A Mother-of-three has been spared an immediate prison sentence after she admitted cheating the taxpayer of more than £23,500 in illegal benefits.

Catherine Northey claimed the cash in housing benefit, income support and council tax benefit for almost two-and-a-half years until last July without disclosing that her partner had been living with her.

Prosecutor Gemma White said Northey told investigators that she had not understood what living together meant. Her relationship with her partner had at times been rocky, she was sorry and wanted to put the situation right, she said.

Northey, 29, of Wilkins Road, Hedge End, admitted three charges of failing to notify authorities of a change of circumstances. Jane Hemmings, mitigating, said Northey had been legitimately claiming benefits for five years but then her partner began living with her at weekends.

Judge Peter Ralls QC gave her a 20-week suspended sentence, 12 months’ supervision and an order to pay an £80 surcharge after he heard she was already paying back the cash under an agreed schedule.