Public unclear on law on retaining wrongful credit

By Gary Adair

The case of Michaela Hutchings, who discovered she had mistakenly received £52,000 in her bank account and then went on a spending spree, has received much media attention, but perhaps of more interest is the public reaction to the incident, which suggests there is a lack of awareness on the law that exists to deal with such circumstances.

Lichfield District Council accidentally transferred £52,000 into Ms Hutchings account, which she noticed when she went to make a cash withdrawal. She managed to spend £9,000 within 2 days, gave her mother £1,000 and put the rest into a savings account. She was caught by police shortly after and has signed release forms so that the money can be transferred out of her savings account. She claims she thought the money was an inheritance. She could have faced up to 10 years in prison but was spared a jail sentence after submitting a guilty plea. She was given a 12-month community order and told to perform 150 hours of unpaid work.

The case has been the subject of much debate on social media sites, with many people sharing their experiences of wrongfully receiving money that wasn't intended for them. Public opinion is divided on what Ms Hutchings did, and it would appear that more people would be prepared to do the same if the amount was much smaller. The comments generated around the incident suggest that many people view it as a grey area, and a lot of people focusing on the error of the person who sends the money, saying it is their problem.

However, there is legislation to cover such incidents, referred to as 'dishonestly retaining wrongful credit', and as mentioned previously, can result in up to a 10 year prison sentence. Section 24A of the 1968 Theft Act makes it clear that any money knowingly received in error must be repaid.

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