In one of two cases brought to court by Lambeth Benefits Investigation Team, a property owner narrowly escaped jail this week when he was found guilty of obtaining £21,294.88 in housing and council tax benefits by pretending to be a tenant when he was in fact the owner.
And in a separate case, a Streatham landlady with assets of £400,000 was found guilty of claiming for a tenant who was no longer staying with her.
The first property owner was sentenced to a Community Punishment Order of 220 hours. Lambeth council was awarded costs of £3,500 to be paid within 28 days.
The judge told that he had only narrowly avoided a custodial sentence and rejected his defence that he would have been entitled to mortgage interest payments through income support. The judge held that this was wholly unconvincing and commented that he had been dishonest from the outset.
In the second case the property owner was found guilty on two counts of obtaining £4,190 of housing benefit by deception. She falsified records, claiming benefit for a tenant that was no longer resident in her Streatham property. The judge told her that she was “opportunistic and greedy” and that she could have gone to prison but a financial penalty was a better punishment, with greater deterrence value.
She was given six months to pay a total of £5,000 or face 45 days in prison. She was also ordered to repay Lambeth Council the £4,191 and £2,000 in costs within 6 months. There was also an order concerning the recovery of £1,000 pounds defence costs.
The judge assessed her net assets to be in excess of £400,000 and that she could use this to raise funds to pay her fines.
Lambeth Benefits Investigation Team Investigators prosecuted this case which came about as a result of a number of referrals from Lambeth Benefits Assessors concerned by the behaviour and practices of this landlady. Lambeth Benefits Service has implemented legislation which prevents being paid as landlord again.
Lambeth’s own legal team prosecuted both cases. Sentencing took place at Inner London Crown Court on 13 July 2005.