A mother-of-five cheated the state out of £88,000 by not revealing none of her children were living with her, a court heard.

 Paula Smith began her claim for income support legitimately in 1997 when she was penniless after leaving home aged 16.

She went on to have five children between 1999 and 2005 but she did not tell the benefits agency that the eldest lived with her dad and the others had been taken into foster care, said Kate Morley, prosecuting.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that if 33-year-old Smith had revealed her true position she would have been entitled to about £40,000 in benefits as her eldest daughter sometimes lived with her.

Smith, of BIrkenhead Road, Wallasey, pleaded guilty to failing to notify a change of circumstances over almost six years between January 2007 and May 13 last year.

Judge Alan Conrad, QC, told Smith, "This is a serious matter involving a large sum of public money" but he added, "You have not always had an easy life. You have had your demons."

The court heard that she has also served a three month sentence last year and has since been making progress.

The judge sentenced her to six months imprisonment suspended for a year, placed her under supervision for 12 months and imposed an electronically monitored curfew for four months between 10pm and 7am.

Edmund Haygarth, defending, said that after her arrest Smith told how she had used the money to pay debts but admitted she had been "selfish getting hold of the money. I knew exactly what I was doing."

She is now in settled accommodation and paying back the money at £20 a fortnight, he added.