19 Oct 2015

Unpaid work penalty for social housing fraud

A fraudster conjured up a fake grandson to get a bigger council house.

Scarborough Council claim Lorraine Smith kept desperate families waiting on its social housing list while she conned the authority with the bizarre lie.

If her scheme had worked, the court heard, she would have also illegally pocketed hundreds of pounds – as she wouldn’t have been eligible to pay the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

But she was foiled by her “extremely amateurish” attempts to doctor docu
ments. This included trying to pass off a doctored college letter with a handwritten address as an official typed one.

The 52-year-old admitted nine charges at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court on Friday, including fraud by false representation.

Smith, of Belle Vue Street, held her head in her hands as the court heard how she’d tried passing Kevin Hone off as her grandson.

Her solicitor Ian Brickman claimed Hone wasn’t a stranger, and that Smith had in many ways considered him “like a grandson” to her.

In a statement, Mr Hone even claimed that he had planned on possibly moving into the property with his father and Smith – but admitted he wasn’t related to her in any way.

It was also claimed in court that it was the father who had doctored some of the documents, but it was Smith who had handed them in to the authority.

“It’s not a sophisticated fraud,” admitted council solicitor Jon Davey.

But despite that the authority took a dim view of her crimes, which they say kept a needy family on the lengthy social housing list for even longer.

“Obtaining social housing by deception is a criminal offence and deprives some of the most vulnerable in our community of the help that they need with accommodation,” said Scarborough Council’s Alison Johnson, the authority’s audit and fraud manager. “The council has a proven track record in addressing benefit fraud and we have recently moved into tenancy fraud investigation alongside our partners. We are very pleased to have secured a conviction in this case, following a lengthy and detailed investigation.

Smith, who has since moved back in with her once-estranged husband, claims she’s no longer employed due to the “stress” of the case. Both she and her husband are now dependent on benefits, the court heard.

She was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work for what magistrates told her was a “deliberate, fraudulent act”, and told to pay £150 costs along with a £60 court surcharge.

Social housing fraud is the most wicked form of welfare fraud. The sums that can be saved are huge, but it's so much more than the money - needy families are being deprived of the chance to have a settled home that meets their needs.

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