Nursery owner guilty of nursery education funding fraud

A nursery owner who falsified children’s dates of birth in order to fraudulently claim £37,000 of free entitlement funding has been given a 10-month suspended sentence.

Sarah Tolner, 55, the former owner of North London Montessori and Country Cows Montessori Nursery, both in Mill Hill, was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to 15 counts of fraud by false representation.

Between 2007 and 2012, Ms Tolner altered 58 dates of birth on claims forms submitted to the council to make it appear that children attending her settings were the right age to be entitled to free early years provision. She also changed the number of hours and dates some children attended the nurseries.

Wood Green Crown Court heard that an investigation was launched by Barnet Council in 2011 after the council’s children’s service noticed that all five children listed on a form submitted by Ms Tolner had the same birth year of 2008.

The council’s corporate anti-fraud team uncovered a variety of past discrepancies, including fraudulent claims on 17 claims forms, falsified attendance records and registration forms, and forging of parents’ signatures.

Sentencing Ms Tolner, Mr Recorder Guest said the nursery proprietor had made false claims ‘time and time again’, and had ‘embarked on a deliberate course of dishonest conduct intended to deprive the public purse of a significant sum of money.’

Ms Tolner was ordered to repay the £37,191 she had received in funding as a result of the fraudulent claims, as well as £18,227 in costs.

Council leader Richard Cornelius said that the majority of the money has now been repaid.

He added, ‘This was a brazen attempt to illegally pocket a great deal of taxpayers’ money. This investigation highlights just how serious we are about pursuing those who try to cheat the public purse, no matter what kind of fraud it is.’

Country Cows nursery has been under new ownership since 2011. North London Montessori has closed.

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