Forklift driver Neil Sheppard, 54, had previously pleaded guilty to falsely claiming Disability Living Allowance between 2001 and 2016 by failing to say he had returned to work.
A judge handed Sheppard – who walked into court – a nine-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, on Thursday.
Sheppard, who has multiple sclerosis, told reporters he was “sorry” and “embarrassed” and said the £51,867 would be repaid, but bemoaned the “complexity” of the system.
As part of his claim, he declared he was virtually unable to walk and needed assistance to prepare and cook meals. He failed to declare a change of circumstances to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Investigators found Sheppard, who suffered a partial amputation of his left arm after an industrial accident, had been working since 1995 as a forklift driver.
Prosecution barrister Rachel Pennington said: “Listed on his self-assessment claim form to the DWP, he was claiming restricted mobility and help with care needs; that it took him 20 minutes to walk 100m, used a walking stick and would lose his balance.”
CCTV from his workplace at Mondelez International in Birmingham showed Sheppard walking through a staff room, standing unaided and climbing a flight of stairs with ease.
The court was told the Sheppard was able to attend regular meetings in the staff canteen, which was up two flights of stairs, in a building without a lift.
Sentencing at Stafford Crown Court, Judge John Gosling said: “It’s always serious to cheat the state out of benefits, as it affects the entire welfare system.
“But each case has to be considered on its own merits.”
He said Sheppard was of “previous good character”, was valued by his employer, and said his medical condition had “recently deteriorated”.
The judge said: “The pre-sentence report tells me he simply failed to understand the importance of changes (in condition) – I think there’s something in that. I don’t think this is a concerted and protracted fraud.”
He added it was “entirely unsatisfactory” that it had also taken two years to bring the prosecution against Sheppard.
Following sentencing, Sheppard said: “My condition fluctuates that much anyway, am I supposed to be on the phone every five minutes – ‘I’ve improved today’ and they say ‘sorry, not today’.”
His wife, Jo, said: “It’s never going to change that he’s got MS, it’s never going to change that he’s cognitive problems, that he’s got depression, that his arm will get better.”
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The couple said they would now probably have to sell their home to pay the money back.
The DWP said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are catching those who cheat the system and divert taxpayers’ money from the people who need it.”