Housing benefit cheat lifts £40,000 from Croydon council, Bromley council - and then Fenland council. She escapes prison
PUBLISHED: 15:40 12 February 2016 | UPDATED: 15:40 12 February 2016
A woman who cheated two London boroughs and Fenland Council out of £40,000 in housing benefit has been spared jail after a judge heard she may have to sell her home to pay the money back.
Judge Gareth Hawkesworth said that if she did end up having to sell her own house, this would be “just and fair” bearing in mind that she was able to buy her new property as a result of her dishonesty.
The 36-year-old woman from Doddington was given a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of falsely claiming more than £40,000 in housing benefit.
Sonya Maachou was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. She has been ordered to repay the full amount within 16 months, plus £850 costs, and undertake 175 hours of unpaid work.
The prosecution was brought by the Anglia Revenues Partnership on behalf of Fenland District Council following an investigation carried out by the council.
It revealed that her offences, amounting to an overpayment of £40,549, had been committed over five years in three separate local authorities – Fenland and the London boroughs of Croydon and Bromley.
Maachou said that abuse and pressure from her husband had forced her to commit the offences.
But her claim was rejected by Judge Hawkesworth at Cambridge Crown Court.
He ruled that custody was the inevitable sentence. He was only persuaded to suspend the sentence by her promise to repay all the money owed as soon as possible, even if that meant selling her house.
She also said that her father would be selling a property next year and that she would be able to use money from that sale to help with the repayment.
Councillor Chris Seaton, Fenland Council Cabinet member responsible for benefits, said: “We’re very pleased to have secured this conviction. This was a complicated case requiring a lengthy and thorough investigation.
“It shows that we’re prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that people who cheat the system do not get away with it.
“We hope the sentence will serve as a clear warning to others who make false claims that we will come after them.”