A woman who lied about rent arrears of £1700 has been prosecuted by Plymouth City Council for social housing fraud.
Katrina Sturtridge – aged 26, of Lower Polsham Road, Paignton, TQ3 2AU admitted to Plymouth Magistrates on Monday 20 February that she had lied to the Council on two occasions (on 10th September and 9 October 2014) in order to gain social housing, by falsely stating that she did not have any rent arrears.
It was only several months later (9 December 2014) that Sturtridge supplied details of her landlord’s possession proceedings against her and that the true reason for her eviction was rent arrears of £1700.
Sturtridge was fined £255 (reduced from £385 due to early guilty plea) and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £450 and a victim surcharge of £25.
The court heard that Sturtridge had started to accrue rent arrears in July 2014; well before she had made her application to the Council’s Housing team in September 2014.
While a decision was being made as to whether the Council had any long term duty to accommodate her, she and her child were provided with temporary accommodation in a flat at Raglan Court, between 26 February and 13 July 2015 until she abandoned the premises, leaving her partner and child behind there. As a result of no longer being the main carer of her child a decision was made on 3 August 2015 that the council had no duty to house her.
During the 138 nights that Sturtridge was in temporary accommodation she did not make any payments at all, resulting in accrued arrears of £3321.66. If she had been honest from the outset it is likely that the council would not have provided her with any temporary accommodation at all as the claim could have been completely dealt with before she was evicted by her landlord. In addition, her occupation of the property prevented another legitimate claimant from being housed there.
In mitigation, the court heard that Sturtridge had entered an early guilty plea, was very apologetic and is no longer in a relationship with her child’s father.
Councillor Ian Darcy, Cabinet Member for Finance for Plymouth City Council, said: “This case sends a clear message that we will not tolerate any fraud in Plymouth, and in particular housing fraud, at a time when there is a large waiting list for social housing.
“Social housing properties are at a premium in the UK and a scarce asset. Social housing cheats deprive those in genuine need of one of the most basic needs in life – somewhere to live.”
The Corporate Fraud Team operate as South West Anti-Fraud Service and cover the whole region. They have already had a number of successes for other local authorities across Devon as well as Plymouth City Council.
More information about the South West Anti-Fraud Service is at http://web.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/councilanddemocracy/aboutus/budgetfinances/corporatefraud.htm
To report a suspected social housing fraud in Plymouth contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Fraud Hotline on 01752 304450.