A Zimbabwean woman who won £95,000 on a British TV show faces jail after being charged with benefit fraud. Caroline Banana, 40, is accused of failing to declare her windfall while continuing to claim housing and child benefits.
By law, benefit claimants must tell the Department for Work and Pensions if, through windfall or inheritance, they come into enough money to push their bank balance over £16,000.
Banana is now due to appear in front of magistrates later this month. She has offered to repay the money, but council officials have continued with the prosecution regardless.
Banana won the cash on the Channel 4 programme just over a year ago, telling viewers she would use her good fortune to buy her own home and help her family in Africa.
After her win, the mother of two, from Stoke-on-Trent, hugged host Noel Edmonds and posed for pictures with him and her husband Michael, 48. Michael is the eldest son of Zimbabwe’s first black President Canaan Sodindo Banana who died in November 2003.
On the show, each contestant is assigned a numbered box which contains a cash value unknown to them or the audience.
During the game, they reject the other sealed boxes, which contain amounts ranging from 1p to £250,000, one by one, hoping not to lose the higher value sums. The show’s mysterious ‘banker’ regularly tries to tempt the contestant to ‘deal’ by making offers to buy their box depending on which sums remain in the game.
Banana’s box originally contained £250,000 but she accepted a swap that left her with a box containing just £5,000. After initially rejecting a £35,000 offer from the banker, she then sold it to him for £95,000.
She said at the time: ‘I felt a bit nervous [appearing on the show] as it was the moment I was waiting for. When I was walking on stage I could feel myself trembling but when I stood next to Noel I calmed down a little bit.
‘I was thinking that I was not a lucky person but something made me carry on.’
A statement on the show’s website said the win meant ‘Caroline can buy a home, allow Michael to finish his degree and help her family back in Africa’. Just 14 months after her television appearance, however, Stoke-on-Trent City Council accused her of being a benefit cheat.
A council worker said: ‘She has offered to repay the money but we still intend to prosecute her on fraud charges.’
It is alleged Banana was overpaid £5,000 in benefits, including housing and council tax benefit, between November 2011 and 2012.
Before the summons had been served to her, Banana wrote on her Facebook page: ‘I am not aware of any court case. I just know that I agreed to pay [back] overpayments from the council and set up a direct debit.’ She is due to appear at North Staffordshire Justice Centre on February 20.