News: Local student found guilty of council tax fraud

May 12, 2017 by

A local student found guilty of council tax fraud has been fined and sentenced to a 12 month community order. Miss Biri Chingwaru, 55, of West Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, pleaded guilty at Southend Magistrates Court last month to offences under the Fraud Act 2006 relating to her council tax.

She had told the Council that she was a full time student at South Essex College and that she was a single adult living in her property alone. She therefore received a 100% student exemption from council tax liability and as a result, she was not asked to contribute towards any council tax from 2007. She had to reapply for the exemption each year.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council conducted a review of Miss Chingwaru's circumstances in June 2016, where it was discovered that her mother, Catherine, had links to the property. There was no record to show that Miss Chingwaru had ever declared that her mother was in occupation at the property.

The matter was referred to Thurrock & Southend Council’s Counter Fraud & Investigation Service who conducted an investigation.

Miss Chingwaru attended an interview under caution with Council investigators, where she admitted not telling the Council that her mother had been in occupation at the property since 2007. As a result, Miss Chingwaru avoided meeting her Council Tax liabilities and the loss to public funds amounting to £5091.31. Had the Council been made aware of the true circumstances, a Council Tax exemption would not have been applied and a full charge would have been payable.

It was explained to the court that she would have repeatedly received a bill and seen that she was receiving the exemption and that she made no attempt to rectify the situation.

In mitigation her defence stated that she had now repaid the debt in full and had shown remorse. She was sentenced to a community order of 12 months in which she would have to complete 150 hours of unpaid work, costs of £287.50 and a victim surcharge of £60.

Joe Chesterton, the Council’s Director of Finance and Resources, says: “We have a duty to protect the public purse and will therefore take action against people committing fraud and abuse. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to anyone receiving an exemption that they must tell us if their situation changes, as to not do so is fraud.”