Landlord admits to £21k benefit fraud

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A POLEGATE man has escaped jail for benefit fraud.

Bab Saracouli claimed more than £21,000 in council tax and housing benefits but failed to tell the authorities he was receiving an income from a property he owned.

He was given a suspended sentence and a four-month curfew when he appeared at Hove Crown Court last week.

Forty-three-year-old Saracouli, of Barons Way, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of dishonestly making a false statement with a view to obtaining benefit.

He received £21,391 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and discretionary housing payments to which he was not entitled.

Hove Crown Court heard how Mr Saracouli had made numerous applications for housing and council tax benefits and discretionary housing payments between November 2005 and September 2009 when Watford Borough Council informed Wealden District Council that Saracouli was the part owner and landlord of a property in Watford.

Each time he had completed an application or review form, Saracouli had been given the opportunity to declare any other income or property he owned, but had never done so.

The subsequent investigation carried out by Wealden District Council established that at various periods throughout Saracouli’s claim, he was in receipt of rental income of £775 per month for that property.

Saracouli appears to have let the property to at least three separate tenants since the start of his claim with Wealden in November 2005.

The rental income he received as the landlord was paid into an undeclared account in his name.

Saracouli’s curfew is to run from 10.30pm to 5am each day and he was also ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Costs of £3,590 were awarded to Wealden District Council and the council has also secured a beneficial interest on Saracouli’s undeclared property in order to claw back the illegal payments.

“People who think they can get away without declaring all their assets and then take hard working taxpayers for a ride, should think again,” said Councillor Pam Doodes, cabinet member for corporate assets at Wealden District Council, after the sentence was announced.

“Our enforcement team and others across the country are adept at identifying undeclared income and assets – in this case it was a property miles away in Watford on which Mr Saracouli was still receiving rental income.

“They work together on investigations to ensure that benefits are not wasted on those who already have other means of support.”