Mother-of-six who invented 15 foster children for benefits fraud is jailed

(England)

Kerry Melia claimed £62,243 in benefits for invented children


Kerry Melia, 31, used the cash to buy a menagerie of exotic animals

A jobless mother of six already living on handouts invented 15 more children to claim more than £60,000 in a benefits fraud.

Her brazen operation was rumbled only when investigators realised she had made claims for ten new ‘foster children’ in just six months.

Kerry Melia, 30, was already legitimately claiming tax credits for her children when she submitted the false claims for non-existent youngsters.

She was able to get away with it because no one from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, who run the system, checked whether the children existed.

The greedy mother was jailed for eight months yesterday after a court heard she had continued to submit claims for a further five ‘foster children’ even though she was under investigation.

Sentencing her, Judge Michael Dudley said Melia was guilty of an ‘absolutely blatant fraud’ as he dismissed a plea from her barrister that a custodial sentence would prevent her continuing to breast-feed her seven-month-old child.

The judge said she had fraudulently ‘obtained public money from people who work hard for it’.

Wolverhampton Crown Court heard that Melia obtained a total of £62,243 in tax credits for her fictitious brood – £10,000 more than she had claimed legitimately with husband Stephen, 34, in income support, child benefit, housing benefit and council tax benefit.

The couple, both unemployed, lived in a shabby council house in Tipton, West Midlands, where Melia was arrested last year. Investigators discovered they had turned their three-bedroom home into a menagerie of exotic pets including terrapins, cockatiels, and a large snake. Investigators are at a loss as to how the couple – who do not own a car – spent the money.

They are believed to have used some of the cash to buy a static caravan, which was kept on a site in North Wales. But a source told the Daily Mail they had been forced to give it up after defaulting on the payments.

The court heard that the pair also made legitimate claims for four nephews and nieces who were briefly in their care.

ALL SO EASY ...

The ease with which Kerry Melia could claim thousands in fraudulent tax credits reveals startling inadequacies in the payout system.

Melia brazenly crafted identities of fake foster children before calling an HMRC tax helpline to tell them she had become a foster parent.

She provided the child’s name and date of birth but, as she was posing as a foster parent, she did not have to provide a birth certificate.

As soon as these details were entered into the HMRC’s system, Melia started to receive monthly payouts.

Melia would have later received an award notice confirming the details of her new foster child. The letter would encourage her to alert the tax office if the details were incorrect.

Using this simple system, Melia registered the details of nine fake children over five months from January to May 2007.

Melia began legitimately claiming tax credits for her own children in 2005. The first nine fictitious claims were successfully lodged between January and May 2007. She attempted – without success – to claim for six other children between June 2007 and April last year. She admitted five specimen charges of fraud at a previous hearing.

Regan Peggs, defending, told the court she had co-operated with the investigation and that her husband had not been involved in any fraudulent activity. Prosecutor Barbara Webster told the court she was not seeking to recoup the money Melia fraudulently claimed because it was clear she had ‘no means’.

David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘The Government will not tolerate dishonest people stealing public money which pays for vital services.

‘This sentence shows that those who think they can cheat the benefits system should think again.’ HMRC spokesman Jennie Kendall said: ‘The outcome of this latest prosecution shows we are tackling the ruthless theft of money from the public purse needed to fund public services for the benefit of everyone.

‘This will send out a clear and firm message to those falsely claiming tax credits or considering such measures.’

Melia was not answering the door last night at the couple’s semi-detached home on a run-down estate. One neighbour said: ‘I’ve seen them using four or five taxis a day, which can’t be cheap.’

Another added: ‘I feel sorry for their next-door neighbours. They are nice people and keep their houses tidy but this lot do nothing.’