Friday 23 February 2018

Woman avoids jail for claiming €30k in disability benefit while living abroad

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Tom Tuite

A woman has been spared a jail sentence for unlawfully getting almost €30,000 in disability allowance payments while she lived in Australia for two years.

Marije Nika (49) a Kosovar refugee with an address at Cardy Rock Square, Balbriggan, Co. Dublin was prosecuted by the Department of Social Protection.

Nika, who fled her war-torn country and came to Ireland in 2000, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to a charge under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act.

Outlining the facts of the case, prosecution solicitor Joseph Maguire said the woman failed to notify the social welfare office that she was living in Australia from 2012 until 2014.

During that time she continued to claim the disability allowance and obtained €29,996 but has repaid €6,800. She claimed that she went there to look after her sick adult daughter.

She still gets the benefit but with a weekly deduction of €28 and at that rate it will take 16 years to pay back the money. It was her daughter that contacted Balbriggan social welfare office who then investigated the matter.

Nika confirmed to them that she had been living in Australia.

Defence counsel Genevieve Coonan told the court that Nika was originally from Kosovo and was forced to leave in 2000 with her vet husband. They came to Ireland that year and stayed at the Mosney centre for asylum seekers. The couple were in straitened circumstances and after leaving Mosney they settled in Balbriggan.

Nika suffered from depression and has back problems and was entitled to the disability payment.

Counsel said the woman moved to Australia in 2012 because her daughter had been sick.

She is remorseful that during that time she took an allowance paid for by Irish tax-payers, the barrister said.

She is still in receipt of disability allowance and her husband was her full-time carer on a social welfare allowance, the court was told.

Judge John Brennan heard that she gets €300 a week but because she was “living at the edge” Nika was reluctant to talk about raising the repayments but later the court was told she was agreeable to an increase to €60 a week.

The offence, on conviction at district court level, can also result in a fine of up to €2,500 and a possible six-month sentence in addition to having to repay the social welfare authorities. They can also continue to recoup money owed after criminal proceedings have concluded.

Judge Brennan said it was clearly a very serious matter and for two years when she was in Australia money was being paid into her account and there was a level of awareness there.

He noted she co-operated and had left the turmoil of Kosovo and came to Ireland with her husband who looks after her full-time. He also noted she had no prior criminal convictions and was apologetic and that she had been looking after her daughter who had been in ill health. He recorded a conviction but said he accepted there were extenuating circumstances and he did not proceed to impose a fine or a sentence.

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