Local man found guilty of housing benefit fraud

Published Friday, 16th February 2018

Gavel on white background

A local resident has been found guilty of housing benefit fraud and fined over £2,000.

Mohammed Michael Shahla, 36, of Eastwoodbury Crescent, Southend-on-Sea, pleaded guilty to a total of nine counts of fraud at Southend Magistrates Court on Wednesday 7 February, including eight counts of fraud by false representation and one count of retaining wrongful credit involving claims to housing benefit. He was ordered to pay back £1,596.59 fraudulently claimed, along with a £200 fine and costs of £352, totalling £2,148.59.

In June 2011, the Council received an application for housing benefit from Mr Shahla in which he claimed to live at an address in North Road, Westcliff and stated his rent was £485 per month. He also provided a tenancy agreement to support his application.

The council’s housing benefit team raised suspicions that the application was fraudulent and an investigation was launched by the counter fraud and investigation directorate. The investigation found that Mr Shahla had indeed provided a false application and that he had also previously obtained housing benefit of £1,596.59 for a property he owned, which he was not entitled to.

Following the investigation, Mr Shahla failed to cooperate with enquiries and he was later found to have left the country. In January 2018, he returned to attend a funeral and was arrested at Heathrow Airport, and subsequently charged.

Cllr Andrew Moring, Executive Councillor for Corporate and Community Support, said: “Although the Council is committed to paying benefits to those who are entitled, it also has a duty to protect public funds and take action against people committing fraud. It is an offence to commit fraud and repayment of benefit is not the only action that the Council may wish to take.

“Even though this offence took place in 2011, this demonstrates that our counter fraud and investigation directorate will always pursue cases where it is in the public interest to do so, regardless of the time that has passed or even when the offender has left the country.”

If anyone has suspicions over a person’s entitlement to council tax reduction, social housing or suspect that a council property is being illegally sub-let, please call the counter fraud and investigation directorate on 03000 999 111, or email Counter Fraud. All information received is treated in the strictest confidence.