A former solicitor and lay member of the Employment Tribunal has been given a 12 month community order and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work at Isleworth Crown Court after being found guilty of dishonestly making a false representation, contrary to Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.
The Court heard how Ms Abosede Panama (57), from Ilford, London IG1, made an application for a Discretionary Housing Payment from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s benefit service on 27 September 2013. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme is designed to help Housing Benefit claimants faced with rent arrears and is only awarded in exceptional circumstances.
Ms Panama signed an application confirming she had accumulated rent arrears of £7,033. When asked about her income and capital, she declared that she held no money in bank accounts. A Discretionary Housing Payment of £5,130.17 was subsequently paid to Ms Panama in October 2013.
An investigation into her circumstances, by the Council’s Anti-Fraud Service, revealed the information she provided to the Council had not been accurate.
Statements for Ms Panama’s Post Office account showed that on the day she made her application she had £3,000 in savings and investigators discovered the account had stood at £8,000 in the months prior to her application. Had this been declared the £5,130.17 payment would not have been paid and Ms Panama would have been expected to clear her own rent arrears.
When interviewed under caution on 13 May 2014, Ms Panama insisted that she had passed the debit card for the Post Office account to her son to assist him with his university studies. However, investigators noted that the account remained in the sole name of Ms Panama. During the interview, Panama admitted that her son had access to his own student funding, including a loan and a grant.
His Honour Judge Edmunds QC said that he took into account Panama’s previous good character and the fact that as a single parent she had brought up five children and provided for them but added that this was a struggle faced by many in society. He was also satisfied that this was not an offence where she had repeated falsehoods over a long period.
However, on sentencing, he said of Abosede Panama: “I assess your evidence on oath to have been dishonest and manipulative.” He also described her application for the Discretionary Housing Payment to have been “deliberately dishonest”. He described her prospects of ever again practising as a solicitor as “bleak”.