A PEMBROKESHIRE builder who fraudulently claimed more than £16,000 in universal credit was “taking money out of the system intended for the most vulnerable”, a minister has said.

Gordon Hardy was sentenced to two months in prison, suspended for a year, and was ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work for fraudulently claimed benefits despite owning properties worth a combined £440,000.

Swansea Crown Court heard that Hardy, 56, of Dew Street in Haverfordwest, did not declare that he owned two homes in the town – one on Brookside Avenue and one on Haven Road – when he applied for universal credit on March 27, 2020 – just days after lockdown measures were first introduced.

The self-employed builder claimed he had no income or assets.

Tom Pursglove MP, the minister of state at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) responsible for tackling fraud, said: “Convictions like this one show our tireless DWP investigators are resolutely committed to stamping out benefit fraud.

“Where people are not eligible for benefits by concealing their circumstances, they are taking money out of the system intended for the most vulnerable, which is why we are cracking down on fraudsters abusing the system.

“This sentencing shows how individuals who try to cheat the system will be brought to justice and – step by step, brick by brick – our ambitious Fraud Plan, which sits alongside investment of £900 million, will continue this important work to help save over £9 billion by 2027/28.”

An investigation by the DWP Fraud and Investigations Unit found Hardy had built up fraudulent claims of £16,667.29 in Universal Credit between 2020 and 2022.

He had failed to declare that he owned two additional properties in Haverfordwest worth a combined £440,000 – which, had he declared them, would have meant he would not have been eligible for the benefit.

Following closure of the claim, Hardy was quizzed by police before the case moved forward to court.

Swansea Crown Court heard the defendant had told officers he didn’t know that he needed to declare the properties as part of his application. The judge, Recorder Simon Mills, rejected this excuse.

Hardy pleaded guilty to the fraudulent activity.

Sentencing him, Recorder Mills said: “Parts of your lifestyle are completely beyond the reach of people that genuinely needed help at that time.

“Money that is given to people in need by the state should go to people in genuine need.”

Hardy’s defence barrister said that he had paid the full sum back, and the DWP has said its Debt Management Recovery team will now recovering this back in to the public purse.