A FORMER military woman falsely claimed more than £25,000 in universal credit because she struggled to support her children after the break down of her marriage, a court heard.

Chelsea Pinnell admitted she got into a “tremendous mess” when she pretended to be a single parent to defraud the Department of Work and Pensions.

Teesside Crown Court heard the 29-year-old was deployed to Afghanistan during her army service, but she fell on hard times when her marriage began falling apart.

In November 2016 she put in a false universal credit claim after pretending she was a single parent to her two young children and over the next two years gained £25,989.

But a DWP investigation revealed she was in fact married and at times living with her husband who paid gas and electricity bills and provided for the children financially.

Pinnell, who at times lived in family accommodation at the Catterick Garrison, also owned a car paid for by her husband in exchange for up to £100 a month.

The court heard the mother, who has since moved to Hull and separated from her husband, made the false claim to maintain an income for her children as her marriage began to break down.

She sobbed in the dock as she was handed a community order by Judge Stephen Ashurst who said Pinnell got herself into a “tremendous mess”.

He said: “You are not going to prison today due to your personal circumstances. You did not have the best start in life but went onto college and enrolled in the army. You were very well thought of and you had significant responsibility when you were in Afghanistan and posted abroad. You have done good work and I will take that into account.

“You have made the serious error in claiming to the Department of Work and Pensions to maintain the income for the children. You got yourself into a tremendous mess. I don’t think it is necessary to send a single parent to prison and the court should look at all other options.”

Pinnell, of Coverdale, Hull, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. She was handed a 18 month community order, 14 rehabilitation days and 100 hours of unpaid work.