A DONEGAL man received over €50,000 in social welfare payments while over €135,000 was held in a bank account undisclosed by his wife.
William McLaughlin, of Ballybawn, Culdaff was before Buncrana District Court this week.
The Court heard that McLaughlin was unaware of the large amount of savings built up by his wife.
McLaughlin paid the full amount owed back to the State, €52,452.40, via bank draft, thereby avoiding a custodial sentence in the matter.
Inspector Mooney from the Social Welfare said the case referred to a means tested jobseekers allowance that was paid to McLaughlin. Inspector Mooney said the case came to light when payments to McLaughlin’s wife were reviewed and an undisclosed bank account was discovered for the period while he was in receipt of payment.
Inspector Mooney said that the account contained ‘substantial capital’.
“We got retrospective statements and there was €135,000 in the account at one stage,” he told the Court.
“His wife was on a scheme called Working Family Payment, which isn’t means tested. She was in a job working October-May and people on that usually get a means tested payment from May-October. She wasn’t in receipt of this and she said that it was because of her savings. This was viewed as being the ‘household’ savings.”
McLaughlin was present for the hearing at Buncrana District Court and was unaccompanied.
“He will be very fortunate to get away from me today too,” remarked Judge Alan Mitchell.
Solicitor Mr Ciaran Mac Lochliann said his client was a 44-year-old unemployed joiner, who was married for 16 years.
“He was drawing these payments before he got married,” Mr Mac Lochlainn said. “He has no previous convictions, not even penalty points and he pleaded at the first opportunity.
“He genuinely never sat down and asked his wife about it. She had built up this amount and it was never disclosed.”
Mac Lochliann said his client had ‘got shot of the whole thing’ in discharging the funds owed.
“The State is under absolutely no loss,” Mr Mac Lochlainn said. “This man hasn’t a blemish on his record. This was a box-under-the-bed situation and the man simply never asked.”
Judge Mitchell accepted jurisdiction in the case, which he said was meriting a custodial sentence.
“I want to send a strong message on this,” Judge Mitchell said.
“I take a serious view of these offences. Everyone needs to know their family circumstances. In circumstances where extra money comes into a house, there has to be some sort of a deterrent. Otherwise, people will just ‘know nothing’.
“This sort of a case, despite the fact that he has no previous, would normally warrant a prison sentence. I have to send the message out that it’s not acceptable.”
Judge Mitchell handed down a six-month prison sentence, which he suspended for 12 months on McLaughlin’s own bond of €100.
Judge Mitchell said: “If he weren’t in a position to pay in full, I would have signed a committal for Castlerea.
“He was ver thrifty to be in the situation where he was able to pay it back.
“This might come under the Wives Official Secrets Act.”