Published: Tuesday, 4th July 2017

The 50-year-old man from Charlton has been ordered to pay back the money in compensation.

The man was successfully prosecuted by the Royal Borough of Greenwich, on behalf of Charlton Triangle Homes, for illegally subletting a housing association property for 12 years.

In February 2000 Eric Sellars and his family obtained a two-bedroom property with Charlton Triangle at Priory House, having been nominated for re-housing by the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

As a result of funding obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Council's Unauthorised Occupation Team is able to assist social housing providers to identify illegally sublet properties - initial checks identified that Mr Sellars did not appear to be residing at the Charlton Triangle property and may have sublet it to his own 'tenant' for many years. The matter was passed to the Royal Borough of Greenwich's Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud section for further investigation on behalf of Charlton Triangle.

Enquiries found that Mr Sellars had purchased a four-bedroom property in Erith in December 2003 and had been residing there with his family since then. It was also determined from checking bank records that he had been receiving over £600 per month in rent from having sublet the property to two 'tenants' for several years.

In December 2015 Mr Sellars was interviewed by Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud Officers and evidence of his subletting and non-residency at the Charlton Triangle property were put to him. He denied subletting and stated that he had received monies from the two individuals, likely to be investors in his farm in Zimbabwe.

Mr Sellars was served with a Notice to Quit the Charlton Triangle property and in January 2016 he returned the keys to the property.

Mr Sellars had to attend Bexley Magistrates Court, charged with two offences relating to the Theft Act and the Fraud Act. At the hearing on 22 May 2017, Mr Sellars gave no indication on whether he would plead guilty or not to the offences and the case was passed up to Woolwich Crown Court.

On 19 June 2017 at Woolwich Crown Court Mr Sellars pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, ordered to undertake 180 hours of unpaid work within the community and ordered to pay £135,676 in compensation. The money will be split equally between the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Charlton Triangle Homes.

Judge Heathcote Williams QC ordered that Mr Sellars should pay an initial £40,000 within 28 days, the remainder by June 2022 along with the legal costs of £1,994.

This case is one of several prosecutions that are underway arising from work undertaken by the Royal Borough in partnership with the Charlton Triangle Housing Association and one of many that are now being undertaken with other Registered Social Landlords with properties located within the Royal Borough.

'An excellent result for all concerned'

Councillor Maureen O'Mara, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, said: "The demand for social housing is at an all-time high for all social housing providers. Due to the excellent joint working of the Royal Borough and Charlton Triangle Homes we have managed to catch another housing fraudster and another property has been returned. This has now been allocated to a Greenwich resident in genuine need.

"Not only does Mr Sellars have a criminal record but he has to repay over £136,000 as a result of the financial loss incurred by the Council for having to provide emergency accommodation to others due to the Charlton Triangle property not being available for the nomination of a Greenwich resident. Except for Mr Sellars, this is an excellent result for all concerned."

'You will be found out and prosecuted'

Andrew Kimmance, Director Charlton Triangle Homes, said: "Once again a strong message to those who are subletting. It's no longer a case of hand in the keys and walk away if you get caught. This is now a serious criminal matter with huge fines and potential custodial sentences. These homes are desperately needed for those in genuine housing need and our successful partnership with Royal Greenwich coupled with modern technology means you will be found out and prosecuted."