A woman lied and systematically cheated the taxpayer for nearly 11 years as she fraudulently claimed £70,000 in social security benefits to which she was not entitled, a jury was told yesterday.

Tony Watkin, prosecuting at Stafford Crown Court, said Wendy Stretton (48) began claiming housing benefit, council tax, job seeker's allowance and income support the day her husband came home after completing a 14-day prison sentence in 1993.

She filled out forms and told the Department of Social Security and the Department of Works and Pensions that he was not living with her but they had a joint bank account and his name was on the tenancy agreement of their council house.

"They opened the bank account before she said he was not living with him despite her saying they had been separated since 1993," he said.

"You may think it was strange she made no attempt to remove his name from the tenancy. The facts show quite clearly that he was living with her. She intended deliberately to commit fraud and received benefits to which she was not entitled."

Stretton of Young Avenue, Stafford, pleaded not guilty to two charges of cheating the public revenue and five of falsifying documents between April 1993 and February 2004.

Mr Watkin told jurors: "Stretton falsified documents and failed to declare she was living with her husband.

"The case against her is that between 1993 and 2004 she claimed more than £70,000 in benefits and in all that time she did not tell the DSS, the DWP or the local council that she was living with him.

The reason, say the prosecution, she did not do that was because she knew if she did she would be entitled to less or no benefit at all. Based on answers she gave in a claim form she received income support of between £70 and £100 a week," he said.

"At some stage she formed a dishonest intent to cheat the department. In October 2001 the income support claim changed to job seeker's allowance because she had no dependent children living with her. As well as claiming income support and job seeker's allowance she also claimed council tax and housing benefits."

The trial continues.