A Retford woman who owned two rental properties and had almost £124,000 in the bank has been handed a 40-week suspended sentence and ordered to pay more than £9,000 in costs after pleading guilty to fraud.
Manju Prince of Highfield Farm Courtyard, Lound, pleaded guilty at Nottingham Magistrates Court on 29th January, 2020 to making two false Council Tax Reduction claims and a false application for Council Tax Relief between 13th March 2017 and 25th October 2018.
Magistrates heard that Ms Prince, on three occasions, knowingly provided Bassetlaw District Council with false information about her personal circumstances and finances in order to apply for Council Tax Reduction and Council Tax Relief. Council Tax Reduction is a means tested discount to help people on a low income.
As part of Ms Prince’s false claims, she signed declaration forms that stated she had no savings or income from other properties.
Evidence submitted by the Council showed that at the time of the claims, Ms Prince and her husband Ian Prince had a total of 19 bank accounts and, at the time of the final claim, these accounts held a total balance of £123,593.63.
The Council also produced Land Registry documents showing that Ms Prince owns two rental properties, which were tenanted and paying rent into accounts in the names of Ms Prince.
Magistrates accepted a submission made by Ms Williams, the Council’s legal representative, that the 44-year-old had embarked on a sophisticated and planned attempt to commit fraud, the proceeds of which would be used to fund a lavish lifestyle.
As such, Magistrates handed Ms Prince a custodial sentence of 20-weeks for each offence, to run consecutively (a total-of 40-weeks), suspended for 18-months, in addition to ordering her to pay the Council’s full prosecution costs of £9,250.19, which includes a £115 victim surcharge. Ms Prince is also required to attend 15 rehabilitation activity requirements and engage with probation.
Cllr Kevin Dukes, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services said: “Ms Prince knowingly and willfully provided the Council with false statements and information in an attempt to reduce her Council Tax bill. Put simply, Ms Prince did not want to pay her fair share of Council Tax which is used to fund essential services provided by District and County Councils, the Police and Fire and Rescue services.”
“Council Tax Reduction is provided to families and individuals who are most in need and are on low incomes. This fund is limited and by making a false claim Ms Prince could have deprived a family or individual who are genuinely in need of an essential discount.
“The tough sentence handed down by the Magistrates in this case shows that neither the Council nor the Courts take fraud lightly and will impose severe penalties to people who attempt to cheat the system and deprive residents who are most in need.
“Let this be a clear message to anyone who is considering or currently committing fraud against the Council. We will investigate you and we will take action.”
In mitigation to the offenses, Ms Prince claimed that she was now separated from her husband, who lived in London during the week and only visited the marital home on weekends, in addition to using the property at Lound, as his business address.
Ms Prince claimed to be suffering from anxiety and depression, in addition to other mental health issues. These issues began when Mr Prince was involved in an accident in 2016, which left him with a brain injury and required her to leave a well-paid job in order to care for her husband. She claimed she is now of limited financial means.
Ms Prince also claimed that the money held in the bank accounts was tied to the rental properties she owns and also includes money to repay a substantial family loan.
However, no evidence was submitted to the court to substantiate these claims.
This matter was first brought before the court in October 2019, where Ms Prince denied the offences and entered not guilty pleas. The case was adjourned until 29th January 2020, when Ms Prince entered a late guilty plea to both offences that were contrary to Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006.
Fraud against the Council can include false claims for Council Tax Reduction, Single Person Council Tax Discount, Housing Benefit, Grants and false insurance claims.
Should a member of the public suspect that someone is committing any type of fraud against the Council, you can report it in confidence by calling 01909 533 731, or under the Benefit Fraud Section of the website.
Last Updated on Wednesday, March 4, 2020