A BRIERLEY Hill woman fiddled nearly £76,000 in benefits while working as a school classroom assistant.

Phyllis Skelding pocketed the money over a nine year period having failed to notify the authorities she was earning up to £800 a month working at St. Marks Primary School in Pensnett.

But Nicole Steers, for Skelding, maintained the 44-year-old had not used the money to pay for a lavish lifestyle but to support her husband after he developed an alcohol problem.

She described Skelding as a "fragile, frail person" and said she was giving him £75 a week and added: "If she did not give him the money as requested there would have been hell in the house."

Miss Steers stressed there was never any violence but she told Wolverhampton Crown Court the shouting and arguing would go on all night.

She added: "She was not motivated to live a fabulous lifestyle, she was under pressure at home and there were mounting debts.

“Her husband fell on hard times and he resorted to alcohol. He cannot find his way back and she has supported him."

Miss Steers said Skelding now realised she should have asked for help for her problems. She said: "She wants to make amends for her wrong doing.

"But if her husband does not change his ways the problems will continue. She does not own a car, her husband does not have a car and she does not have a passport.

"She has never had a holiday of any sort. The money has all gone on the household with her husband drinking to a high level."

The court was told Skelding had been with her husband for 27 years and alcohol dependency set in after he became depressed.

Skelding, of Mullett Street, admitted two charges of failing to notify a change in her circumstances and was given a 32 week jail term suspended for a year.

She was further told she must carry out 80 hours unpaid work in the community and also placed on supervision for a year.

Recorder Michael Burrows QC told her she had been the person who did all the paperwork relating to the benefit claims adding: "That is why you are in the dock and not him."

He said he accepted the money had not been used for a luxury lifestyle but to fuel his alcohol addiction at a time when she had been holding down honest employment in the classroom.

The court was told Skelding dishonestly obtained a total of £75,870 in benefits - money she insisted she intends paying back to the Department of Work and Pensions.