Woman stole £3k in fees after benefits cut

Canon Sharples CE Primary School, Whelley
Canon Sharples CE Primary School, Whelley

A Wigan after-school club manager helped herself to £3k of fees after hitting financial dire straits due to her benefits being cut, a court heard.

Donna Schofield has been ordered to pay back her ill-gotten gains to Club 3.15 based at Canon Sharples Primary School in Whelley but escaped a jail sentence.

She wasn’t taking money to live an extravagant lifestyle or go on holiday. But she made a decision and that decision was wrong

Karen Schofield - defending

JPs were told the actions of the 42-year-old could have caused the club - which is run by a registered charity - to permanently close causing several job losses.

Schofield broke down in tears when confronted by detectives with evidence of the thefts which took place between September and November of last year.

The mum-of-three hit financial problems when her tax credit and housing benefits were cut by the Department of Work and Pensions during the summer holidays.

A hearing at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court was told Schofield, who has 20 years experience in childcare, started taking the club’s money with the intention of paying it back once her benefits had been reinstated.

The amounts she was helping herself to spiralled from “£20 here and there” to thousands and her failure to provide paperwork for company bosses rang alarm bells and led to an internal investigation.

Steve Woodman, prosecuting, said: “A number of subscriptions were not recorded on fee sheets and money was found not accounted for.”

Schofield originally told police she had “lost some of the money and looked for it but did not know where it had gone”.

Mr Woodman said: “The police put it to her that it was simply unbelievable that she had lost (the money) and this was the opportunity to tell the truth.

“It was then that she broke down in tears and accepted she had stolen the money.”

She told detectives she was “extremely sorry but had been desperate.”

A victim impact statement read to the court from bosses of Bolton based St Bede’s Childcare Limited said the firm tries to keep fees as low as possible and hundreds of parents rely on their services.

If it did not have other clubs under its stewardship to subsidise the losses, Club 3.15 may have been forced to close.

Karen Schofield, defending, said her client had an impeccable record of employment and good character but had panicked when the DWP cut her benefits. She supports her children and had been entitled to tax credits to supplement her working income. When she fell into debt “it got too much”.

She told the court: “The first she knew of her housing benefit payment being stopped was when her landlord banged on the door saying she owed two month’s rent.

“She wasn’t taking money to live an extravagant lifestyle or go on holiday. But she made a decision and that decision was wrong.”

Ms Schofield added: “In hindsight she could have been more assertive and got advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, for example. Some people are assertive and some are not, and she isn’t. She’s polite and quiet.

“She put off meetings (with her bosses) because she knew she didn’t have the money. She concedes that she went about it wrongly.

“It was random amounts, not looking at the books and working out what she could take without being detected.”

Schofield of Rylands Street, Gidlow, pleaded guilty to theft and received a 26 week custodial sentence suspended for two years. She was ordered to undertake 60 hours of unpaid work and will have to pay back the £3,092 to St Bede’s CC.