A MOTHER-of-three who fleeced Hillingdon Council out of more than £32,000 in housing benefit has been spared a prison sentence.
Zeba Shireen Ali, 45, of Knoll Crescent, Northwood, falsely claimed she was the tenant instead of the owner of her home address, Uxbridge Magistrates' Court heard last Tuesday (23).
Prosecutor Mary Almeida said Ali failed to inform the council that she had purchased the property on March 10, 2006, and subsequently received £32,440.68 in benefits which she was not entitled to, between March 6, 2006 and November 16, 2008.
She told the court that said Ali, who is currently training to become a teacher, had many opportunities to advice the benefits office about the change in her circumstances but deliberately chose not to do so over a two-year period.
"Mrs Ali's actions were planned and motivated by greed. She has made no effort to make an arrangement to repay the sums owed to the council," Mrs Almeida said.
Representing, Robert Fitt said: "Mrs Ali is an intelligent woman of previous good character who has acted foolishly and made a series of poor decisions.
"Her motivation was, in fact, a very real fear that she would lose the property she was living in with her three children, aged 12, 16 and 19, and that they would become homeless.
"She is currently receiving benefits and is living very frugally. She is fully aware of the consequences of her actions."
Ali admitted to knowingly failing to notify the benefits office about purchasing and owning a property, which would affect her entitlement to benefit.
She was handed a two-month jail term, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £5,332.19, as well as being given 200 hours community service.
Sentencing, presiding magistrate Richard Bristow said: "This was a serious offence which took place over a significant period of time in which you had ample opportunity to put things right.
"Public funds have suffered a loss of more than £32,000 – and despite your previous good character, nothing other than a prison sentence can be appropriate.
"If you reoffend, you will find yourself being committed to custody."
Hillingdon Council will attempt to recover the overpaid benefit in separate proceedings on September 3.
Between April 2009 and February this year, housing benefit overpayments in Hillingdon cost taxpayers £291,000, while council tax amounted to £59,000.
Some 15 people were prosecuted, with 31 fines and 49 cautions issued.
Brian Doughty, interim director of adult social care, health and housing, said: "The council takes benefit fraud very seriously and has a zero tolerance approach to those who seek to make fraudulent claims.
"We are always pleased when benefit cheats are caught as it is residents' money they are stealing.
"If fraud is suspected we strongly urge residents to come forward by emailing email@example.com or calling the 24 hour freephone number 0800 3898313."