The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has successfully prosecuted a man who fraudulently tried to take over the council tenancy of a resident who had passed away by pretending to be his nephew.
Bethnal Green resident Shafiqur Rahman was given a two-year suspended prison sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 1 August. He also received 150 hours of unpaid work, a four-month curfew order, and will have to pay the council’s £6,000 legal costs.
Tower Hamlets said the fraud was triggered by the death of a Tower Hamlets Homes tenant in February 2016.
Rahman then submitted an application in June 2016 to take over the tenancy on the basis that he was a nephew of the resident, and had been living with him at the one-bedroom council flat on Headlam Street, Whitechapel.
In support of his application, Rahman submitted a series of documents some back-dated to 2014, to show that he had been living at the property for a number of years. The extensive list of ‘proof of address’ documents included gas and electricity bills, a council tax bill, bank statements, a car insurance certificate, a HM Customs & Revenue letter, birth certificates, an accountant’s letter, as well as applications for housing benefit, free school meals and council tax rebate.
The council said the validity of some of the documents raised suspicions and led to an investigation by its specialist housing fraud team.
Evidence obtained by officers from the utility, insurance and accountancy companies, alongside the council’s own database records confirmed that a number of the documents submitted were fabricated.
In addition, one of the deceased tenant’s main care workers made a statement that he had seen no family members at the home, except for a relative who would visit twice a year. He added that the former tenant had told him that most of his family lived in Scotland.
A friend and neighbour also made a statement saying he had supported the former tenant after his wife had passed away. He confirmed that the tenant lived alone and had been cared for by social services. He did not know of Rahman, and confirmed that his friend had never mentioned Rahman in any of their conversations.
Rahman pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud at Snaresbrook Crown Court on July 4 2019.
Tower Hamlets said the cost to the council of housing a family in alternative temporary accommodation rather than them being fairly allocated the property from the outset would have been more than £42,000.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “Far from being a victimless crime, housing fraud is a selfish act and results in much needed homes being denied to those who are in genuine need of housing. Our housing fraud team works hard to identify suspicious activity, and as a council we will always seek to take strong action against those found to be acting illegally.”
Cllr. Sirajul Islam, Deputy Mayor of Tower Hamlets and Cabinet Member for Housing said: “Many congratulations to all those who worked on what I know was a lengthy and complex investigation. With over 20,000 people on our housing list, any property which is recovered is crucial. As a council we will take action to ensure that council homes go to those most in need in the borough.’’