Pub landlady fights to clear her name after 'benefits cheat' slur
A PUB landlady from St Columb Minor has been fighting to clear her name after a council labelled her a benefits cheat.
Sally Roach, who has run the Farmer's Arms since September 2012, was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £1,500 in costs by magistrates in Watford, Herts, where she used to live.
She had been claiming employment support allowance and council tax benefit, but failed to let Watford Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) know she had received a £110,000 inheritance payout after her father died in April 2012.
Following her court appearance on Friday, January 3, the council released a statement on its website stating Mrs Roach had been convicted of "benefits fraud" – a line picked up by local media in Herts.
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However, the mother of three demanded the authority tone down its wording, saying the court accepted she had not acted with dishonesty or intent.
On Monday, following further calls from Mrs Roach and inquiries by the Cornish Guardian, the council agreed to change the headline and some wording in its statement.
Mrs Roach said: "I was not convicted of benefits fraud, I was convicted of failing to inform of a change in circumstances. This could have affected my kids and my pub so I want to set the record straight; I'm no benefits cheat.
"This is my personal integrity we're talking about. It was a genuine mistake. My head wasn't in a good place at the time, my father had just died and I had some health issues. There were so many other things going on."
She said she had already paid back £3,483 in employment support allowance, and was about to repay £276 in council tax benefit. The money corresponds to benefits claimed between May and September 2012.
She originally pleaded 'not guilty' to the offence, only changing her plea after receiving a guarantee that the word "fraud" would not be part of her conviction.
A spokesman for Watford Borough Council initially stated the authority would stand by its original press release. He said: "She can call it what she likes but it's a criminal offence, to which she pleaded guilty, and it comes under the umbrella of benefits fraud."
However, the council's fraud manager, Gary Turner, who was present in court, later told both Mrs Roach and this newspaper that the wording would be changed, even though technically the word 'fraud' could still be applied to her case.
He said: "There was no dishonesty or intent in her case, which is important for her to get across."
Mrs Roach told this paper in September 2012 that it had always been her dream to run a pub and live in Cornwall, and her inheritance had allowed her to do this and provide for her children.