A BENEFITS cheat who wrongly claimed £26,500 despite having thousands of pounds in the bank is now living in a van, a court heard.

Pensioner Colin Blake began receiving pension credits from the Department for Work and Pensions in December 2009 when he was entitled to, but failed to notify them four months later when his £38,000 pension pot matured.

He continued to receive the payments when he made £106,000 from the sale of his home in 2011 and bought a property in East Yorkshire and another in France.

Claimants are only able to claim pension credits if they have less than £16,000 in savings.

Andrew Semple, prosecuting, said the 67-year-old con man was eventually caught when Government staff noticed the large amounts of cash in his bank account - four and a half years after he earned the six figure sum.

Blake, who admitted fraud, has started to pay some of the money back, but the situation has taken its toll on his finances and York Crown Court heard he now lives in a van in a Low Catton field, near Stamford Bridge.

Mr Semple said: "It was not a fraud from the start of the claim, but it ought to have been triggered.

"He didn't make a notification, but carried on receiving pension credit, which was paid into his account.

"This continued for some years and in fact a second event would have triggered notification or ought to have when he sold his house."

Cheryl Rudden, Blake's solicitor advocate, said the pension pot "had not been at the forefront of his mind" when it matured.

She blamed his failure to notify the DWP because he is "not terribly good with general organisation."

She added: "He took over the care of his uncle and had an awful lot on his plate.

"These offences came when he was very much taken up with the care of his family."

The court heard he is also registered disabled, has difficulty with mobility and suffers from angina, hypertension and diabetes.

Recorder Simon Jackson QC said these issues did not explain his offending and sentenced him to 10 months in prison, suspended for 18 months.

He was also made subject to a curfew from 8pm to 6am for four months.

Recorder Jackson QC told him: "I'm satisfied you are the kind of man who is financially astute and were aware of your obligations to disclose this money and failed to do so.

"While it must be said you did not deliberately mislead, by April 2010 you were in a different financial situation and were in a different financial situation again in January 2011 and continued to keep quiet.

"Benefits are for those who require them.

"For an extended period you claimed benefits you were not entitled to when others would be disadvantaged.

"You were using the money to facilitate or allow you to indulge in property acquisition."