The case of benefit fraudster Linda Okungbowa is a complicated one, but thankfully one with a happy ending. Lisa arrived in the UK in 2004 after she was brought over by traffickers, hoping to start work in the UK as a nurse. The traffickers demandedpayment for helping her begin a new life in the UK and so Lisa had no choice but to falsely claim benefits under a fake name to give them the money they demanded. Although jailed for 8 months in 2011 for claiming over £70, 000 worth of benefits illegally, whilst working under a fake name, Linda has been spared jail for a second time in an ‘amazing act of mercy.’ The 36-year-old mother of three came to Britain innocently thinking she would be given the opportunity to train as a doctor, with every intention of making an honest living. Instead, she became trapped in a cycle of debt that she owed to criminals, and turned to desperate measures for a way out.
Sick criminals continued to increase the amount that Okungbowa owed to them for getting her over to the UK, and even began to threaten her family back in Nigeria, so benefit fraud seemed like her only option. The judge took this into consideration when deciding to waiver her prison sentence, and was also pleased to note that there was little chance of her falling back into further crime due to finding the support of Sheffield churchgoers. The Sheffield community have offered Linda the support she needs to get onto the straight and narrow and avoid the people that once took advantage of her position. Despite working many jobs to try and afford the ever increasing re-payments she owed, the family became more and more destitute, with her and her children having to walk the 12 mile trip to school due to not being able to afford bus fare. The normal prison sentence for such severe benefit fraud was suspended, as the judge heard of Linda’s circumstances. Amongst the benefits, Okungbowa had falsely claimed £26, 201. 56 in working and child tax credits to see her family through.
Linda knew that several jobs were her only way of paying what she owed, and worked in different care jobs. She took on the identity of a female friend in London and asked if the money could be paid into her bank account, who then transferred her wages to Linda, she told the company she could not provide her own bank details due to being in a significant amount of debt and she needed to survive on her wages. As a result the DWP were unaware of her employment. With the support from the local community, Linda Okungbowa now has the trust of the court that she is not going to re-offend and instead is going to turn her life around. She was influenced badly by people she came into contact with, but now she has the right kind of support to get on track. Linda’s sentence has been suspended and she will be tried again in court.