An estate agent and her sister who embarked on a scam to fraudulently claim housing benefit have been ordered to repay the money and do unpaid community work.
South Cheshire Magistrates heard Lara Barrett, who was an employee of Crewe lettings agents, used her position to assist her sister Leanda to claim more than £1,000 in benefits by supplying her with counterfeit tenancy agreements.
Lara Barrett, 31, of Furnival Street, Crewe, who has since been sacked from her job, and Leanda Barrett, 21, of Railton Avenue, Crewe, pleaded guilty at court (in Crewe, on September 10, 2014) to fraud.
Magistrates heard that Lara Barrett produced three fake tenancy agreements while working for Wright Manley (now Wright Marshall) lettings in Crewe. She used one of these to attempt to claim housing benefit from Cheshire East Council.
The other two counterfeit forms she provided to her sister, Leanda, in order allow her to claim more than £1,000 in housing benefit.
Cheshire East Council’s benefit fraud investigation team uncovered the fraud during a probe into a discrepancy in the information provided for the benefit claims.
These investigations also discovered that Lara Barrett had forged one of her firm’s employee’s signatures to draw up the fake tenancy agreements.
At court, Lara Barrett admitted three offences of fraudulently drawing-up tenancies. (making a false instrument for pecuniary advantage). Leanda Barrett admitted one offence of fraudulently claiming benefits by false representation.
Both Lara and Leanda Barrett were sentenced to a 12-month community order, which will involve them each doing 40 hours’ unpaid work. Magistrates also ordered the pair to each pay £200 prosecution costs and £60 victim’s surcharge each and repay to the Council the fraudulently-obtained benefit money.
Sentencing magistrates reminded the pair that failure to comply with the courts order could result in them being jailed.
The council would like to thank Wright Manley (Wright Marshall) for their considerable assistance in both this investigation and in identifying the extent of the criminality undertaken.
Councillor Peter Raynes, Cheshire East Council Cabinet member in charge of finance, said: “This is a shameful case of two people deliberately setting out to defraud the public purse. Benefit fraud is plain wrong and will not be tolerated by this Council.
“Prosecutions such as this send out a clear message that Cheshire East is an enforcing Council and will take firm action to protect taxpayers from those who abuse the system.
“We can reassure the people of Cheshire East that we are committed to ensuring these offenders are brought to justice. Last year we successfully brought 48 prosecutions for benefit fraud – and we are keeping up the pressure to catch offenders.”
If you think someone is committing benefit fraud, you can ring the confidential freephone fraud hotline on 0800 389 2787. You don’t have to give your name and your call will be treated in the strictest confidence.
Alternatively, you can report suspected fraud via the Council’s website at www.cheshireeast.gov.uk