Council tenant who illegally sublet home ordered to pay £5,600
Juan Carlos Garcia, a tenant of 118 Essex Place, Montague Street, Brighton, has been found guilty of social housing fraud at Brighton Magistrates Court (2 October 2014) after earning £3,199 by illegally subletting his property.
Mr Garcia, who entered a guilty plea through a solicitor, was prosecuted under Section 2(2) and 2(6) of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. The court ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine of £3,500 and £2,100 in costs, a total of £5,600.
Brighton & Hove City Council investigations found Mr Garcia had a secured tenancy at the property along with a child, aged four. Additional checks were carried out with the NHS which established no record of a child living at this property.
A referral was received from Mears working near the property, alleging that they had not seen the occupant for approximately two years, but stated they had seen what they believed were students coming and going from the flat.
With no sign of Mr Garcia and no record of a four year old child, Brighton & Hove City Council Investigation Officers made several unannounced visits to the property. On one of these visits a woman answered, stating she was a cleaner and that Mr Garcia was working but would be home later.
On another visit a male answered and identified himself as Raul but stated he did not live at the property, but could not confirm where he did live. Investigators looked around the property and found the lounge set up as a bedroom and other rooms containing male clothing and toiletries.
After further visits from officers, a telephone call was eventually received from Mr Garcia saying he was in South America as his father was ill and he would return to the UK in six weeks and his girlfriend Berta was resident with him and had been for the past six months.
Following these investigations, statements of Mr Garcia’s bank account were obtained from 1January 2012 to 1 May 2014 showing payments marked as ‘rent’ and ‘rent for house’ into Mr Garcia’s account. Mr Garcia made a total profit of £3,199 in addition to the rent owed to the council.
Mr Garcia later phoned the council stating that he was in Peru but would be back on 8 June 2014. An interview under caution was scheduled, which involved Mr Garcia bringing his passport and flight itinerary; however Mr Garcia failed to attend the interview.
Further attempts were made by the council to contact Mr Garcia, and a response was finally received saying he was still in Peru and was ill and had not returned to the UK as he was unable to leave the country.
Based on the evidence gathered by the council, the Housing Department issued a notice to quit the property. On 4 August an officer went to change the locks but the property was found abandoned.
Deputy housing chair Cllr Alex Phillips said:
“We are desperately short of housing in Brighton & Hove with more than 19,000 households on our housing register so we will not tolerate anyone who illegally sublets to make a profit.
“Prosecution is always a last resort but where we have sufficient evidence of fraud we will investigate and take action. We’re pleased this property has come back to the council and we will allocate it as soon as possible.”