Mum fraudulently claimed £70k in tax credits

Tammy Ann Gunter spent the money on holidays in the USA and plastic surgery

Updated: 

Mum claimed £70k in tax credits

A mother who enjoyed holidays in America and had plastic surgery has been jailed after dishonestly claiming £70,000 in tax credits.

Former student nurse Tammy Ann Gunter, 41, lived a "lavish" lifestyle, enjoyed holidays with her husband and took out a joint finance loan for a timeshare property in America.

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She claimed tax credits after declaring she was a single person, made false claims for student finance and an NHS bursary and forged a letter purporting to be from HMRC, Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court was told.

On Wednesday, she was jailed for two years at the court after pleading guilty to one count of being knowingly concerned in fraudulent activity undertaken with a view to obtaining tax credits, one count of forgery and four counts of fraud.

One count of fraud was ordered to lie on her file.

Her husband Neil Mark Hart, 45, was sentenced to six months imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence, believing it would be committed, Wales Online reports.

Credits: South Wales Echo

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard she claimed tax credits after declaring she was a single person

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The court was told Gunter lived a "lavish" lifestyle, had undergone plastic surgery in eastern Europe, while the couple, of Central Avenue, Cefn Fforest, near Blackwood, who married in June 2009, had enjoyed holidays to Las Vegas in 2011 and Florida in 2013 – and also took a joint finance loan for $30,000 for a timeshare property in America.

The court was also told they operated an unlicensed dog breeding business.

Prosecutor Nuhu Gobir said: "She's also known by her married name, Tammy Hart, and she uses her maiden name in her dealings with public bodies."

He said: "The defendants were already in a relationship and had been living together as a family since 5 December, 1997."

In relation to working tax credits, garage and convenience store worker Gunter claimed tax credits between January 2007 and August 2016.

Mr Gobir said: "Tammy Gunter made a claim that she was a single person working at least 16 hours per week. She stated that she had two children and no other income. The defendant dishonestly maintained she was single. She enjoyed a lavish lifestyle."

Gunter received £76,008.63 in tax credits.

In September 2011, Gunter applied to Student Finance Wales in relation to a three-year criminology and law degree at what was then the University of Glamorgan.

"She stated on the application form she was single", Mr Gobir said.

When information about her marital status was requested, Gunter was "not forthcoming" and her claim was rejected.

Credits: South Wales Echo

Former student nurse Tammy Ann Gunter, 41, lived a "lavish" lifestyle

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She received £21,396 as part of her studies for the criminology degree, which the court heard she was entitled to.

On December 16, 2014, Gunter applied for funding from NHS Wales Students Awards Services for the year 2014-15 in relation to a full-time three-year adult nursing degree at the University of South Wales, where she gave her marital status as separated.

Mr Gobir said: "She made no reference to her previous funding. This defendant was assessed as an independent student."

On September 23, 2014, Gunter applied for bursary funding for the nursing degree as an independent student.

Mr Gobir said: "She stated that she was separated and was a single parent with two dependent children."

She received a bursary of £2,193.24, while her course fees for the 2014-15 academic year were paid – at a cost of £7,352 – which she would have been entitled to.

On 1 April, 2014, she submitted documents to Caerphilly council, with a letter purporting to be on HMRC-headed paper which claimed to indicate that she had notified HMRC that she had married and Hart had moved into the same property.

The letter raised suspicion with a member of staff who had concerns about its authenticity due to matters including spelling errors and it being inconsistent with other HMRC letters.

The court heard that if the letter had been accepted as genuine, the defendant would have received £24,593 between 2011-14.

The court heard Hart had tried to assist his wife by providing a false address to Merthyr Tydfil council. He contacted the local authority in April 2014 and said he lived in Bedlinog, and said he had done so since the previous year.

Mr Gobir said: "The prosecution case is that Neil Hart lied about his address to assist Tammy Gunter with the application."

The court heard Gunter also failed to declare a theft conviction from 2000 when applying to be a carer. She worked in the position for several months in 2013 before leaving.

Mr Gobir added: "The total loss to the public purse in effect is £87,450."

The joint investigation begun in January 2015, led by NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales, and involved the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC.

Byron Broadstock, defending Gunter, said his client's marriage had been a tumultuous one which has seen the couple live in separate addresses at some stages.

He said: "Many of the purchases that have been described as extravagant, they are out of the ordinary. They were often gestures in reconciliation."

He added how Gunter had undergone cosmetic surgery in eastern Europe after suffering from low self-esteem. "It wasn't simply for purely cosmetic reasons", he said. "It was psychological reasons."

He said "much of the purchases" that were made were done so using money Gunter received after the death of her father in 2015.

Jeffrey Jones, defending Hart, said: "He allowed himself to be used in that by making one gesture, in relation to one matter - his own address."

A hearing is scheduled to take place on February 28 next year regarding a Proceeds of Crime Act application.

Sentencing, Judge Peter Heywood said: "That fraud occurred over a significant period of time. There was a degree of sophistication and planning involved."

The judge added: "You (Gunter) have engaged in a significant course of dishonest conduct for a considerable period of time and you (Hart) foolishly, Mr Hart, went along by providing false information, knowing full well what the full situation was."

Craig Greenstock, lead counter fraud specialist for Velindre NHS Trust and NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership, said: "Tammy Ann Gunter has, by her actions and assisted by Neil Mark Hart, been quite deliberate and calculating when trying to obtain as much money as they could from the individual public bodies.

"It is hoped, therefore, that today's sentence will show that such a deliberate fraud will not be tolerated and that the NHS, together with other public bodies, will take firm action against the dishonest minority who are, in effect, stealing taxpayers' money for their own gain."

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