An HMRC worker who claimed three of her children were disabled and submitted false tax credits for another 15 has been jailed after fraudulently pocketing £238,000.
Newcastle Crown Court heard Tracy Ashbridge had abused her job to make the claims.
Ashbridge, who falsely claimed three of her children were disabled and submitted false tax credits for another 15 children, used details from her work computer system to facilitate some of the frauds.
In total, Ashbridge tried to fraudulently claim £434,128 and successfully obtained £238,799 of that over a four-and-a-half year period.
Now she has been jailed for six counts of fraud while her husband, Robert Ashbridge, who helped her in one of the offences, was given a suspended prison sentence.
Newcastle Crown Court heard Ashbridge had worked for HMRC since 2012 and had access to child tax credit claims as her role was to process them. The court heard she was paid just over £11,000 a year.
The mother-of-four began offending in 2015 when she made claims for child tax credits for her three youngest children. She thought other claimants suspected of offences were not being investigated and the "temptation became too much", the court heard.
She made false claims that her children were disabled, which resulted in more than £180,000 being fraudulently obtained.
At one point Ashbridge messaged her husband asking whether they should have another child, before adding: "Not physically lol".
She then asked if he could think of a child to use and he suggested a name and date of birth and Ashbridge replied with a texted kiss.Ashbridge had access through her work system to legitimate claims made by members of the public and used that to her advantage. One family had written to HMRC saying they were moving to Poland and she claimed money for herself for their two children, a total of £59,000.
Matters started to unravel when Ashbridge "became a little too greedy" and tried to backdate claims to 2009, which would have resulted in her receiving a further £107,000.
However that money was not received, nor was another payment she sought to obtain as an investigation was launched.
Ashbridge, 44, from Sunderland, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud and was jailed for two years and four months. She was sacked by HMRC in July 2019 when the offences came to light.
Her husband, 44, also from Sunderland, admitted one offence of fraud to the value of £180,000 and got 18 months suspended for two years.
Recorder Caroline Sellars told Ashbridge: "This is relatively sophisticated offending. You established a number of bank accounts and sent funds to them. It took place over a sustained period of time and involved an abuse of trust.
"You had access to a database of names that allowed you to commit the offences."
Tom Storey, defending Tracy Ashbridge, said she has depression and physical health problems and added: "This was out of character for her.
"She lives with her husband and their four children, two of them are still teenagers. She is deeply ashamed of her behaviour and expresses remorse."
Nick Lane, for Robert Ashbridge, said: "While he knew something of his wife's offending, he said he didn't appreciate the full extent of her activities until the point he was arrested and only when interviewed did he learn, fully, the sums involved."
Mr Lane added that references for Robert included one from a reverend. He said: "He speaks of him being a trustworthy member of the congregation of his local church and he is trusted in the running and administration of the parish. In the full knowledge of the conviction, the reverend says he would have no hesitation in trusting him again inthe future."
Mr Lane added: "Mr Ashbridge is remorseful, he is deeply ashamed and embarrassed to find himself before the court to be sentenced for serious offences.
"They didn't live a particularly lavish lifestyle. He was working as a chef in a care home and his wife earned a relatively modest salary with HMRC. They had a family to support.
"This has been hanging over the family for a significant period of time already."A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing will take place in due course to try to claw back the proceeds of the offending.A HMRC spokesperson said: “We welcome the prison sentence handed down to Tracy Ashbridge who abused her position of trust and responsibility. By stealing from taxpayers Ashbridge also stole from public services used by us all.“HMRC is committed to the highest level of integrity, and we take the strongest possible action against the tiny minority who let us all down by falling short of those standards. We encourage anyone with information about tax fraud to report it online.”
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