27 February 2015

Benefit fraudsters given suspended prison sentences

A Hove couple who fraudulently claimed nearly £54,000 in benefits while running a lettings agency were handed suspended jail sentences at Brighton Crown Court today, Friday, 27 February.

His Honour Judge Tain sentenced James Furness, 50, formerly of St Aubyns, Hove, to a term of 16 months in prison suspended for 12 months. He was ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work and pay costs of £2,698.75. The judge sentenced Sonja Pullan, 55, to 11 months prison suspended for two years and 100 hours unpaid work. She will also have to pay £2,698.75 costs.

Mr Furness told the council he only had one bank account but a joint investigation by Brighton & Hove City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions revealed he also had three business accounts for a company called Hove Properties.

He neglected to declare his partner Ms Pullan who was also in receipt of benefits. Mr Furness’s business accounts were all registered at 41 Goldstone Way, Hove, which was Ms Pullan’s address.

Between them the couple claimed £22,000 in Housing and Council Tax benefits. The rest of the benefit money was for Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance.

The council’s investigation uncovered at least 18 properties being managed by Hove Properties and 66 documents linking Mr Furness to the lettings agency. There were also documents linking Ms Pullan and Mr Furness to the running of Hove Properties.

Mr Furness claimed he was paying rent when he wasn’t and Ms Pullan produced false receipts purporting to be for rent received from him. He also produced a tenancy agreement for the flat in St Aubyns when he was not living there. Investigators found a third party living at the property.

The investigation revealed that Ms Pullan received income from foreign students as well as money from her work at Hove Properties.

Tony Barnard, Corporate Fraud Manager for Brighton & Hove City Council, said: “This was a blatant abuse of welfare benefits but thanks to the diligent efforts of officers from the council and DWP, we were able to prove overwhelming evidence of fraud. We will now be taking steps to recover the money for taxpayers.”