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Dublin mother avoids jail for illegally claiming €7k children's allowance

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
O'Gorman was fined €250 by a judge for claiming €7,000 while living in Australia
O'Gorman was fined €250 by a judge for claiming €7,000 while living in Australia

A DUBLIN woman has been spared jail for getting €7,000 in children's allowance payments after she failed to tell social welfare authorities she was living in Australia.

Mother-of-two, Gillian O'Gorman, 41, with an address at Killiney Towers, in Killiney, was fined €250 by Judge John O'Neill at Dublin District Court today. 

She was prosecuted by the Department of Social Protection, on a charge of failing to notify that she was absent from the State which affected her entitlement to child benefit which continued to be paid for two years when she and her family were in Australia.

Dublin District Court heard that she first applied for children's allowance in 2006. Her application form also had a warning that the claimant must ordinarily live in the State.

In November 2007, she and her husband, Paul O'Connor, moved to Australia, after they had business problems here.

The Department of Social Protection were not told they had left the country and child benefit payments continued until they were suspended in August 2009 when a letter sent to the couple's former address was returned. During that time there were monthly children's allowance payments totalling €7, 242.

She returned to Ireland in 2012 and again applied for children's allowance. She was then interviewed by a social welfare inspector who agreed  she was co-operative and appeared surprised to learn about the payments.

In evidence her husband, Paul O'Connor, told the court he looked after all the family's finances and that he had filled out the application form and got her to sign it but she did not read the document. The money always went into his bank account and he was supposed to tie up loose ends but they had left the country hurriedly.

He claimed it was difficult to phone government departments here from Australia, but Judge O'Neill told him that he could have written a letter instead.

O'Gorman told the court that while she signed the application form, she did not read it and she claimed she had trusted her husband to tell the department about the move to Australia. She also said the money never went into her bank account.

In cross-examination with prosecution solicitor Joseph Maguire, she denied she was trying to blame her husband or that she must have been aware because she would have needed money in Australia for essentials for children.

She said her marriage was collapsing at the time and if she had more clarity she would have, but she did not give it a second's thought because she was “bogged down” with personal issues. Her health was suffering at the time, she also said.

Judge O'Neill said O'Gorman and her husband, who have since separated, had been under severe financial pressure at the time and would both have wanted to know where the next penny was coming from and be in a position to source their expenses in Australia.

He found if difficult to believe that O'Gorman didn't understand that child benefit was part of that income and he convicted her.

The offence can carry a maximum fine of €1,500 and, or a six-month jail term, but Judge O'Neill noted she had no prior criminal convictions and said that in relation to the leniency of the fine he had taken into account the evidence of her circumstances at the time.

The court heard her children's allowance payment has been reduced to repay the department which is still owed €2,472.