Woman Who Claimed $80K In Disability For Crippling Agoraphobia Is A World Traveler

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A 52-year-old British author who claimed £50,000, more than $83,000, in disability benefits claims she “'was agoraphobic and couldn't walk” while prosecutors say she was globe trotting and working as a tour guide in Argentina.

Tracy Johnson, of Somerset, claimed she was a “prisoner in her own home” since 2008 and was unable to leave Britain for years, according to the Daily Mail.

Charged with benefits fraud, prosecutor Joanna James told Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court this week that Johnson took trips to New York and Spain, styling herself as a professional photographer and "XPlorPreneur." She even spent four months in India, worked as a travel writer in South America and ran her own tour guide business in Argentina.

“Tracy Johnson was living the life that honest, decent, hard working tax payers could only dream of,” James said. “While workers were going out to do their daily grind she was shopping in New York or having a few days in Madrid.”

Meanwhile, her benefits forms told a very different story.

“She said she was unable to live on a day-to-day basis because she was agoraphobic, suffered depression, hallucinations, anxiety, blackouts and post traumatic stress disorder,” James told the court. “She said she stumbled and fell repeatedly and could not walk more than five meters without help.”

Her benefits paperwork says she needs constant support and care and that a friend was living with her. She said she spent all day in her bedroom because that's where she felt “safe.”

“She said she rarely came into contact with other people and was distressed and agitated when she talked of her illnesses," James explained. "She claimed that she was so unwell that she was unable to live in her own home. But while submitting claim forms telling the authorities that she was unwell she was travelling the world on taxpayers’ money."

Department of Work and Pensions fraud investigator Kim Osbourne, testified that Johnson concealed her lifestyle by claiming benefits from her mother’s address.

“When asked for an interview she seemed to disappear and not cooperate with the department,” Osbourne said.

Authorities received a tip about the alleged benefits fraud, but, when they tried to contact Johnson initially, they found she was out of the country.

“She was arrested when she tried to renew her benefits claim last June on her return from India,” James said. “She asked for them to be backdated and even persuaded a community nurse to complete the form on her behalf. It was absolute, blatant dishonesty.”

Johnson, who is representing herself, is charged with fraud, dishonestly making a false representation and dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances between January 2008 and July 2012.

She denies the 13 charges against her.

The New Statesman published a story today about a British woman who suffers from agoraphobia and Asperger syndrome and struggles to get by on disability given England’s benefits cuts.

“I’m trying to juggle all the bills,” says Bessie Biela. “The way they come in and the benefits are paid makes it impossible… Life’s been awful throughout [the last] year. The fear and stress is awful.”

Sources: Daily Mail, New Statesman