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An in-house local authority legal team has won a breakthrough case against unlawful council tenant subletting.
City of Westminster Council’s legal services solicitor Michael Carson instructed 9-12 Bell Yard barrister Adrian Chaplin in the authority’s first successful prosecution relating to the illegal subletting of a council house under the Fraud Act 2006.
Herminio Nascimento, who was a council tenant of a two-bedroom property in the Westbourne Park Estate, was jailed for 16 weeks for renting out the home while he and his partner lived in their own house in Crawley.
Nascimento was represented by Nimisha Patel, a partner at London solicitors Arora Lodhi Heath. He did not instruct a barrister.
The council was awarded £7,100 legal costs.
The judgment was significant because it is estimated that nationally 160,000 tenants unlawfully sublet their homes, costing taxpayers £5bn a year.
Speaking at the sentencing, District Judge Snow told Nascimento: “Council housing in the UK is under great pressure and this is particularly true for housing in central London. It’s important that councils, Westminster in particular, can allocate property where most needed.
“You sublet your council property for profit. When confronted, you lied about it and you lied, you lied and you lied.
“I’m duty bound to deter both you and anyone else tempted to sublet council property.”
Westminster Council is calling on the Government to give local authorities greater powers to prevent exploitation of the system.
Councillor Lindsay Hall, chairman of Westminster Council’s housing benefit fraud group, said: “This is just a small victory for the council but much more needs to be done to allow local authorities to take action against what should be a criminal offence.
“Currently, Westminster has over 1,000 families waiting to be moved to a larger property and meanwhile a minority of tenants think they can get away with earning a fast buck by renting out much needed homes.
“We will not stand for those who think they can exploit and cheat a vital support system that is in place to protect and house our most vulnerable residents.”