An award-winning ethical fashion designer to the stars falsely claimed more than £44,000 in housing benefits.

Sarah Ratty's A-list customers include Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, TV presenter Zoe Ball, Factory Girl star Sienna Miller and singer Macy Gray.

Her Hove-based company Ciel, which sells sweaters and cardigans for up to £249, won the Ethical Fashion Award at the UK Fashion Awards attended by Princess Anne in London in June.

Ratty claimed a total of £44,120 housing benefit from Brighton and Hove City Council over five years.

Roger Booth, prosecuting, said Ratty failed to tell the council that she owned a house in London.

She also failed to disclose a bank account which would have revealed she had a mortgage on the house.

She later sold the property but claimed she was renting her new home in Hove when she had a mortgage on it.

Ratty, 43, of Salisbury Road, Hove, admitted ten charges of falsely claiming benefit between 2001 and 2006.

She was given an eight month prison sentence suspended for 18 months at Hove Crown Court yesterday. (fri) She had no previous convictions and had voluntarily repaid £11,000 to the city council, the court heard.

Jonathan Rae, defending, said Ratty had run her first business Conscious Earth successfully until 1999.

It went into liquidation after she broke her back in a car crash while attending a wedding in South Africa.

She was forced to wear a back brace and was in a wheelchair for two years.

Since then she has undergone extensive medical treatment for her injuries and for post traumatic stress disorder.

She can only walk 50 metres with a stick, has a disabled parking badge and is still having counselling.

Despite that she relaunched her business in 2004 and has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art in recognition of her fashion design work.

She has worked as a volunteer for the Soil Association to raise awareness of organic cotton.

Some of Ratty's designs regularly sell for more than £100.

A pair of gold satin trousers by the designer retail for £269 while you can buy Ciel's Hollywood coat for £247.

Other items by Ciel include a cowl neck sweater for £238 and a hip cable cardigan for £249.

Brighton-based film star Blanchett recently bought a Ciel coat.

Mr Rae said Ratty believed she could claim housing benefit because of her condition.

He added that Ratty's doctor believed at the time she was not able to cope mentally with filling in the complex benefit application form.

He said some of the forms had been filled in by others and she had signed them.

Mr Rae added: "She did not set out to deliberately defraud Brighton and Hove City Council.

"She buried her head in the sand as far as her finances were concerned.

"No business woman who was behaving rationally would have got herself into these difficulties.

"She fully intends to repay every penny of what she owes when her business takes off again."

Ratty was also ordered to pay £750 towards the city council's prosecution costs.

Recorder Margaret Bowron told her: "You have a very fine business background and very fine business ethics.

"You appear to have been very ethical in your approach to the fashion business.

"It is all the more the pity that you have found yourself here today."

Councillor Ann Norman, chairwoman of the city council's finance committee, said: "Benefit fraud is a crime that we take very seriously indeed. We will not hesitate to pursue anyone we believe to be making fraudulent benefit claims."

Ratty's mother is a lecturer at Brighton College of Art.

Ratty was thrown out of fashion college in Bristol for truancy but later took a job with a London designer.

She founded Conscious Earth in the late Nineties specialising in sustainable fashion.

One project involved unravelling knitted jumpers donated to Oxfam and turning them into streetwear.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London bought one of her early collections and included it in their 1993 Street Style exhibition.

Paul Alger, director of the UK Fashion Eports trade association, described Ratty as "an example" after the awards in June.

He said: "Sarah has been at the vanguard of the movement for ethical fashion for more than 20 years. Ciel is an example to the industry."

To report someone making fraudulent benefit claims, call Brighton and Hove City Council's confidential anti-fraud hotline on 01273 291700 or the National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854440.