Nursery owner falsified children's dates of birth to fraudulently claim £37,000
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A crooked nursery owner who falsified children’s dates of birth and other details so she could fraudulently claim over £37,000 in funding has been given a 10-month suspended sentence.
Sarah Tolner received the sentence - suspended for 18 months - and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to 15 counts of fraud by false representation.
Between 2007 and 2012 Tolner altered 58 dates of birth to make it appear that children attending the two privately run nurseries she owned were the right age to be entitled to Free Early Years Provision.
She also changed the number of hours and dates some children attended her nurseries.
The national Free Early Years Provision scheme entitles children aged between three and five to 15 hours of free part-time education each week.
Nurseries, playgroups, children’s centres and child-minders submit forms containing details for eligible children to their local authorities each term to claim the cost of the early years provision.
Wood Green Crown Court heard that an investigation into Tolner's activities was launched by Barnet Council’s corporate anti-fraud team in 2011, after the council’s Children’s Service identified irregularities in a form submitted by the nursery owner.
The form for the autumn 2011 term raised suspicions because all of the five children listed had the same birth year of 2008.
Investigators began looking at past claims and were able to establish a string of discrepancies, leading to the 55-year-old's arrest in November 2012.
The court heard that as well as falsifying claim forms, she had falsified attendance records and registration forms, including forging some parents' signatures.
In one case, a claim was made for a child who had never attended the nursery.
When interviewed under caution Tolner claimed the discrepancies were the result of mistakes, but pleaded guilty just before her trial.
Sentencing Tolner, Mr Recorder Guest said she had “time and time again” made false claims, and had “embarked on a deliberate course of dishonest conduct intended to deprive the public purse of a significant sum of money.”
Councillor Richard Cornelius, council leader, said: “This was a brazen attempt to illegally pocket a great deal of taxpayers’ money.
“This investigation highlights just how serious we are about pursuing those who try to cheat the public purse, no matter what kind of fraud it is.
“Our corporate anti-fraud team and children’s Service did an excellent job in initially spotting something was wrong and then successfully investigating the full extent of this fraud.
“I am also glad to see that the vast majority of the money claimed illegally, and the council’s costs, have already been repaid.”
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