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HMRC worker conned employer out of £65,000 in scam

Nicola Farningham advised the public about the benefits she claimed fraudulently.

Fraud: Farningham advised the public. (file pic)
Fraud: Farningham advised the public. (file pic) PA

An HMRC worker scammed £65,000 from taxpayers by lying to her employer and defrauding them out of the same benefits she was employed to advise the public on.

Nicola Farningham, 39, of Balerno Street, Dundee, was employed as a tax credits adviser in HMRC's call centre in the city to give assistance about child and working tax credits.

The mother-of-four was given full training and had to regularly advise callers on their eligibility for the benefits.

She used her knowledge of the system to obtain huge sums via the benefits she was employed to advise on.

On Wednesday, Farningham was jailed after admitting a charge under the Tax Credits Act.

Farningham claimed she was living alone with her children and earning only a maximum of £15,000 a year.

In reality, her husband Paul was living with her and earning a £33,000 a year salary.

When confronted, Farningham denied they were in a relationship but a search found Valentine's cards the pair had exchanged as well as romantic texts sent between them.

Fiscal depute Eilidh Robertson told Dundee Sheriff Court: "In 2014, HMRC started an investigation into the accused as a result of information provided to them that she was claiming child and working tax credits on the basis that she was a single person when she was in fact married and cohabiting with her spouse, Paul Farningham."

Ms Robertson said Farningham had submitted forms saying she was single from 2005 onwards and that her income varied between £7253 to £15,111 over the period of the nine-year scam.

The fiscal depute said: "The investigation into the accused established that she had married Paul Farningham on September 7, 2007, and that they had four children together.

"The accused and Mr Farningham had shared a joint bank account since 2004 and a joint mortgage for their property which they bought together in 2005.

"A number of the accused's colleagues were spoken to during the enquiry and confirmed that they had had conversations with the accused where she had spoken about being married and had told them that her husband stayed through in Aberdeen during the week for work but lived with her at the weekend."

'As a result of not disclosing that she was maintaining a common household with her husband the accused obtained a total of £65,000 to which she was not entitled.'
Fiscal depute Eilidh Robertson

She continued: "Surveillance was also carried out by HMRC officers at the accused's home on July 24, 25, and 26, 2014, and Mr Farningham was seen to be coming and going from the property, on one occasion letting himself in with a key.

"A search of the accused's home was undertaken on February 12, 2014.

"Correspondence which had been sent to Mr Farningham at that address was found within, including his wage slips, as were Valentine's Day cards which had been exchanged between the couple.

"The accused's mobile telephone was found during that search and this was later examined. Most of the text messages recovered simply demonstrated that the accused and Mr Farningham were in a relationship given the romantic nature of the texts."

Ms Robertson added: "When she was interviewed, the accused said they had not been cohabiting at any stage despite buying a property and having four children.

"As a result of not disclosing that she was maintaining a common household with her husband the accused obtained a total of £65,000 to which she was not entitled.

"None of this sum has been repaid."

Farningham pleaded guilty to a charge on indictment under the Tax Credits Act.

Defence solicitor Kevin Hampton said: "It is clear from speaking to those involved that they had an unconventional marriage and he often lived away from home.

"However, she was duty bound to inform the authorities of that, especially given her employment status. She is selling her house to repay some of the money.

"Once she is released from prison she will have to rebuild her life."

Sheriff Alastair Carmichael jailed Farningham for 21 weeks and imposed a confiscation order ordering her to hand over £40,410 within six months.

He said: "Ultimately this is a fraud on the public finances and the taxpayer.

"That having been said there is no alternative to a custodial sentence."

A HMRC spokesman said: "HMRC expects the highest standards of behaviour from its staff and we will vigorously pursue anyone who abuses the trust that we have placed in them."

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