A WOMAN obtained more than £17,000 in benefits by claiming she was tenant of a house, Warrington Crown Court heard yesterday.

She was actually the owner but still claimed housing benefit to help pay bills.

Susan Houghton, 44, of Upton Lane, Widnes, admitted obtaining the money by deception and was jailed for nine months.

Simon Mills, prosecuting, told the court Houghton bought a house in Upton Lane and applied to Halton Council for housing benefit, claiming to be a tenant.

Each year, applications for benefit were reviewed and Houghton was caught out in a completely random check by a housing officer.

During the check, the officer realised Houghton had been fraudulently receiving benefit cheques since 1993.

Over a period of four years and five months, a total of £17,089 had been paid out.

Mark Saville, defending, said Houghton moved from Blackpool to Widnes to get her son away from drugs.

Unfortunately, he still became a heroin user.

She only made the fraudulent claims after a lodger suggested she make up a legal document indicating she was a tenant.

Mr Saville said it had been "frighteningly easy" for Houghton to make the claims.

She only used the benefit money for every day expenses and bills, not for extravagance of personal gain.

She suffered anxiety and stress over her son's growing problems and her own financial predicament.

Judge John Rodgers said: "The public must understand that local councils who give out money are trusting the applicants."

Converted for the new archive on 13 March 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.