Published: Friday, 3rd February 2017

A woman has been prosecuted for subletting a council property for over a decade.

Ms Jacqueline Hunt, 47, was granted a two bedroom property by the Royal Borough of Greenwich in Blackheath, SE3, in September 2006 after undertaking a mutual exchange from a housing association. In 2014, the Royal Borough received a report that dog hairs were causing a nuisance on the stairwell outside Ms Hunt's property. It was soon established that Ms Hunt wasn't the owner of a dog and the property was being sublet.

Royal Borough officers investigated

The initial investigation undertaken by officers from the Royal Borough's Unauthorised Occupation team confirmed that the property had been continually sublet shortly after Ms Hunt had obtained it in 2006. The matter was passed to the Royal Borough's Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud team for further investigation.

Enquiries by the team confirmed that Ms Hunt left the London area in 2005 to attend a university in Bath and that she only returned briefly to London to undertake the mutual exchange to a Royal Borough property. At no time did Ms Hunt notify the Royal Borough that she was no longer resident in the borough and did not require accommodation.

Provided false information

In 2009 Ms Hunt graduated from university and after leaving her halls of residence obtained private rental accommodation. In early 2013 she presented herself to Bath and North East Somerset Council (BATHNES) stating that she needed accommodation as she was to be evicted from her private dwelling and produced an eviction letter purporting to be from her landlord. As a result, Ms Hunt obtained a tenancy with the Curo Group Housing Association in February 2013. At no time did Ms Hunt inform BATHNES Council or Curo Group that she held a two bedroom Council property in Blackheath.

Enquiries by Royal Greenwich investigators also discovered that the eviction letter she provided to BATHNES purporting to be from landlord was a forgery and that no eviction was forthcoming.

Charged with six offences

Royal Borough investigators interviewed Ms Hunt where she provided a 'no comment response' to all questions asked. She was charged with five Fraud Act offences and one Forgery and Counterfeiting Act offence. The charges related to offences against the Royal Borough, BATHNES Council and Curo Group Housing Association. Ms Hunt was summonsed to attend Bexley Magistrates Court on 27 June 2016 and offered no pleas. The matter was put over to the Crown Court and on 27 July 2016 where she pleaded guilty to five offences.

On 16 December 2016, Ms Hunt appeared at Woolwich Crown Court before His Honour Judge Katz QC, who took into account Ms Hunt's previous good character and her early guilty plea. He stated "you have soiled your good name and reputation and I can see from the references you have submitted that you have confessed with shame to people who held you in high regard."

Given two year suspended sentence

His Honour Judge Katz QC sentenced Ms Hunt to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered her to repay the Royal Borough of Greenwich legal costs totalling £2,840 within two years. If she fails to pay, she will go to prison.

His Honour also suggested that the Royal Borough should also pursue her for its financial losses in excess of £71,000 as a result of Ms Hunt having deprived the council of the use of the property at Blackheath and for having to provide emergency accommodation to others.

'Deprived those in genuine need'

Councillor Maureen O'Mara, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, said: "The demand for social housing within the Royal Borough is at an all-time high. Ms Hunt deprived those in genuine need of a two bedroom property for almost ten years and sublet it whilst bettering her own education and obtaining yet another social housing property in Bath.

"It's encouraging to know that the Royal Borough is working in partnership with housing associations and other local authorities to help investigate and prosecute these individuals for their actions. Ms Hunt's actions were deplorable and her selfish act has cost the Royal Borough over £71,000. It's good to see every effort will be made to recover these losses from her. Let's hope she has learned her lesson."