A benefit fraudster from Northampton who falsely claimed £49,000 of taxpayers’ money for a dead child has avoided being sent to jail.
Jem Bakalej, aged 56, of Hardlands Road, Duston, appeared at Northampton Crown Court today after he admitted being “greedy” and claiming benefits he was not entitled to between June 2001 and November 2012.
Judge Lynn Tayton sentenced Bakalej to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, after deciding that it would be detrimental to his 15-year-old autistic son if he was sent to jail.
Judge Tayton ordered Bakalej to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and he was given a six-month curfew from 7pm to 7am. He must also pay a victim surcharge.
At a previous hearing it was said he was paying back the money at £20 a week, which will take him 45 years to pay back the £49k, by which time he will be 101 years old.
The money is being deducted from the benefits Bakalej is currently receiving for being unemployed and a carer for his son.
Judge Tayton said: “You continued to claim for the child over a number of years and the claim was fraudulent from very early on.
“It is clear this matter crosses the custody threshold. The only thing that gives me pause for thought was the care you give for your autistic son.
“You said you were the main carer for him and the social worker reports I have seen have assessed you as playing a significant involvement in his care.
“I have to take into account the impact a custodial sentence would have on your son. He relies on you for your personal care and you are the only one who can control him.”
At a previous hearing, Richard Dewsbury, prosecuting, said Bakalej made a claim as a “lone parent” of his daughter Grace, a twin who was born prematurely on June 16, 2001, even though she lived with her mother at an address in Northampton.
Despite the fact Grace had sadly passed away on July 21, 2001, Bakalej continued to claim child benefit for her until March 2011.
The court heard that Bakalej also applied to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in March 2002 for income support as a lone parent of Grace, even though he knew she had died eight months earlier.
He continued to claim income support until November 2010, stealing a total of £35,359.64 from the taxpayer.
Mr Dewsbury said that, after obtaining employment in August 2010, Bakalej claimed child tax credits as a lone parent of Grace worth a total of £6,806.21.
As a result of his false statements, Bakalej also received £6,826 in child benefit.
The court heard that Bakalej lived with his partner and she was the one who received child benefit for their other three children. The child benefit application for Grace was the first one Bakalej had made to the DWP.
Mr Dewsbury said: “The child benefit should have ceased to have been paid the first Monday after the child’s death in July 2001, but he failed to inform Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about Grace’s death, and payments continued until 2011.
“They only ceased when he failed to respond to enquiries from HMRC.”
After being interviewed by police in November 2012, Bakalej told officers he had continued to claim for his dead daughter because he knew it would get him a higher income and accepted that he was being greedy.
The court heard that Bakalej had also applied for Social Fund Loans in 2005,2006 and 2007 using his late daughter’s details.
Bakalej’s lawyer said he realised what he was doing was wrong, but had “wanted to provide a certain standard of living for his family”.
Judge Tayton also noted that Bakalej had appeared in an “aggressive fashion” towards Chronicle & Echo reporter Callum Jones outside court and warned him about any repeat behaviour.
She said: “If I find you have done anything of an aggressive nature to anyone outside the court. I will make sure proceedings are taken against you.”