A hairdresser who falsely claimed €48,918.40 in job-seekers allowance over nine years while living at home with her parents already had more than €90,000 in cash in bank and credit union accounts.
Lorna Laird appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court after pleading guilty to six charges under the Social Welfare Act of 2015.
The now 39-year-old from Townspark, Raphoe was charged with receiving job seeker’s allowance on a range of dates in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015 knowing she had an undisclosed sums of money in her account.
The case against Ms Laird was outlined in court by Buncrana-based Social Welfare Inspector Mr Morgan Mooney.
Mr Mooney said that when the accused applied for Job Seeker’s Allowance on August 9th, 2010, she declared she had €19,000 on deposit in the Ulster Bank in Raphoe when the threshold for receiving such payments was €20,000
She did declare that she was working part-time but failed to disclose that she had approximately €25,000 in savings in Lifford Credit Union.
Mr Morgan said that if Ms Laird declared her credit union savings then her benefits would have been reduced by €46 each week.
The investigator added that on January 2nd, 2019, she had signed forms at the Department of Protection but did not declare that she had €93,139 in cash in various accounts.
Suspicion fell on Ms Laird when her name appeared on a list of people who had paid a considerable amount of Dirt tax after the department was provided with a list of people who had more than €50,000 in their accounts.
At first she denied she had other accounts and capital but she was informed the system used to match payments was a good system.
Mr Mooney added “She was told by someone to lodge the money in the credit union as revenue would not find out. There were €95,534.55 in her accounts in total at the time,” he revealed.
Ms Laird’s barrister, Mr Ivan Toner, said that all the money falsely claimed, €48,918.40, had been repaid in full on September 21st, 2019, just days after the department made their finding.
He put it to Mr Mooney that this may be unusual and the investigator replied that most cases happened out of necessity and that most customers did not have the wherewithal to pay.
Mr Toner explained that Ms Laird was now a carer for her elderly mother who is 78 years and her father who is 84 and that she receives a carer’s allowance for them.
He also explained that Ms Laird unfortunately suffers from a number of mental health issues and a copy of a psychiatric report was handed into the court.
A Probation and Welfare report said that the accused was a low risk of reoffending in the next 12 months while the court was also told she has no previous convictions.
Mr Toner added that Laird simply saved and saved and the amounts got greater and greater but didn’t take the opportunity (to declare them) and now found herself before the court.
However, Mr Mooney said that, when analysed, there were a number of large deposits into Ms Laird’s credit account which could not be explained.
A request was made in light of Ms Laird’s mental health issues to apply a publication order in the case, meaning Ms Laird’s name would not be published, but after legal consideration, Judge Aylmer did not agree to the request.
Mr Toner then explained his client’s current financial situation after she paid back the €48,918 to revenue.
“My client has now just over €20,000 in savings. She spent money putting in a new kitchen and heating system in her parent’s house.
“She is genuinely remorseful and is an individual who will never come before the court again,” added the barrister.
Passings sentence Judge Aylmer said the situation was not motivated by any sense of need or necessity, but by greed.
However, he noted it was a curious situation in that all of the money was saved and not spend on luxury items and that Ms Laird was not living a luxurious lifestyle.
He placed the charges in the mid-range of such offences and one which merited 18 months in prison before mitigation.
However, he noted that this was a first offence, that all the money had been paid back in full and that Ms Laird had no previous convictions.
He added that she still suffers from mental health issues which will have to be dealt with and noted that she is a carer for her elderly parents.
He said he was replacing any custodial sentence by way of fine and ordered Ms Laird to pay €3,000 on each one of the six charges meaning she will have to pay €18,000.