A BENEFIT cheat who stole more than £20,000 from the public purse has been ordered to pay back every penny.

Margaret Lock failed to tell Wychavon District Council and the Department for Work and Pensions about money in a joint bank account she shared with her ex-husband, who lives with her as a non-dependant.

Investigators found a large number of deposits had been made into the account and, when interviewed about them in November 2011 and January 2012, the 58-year-old was unable to give a “satisfactory” explanation.

The money meant her income exceeded the limits for receiving benefits for most of the time between August 2006 and June 2011 and resulted in total overpayments of £17,581.16 in income support and £5,089.44 in housing and Council Tax benefit.

Lock, of Teesdale Close, Droitwich, who has claimed benefits as a single person in relation to her home since 1993, pleaded guilty to charges for benefit fraud at Worcester Magistrates Courts last Wednesday.

Her solicitor Mark Lister told magistrates that 2005 to 2011 had been a difficult time for Lock as her former partner had become ill and had moved back into her property.

She was made bankrupt in 2009 and cares for her 32-year-old daughter who has severe medical problems.

He said Lock also looks after her grandchildren and has her own “significant” health problems.

Mr Lister said Lock did not pay attention to the money given to her by family, paid into her bank accounts, borrowed and paid out.

Due to her own health issues and her responsibility as a carer, he said that she would be unable to carry out unpaid work.

Magistrates sentenced her to a community service order and imposed an electronically monitored 10-week curfew between 8pm to 6am.

Prosecutors for the DWP were awarded costs of £100 and Lock will also have to repay the benefits she wrongly claimed.

Nick Jefferies, head of shared services at Wychavon District Council, said: “We consider benefit fraud to be a serious matter.

“People have a duty to notify us and report any change in circumstances when it comes to matters that might affect benefit payments, just as we have a duty to protect public funds.”