A Dublin woman who continued to be paid children's allowance for two years while she and her family were living in Australia has been fined.
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 on Thursday.
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 she first applied for children’s allowance in 2006. Her application form 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 was 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 child benefit. 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 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 the judge told him he could have written a letter instead.
Ms O’Gorman told the court that while she signed the application form, she did not read it 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.
Cross-examined by prosecution solicitor Joseph Maguire, she denied she was trying to blame her husband or that she must have been aware of the payments because she would have needed money in Australia for essentials for children.
She said her marriage was collapsing at the time and 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 added.
The judge said Ms 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 Ms O’Gorman didn’t understand that child benefit was part of that income.
The offence can carry a maximum fine of €1,500 and, or a six-month jail term, but the judge noted 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.