A JUDGE has hit out at the ‘ludicrously low’ guideline sentences for benefits cheats, as she locked up a mother-of-two for claiming almost £40,000 in a four-and-half-year scam for 20 weeks.

Judge Beverley Lunt told Burnley Crown Court fraudsters who set out to take taxpayers' cash might assume they will automatically be handed a suspended prison term and that isn't a deterrent.

The judge made her comments when she sentenced Louise Coulter, 38, who had lied repeatedly to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), claiming her partner John Wilcox had left her, when he was still living with her and was working.

Coulter was arrested after surveillance on the home in Barclay Avenue, Burnley, she shared with Mr Wilcox, but even then she wouldn't own up and further investigations were carried out.

The court heard Coulter had told a probation officer that she thought defrauding the DWP was the easy option.

Judge Lunt, who slammed her actions as deliberate and calculated, told her: “Too many people like you think that it's the easy option. It may be the guideline sentences set down by the Sentencing Council, which judges must follow, are so ludicrously low that everyone thinks they will automatically be suspended, which clearly is not acting as a deterrent and that is a wrong assumption.”

Coulter now of St John's Road, Burnley, had admitted three counts of dishonesty, one involving income support, one housing and council tax benefits, paid by Burnley Council, and the third regarding jobseekers' allowance. Coulter is paying the money back at £21.90 a fortnight out of her benefits.

Fraser Hunter, defending, said Coulter's ex-partner, who had now left her and had disappeared, was to some extent a bully and was highly influential in her making the false claim.

Mr Hunter said: “She faced a large amount of domestic issues.”

He added Coulter was now taking positive steps to support her children financially and was on an IT course.