following fraud investigations it emerged his landlord was his sister. As a result of his claims £11,712.95 was made in overpayment.”

Emma Thacker, defending Collins, said her 10-year marriage had broken down in 2009, at which point she applied for benefits.

“She was of the understanding that because she recieved no benefit from the second property that it was of no interest to her,” she said.

“They had just broken up, emotions were running high and she was very distressed. She signed a document she believed would remove her from any obligation to the property. She was still on the deeds, still had an interest in the property, and should have disclosed that.

“A student loan was applied for and granted in 2011 when she enrolled at Oxford Brookes University for a course in education.

“This is a lady simply trying to better herself and who made large errors along the way. The money has been repaid in full and she is a lady of good character.”

Philip Hall, defending Sturley, said: “He has been in and out of bankruptcy, and it has never been doubted that he was entitled to benefit. When that happens you have potential eligibility for parasitic benefits, including housing benefit.

“He was asked questions about this, one of which was, ‘Are you related to your landlord?’ He answered, ‘No’.

“He gave the name of his sister’s husband. I am a pedant, and if someone asks if my brother-in-law is related to me I would say no.

“My advice to anyone in such circumstances is to tell them absolutely everything you can think of. Because the one thing you deemed to be irrelevant is the one thing that could land you in trouble.”

Collins was ordered to pay £300 in fines, a victim surcharge of £20 and court costs of £85. Sturley was fined £500 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £85 court costs. The £15,590.43 taken in benefits has been repaid in full.