Dishonestly claimed nearly $68,000 for childcare

 

A woman who dishonestly claimed nearly $68,000 from the Ministry of Health has failed in her bid for a discharge without conviction.

The Dunedin District Court heard on Thursday that over nine years, Kirsten Carol Anne Anderson forged signatures and falsified details on 72 forms she sent to the ministry.

Between July 2012 and October 2019, Anderson named three women she said were caring for her children.

But those women were not providing the care.

It was actually her mother who provided the 922 days of care for which Anderson claimed respite payments.

Counsel Deborah Henderson said the now 62-year-old woman’s worry was if the ministry knew her mother was helping to take care of her two children, it would question her mental health and take the children away.

Anderson’s affidavit to the court stated her mother did not want to be officially paid for the care because she was worried it might affect her pension.

Judge Michael Turner noted that Anderson transferred the "majority" of the money she received from the claims into her mother’s account regardless.

She did not feel she could ask her to look after the children without some form of payment, the court heard.

The Carer Support system, run by the Ministry, is designed to assist full-time carers of disabled people so they can take a break while another carer takes over.

A Ministry of Heath spokesperson said it provided support to about 23,000 eligible disabled people. The subsidy is paid for either full-day or half-day care.

Judge Turner said Anderson had abused the trust of a "system [that relied] to a large extent on the honesty of those using it".

Anderson’s discharge without conviction application was on the basis that the consequences of a conviction for her employment prospects and mental health outweighed the seriousness of her offending.

Mrs Henderson said Anderson had been diagnosed with acute distress disorder, and, at the time, had an overwhelming fear her children would be taken away.

Anderson’s stress level meant she was not thinking clearly, she said.

Judge Turner acknowledged Anderson had mental health struggles which lowered her culpability slightly.

But the offending was "prolonged, premeditated [and] sophisticated".

While her children were eligible for the support payment, "the simple fact of the matter ... is you were not entitled to make these claims in the way you did".

In assessing whether to grant a discharge, Judge Turner said Anderson had completed a Masters in Entrepreneurship and wanted to start her own company.

However, there was insufficient supporting evidence of how a conviction would directly impact her ability to do that, or how it would specifically affect her mental health.

The judge accepted the general consequences of a conviction would apply to her situation, but he did not deem it enough to outweigh the seriousness of her offending.

He declined Anderson’s application and remanded her for sentence in August.

"Anyone dishonestly claiming healthcare funding or services is diverting that funding away from the people it was intended for," the ministry’s spokesperson said.

 

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