A BENEFITS cheat who swindled the taxpayer out of nearly £40,000 despite having £30,000 in savings at one stage has escaped a prison sentence.

Paul Reynolds, 58, made false claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and housing benefit from Newport council over a five-year period.

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Laura Shepherd, prosecuting, said the defendant committed the scam between 2013 and 2018 and illegally amassed a total of £39,572.37 in government money.

Reynolds, of Alexandra Road, Newport, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud.

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Cardiff Crown Court heard the defendant had previous convictions, including one for animal welfare offences.

Scott Bowen, representing Reynolds, said: “The defendant is a vulnerable individual who has suffered from life-threatening cancer.

“He received a small inheritance. He was living a frugal lifestyle and was saving money for his teenage daughter.

“The defendant was not leading a lavish or five-star lifestyle.

“He now has no money left. He’s described as living a meagre lifestyle. He almost buried his head in the sand.”

Judge Wayne Beard told Reynolds: “These offences are aggravated by the fact they took place over five years.

“The public have been deprived of a sum of funds.”

He added: “You are in poor physical health and your mental state is not the best.

“You have suffered from cancer to the face. You are not fit enough to undertake unpaid work in the community.”

The defendant was sentenced to an 18-month community order and told he must complete a 10-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

Reynolds was ordered to pay £480 towards prosecution costs and a £60 victim surcharge.