A BENEFITS cheat who fraudulently claimed more than £8,500 posing as a single parent was not trying to "fleece the state", a court heard.

Kirsty Harding appeared in Salisbury magistrates' court on Friday, charged with two counts of fraudulently claiming benefits.

Prosecuting, Kate Prince said Harding had claimed £8,770.15 in housing benefit and income support over about 14 months between 2014 and 2015.

In her applications to Wiltshire Council and the Department for Work and Pensions, Harding had claimed to be a single parent living alone with no income.

But the court heard that Harding had reconciled with Ben Sharpe, her ex-partner and father of her daughter, and the pair were "living together as a married couple".

Ms Prince said Mr Sharpe had been in employment, a fact Harding did not disclose in her applications.

Defending, William Griffiths said Harding had been making repayments and her debt was now down to £4,455.37

He said she admitted that Mr Sharpe had been living at the address three nights a week, but there had been "a bit of a misunderstanding over whether that was okay under the rules", adding: "But it obviously isn't."

Mr Griffiths said it was "more of a situation where someone has filled in the form for renewal without turning their attention too closely to what the stipulations on that form require" rather than a plan "to fleece the state".

He said Harding did not have any previous dishonesty offences on her record, but did have one charge of assault as a youth and one of actual bodily harm in 2008.

Magistrate Mrs Jeffery said the court would require a report from a probation officer before sentencing, adding: "Its true that she has no similar offences, but it did happen twice."

Mr Fuller, from the probation service, said Harding expressed remorse for the crime.

"She said her ex-partner wasn't making contributions to the household, and was there as a favour to him," Mr Fuller said.

But Mr Sharpe said in interview that he had contributed to the household.

Mrs Jeffery made Harding the subject of a 12 month community order and ordered her to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work.

She must also pay £85 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.