A partially-sighted benefits fraudster claimed £18,000 to which he wasn’t entitled – as he was in Malta.

Remorseful Colin Kent, 59, hadn’t realised he wasn’t allowed to claim the disability allowance if he was abroad for more than a particular length of time.

But magistrates said the fact he was aware there were some restrictions on who could and couldn’t claim meant he “should have done more homework”.

Sentencing the benefits cheat to four weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months, chairman of the bench Alison Auvray said: “We recognise there is some mitigation in that you didn’t set out intentionally to defraud.

“However, there is still the element you were aware there were some restrictions, which indicates that knowing there are some restrictions you should have done a little bit more homework.

“We have taken into account the fact you are of previous good character.”

Earlier, prosecutor Nick Barr told Swindon Magistrates’ Court Kent had fraudulently claimed the disability living allowance for more than six years between December 2012 and February 2019.

He’d failed to notify the Department for Work and Pensions that he was living in Malta, not Great Britain.

Investigation uncovered bank statements and details of flights. Interviewed by the police he said his wife lived in Malta and he believed he could still claim the benefit if he only spent a certain period of time abroad at a time.

In total, he’d claimed £18,474.15 in disability living allowance to which he was not entitled.

Kent, now living in a static caravan on a holiday park off Bridgewater Road, Weston-super-Mare, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify DWP of a change of circumstance affecting his entitlement to benefit.

Defending, Emma Hillier said her client had admitted the crime in his police interview and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

He was now fully aware of the restrictions preventing him from being able to claim benefits if he was living abroad.

Kent had been paying money back to the DWP, although he had not been able to make the repayments during the lockdown as he could not get through to the department on the phone.

“He is remorseful for this and he now understands what he needs to notify the DWP of. This will not be an incident that will be repeated,” she said.

Ms Hillier said he was now back in the UK, living in a caravan in Weston-super-Mare. He had a number of health complaints. His left eye had been removed and needed to have regular injections in his right eye. He received around £500 income each month in benefits, up to £200 of which was eaten up by travel expenses to get him medical appointments.

Sentencing him to the four week suspended prison sentence suspended for a year, chairman of the bench Ms Auvray said: “As long as you don’t commit another offence – and really it can be any offence at all – in that period then you won’t go into custody.” He must pay a £128 victim surcharge.