Two sisters have been convicted of dishonestly making a false representation on an application under the Right to Buy scheme contrary to s1 & 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.
On 26 September 2019, Slough Borough Council received an application to purchase 148 Granville Avenue, Slough, SL2 1JT under the Right to Buy (RTB) Scheme.
The applicants were the council tenant, Nasra Ban, and her sister Fatimah Zahra, who was not a tenant, but was sharing the Right to Buy (RTB) on the basis that she was eligible to do so because she had lived in the property as her only/main home for at least the preceding 12 months.
The property was subsequently valued at £314,000 and a Landlord’s Offer Notice was sent to them on 2 December 2019. The notice stated they were eligible under the scheme for a discount of £82,800. This meant the purchase price would be £231,200.
The council’s Corporate Fraud Team review all applications received under the RTB Scheme as an additional counter fraud measure. They complete the necessary anti-money laundering (AML) due diligence checks (to ensure that all funds used to finance the purchase have been legitimately obtained) and to recover any housing related debt that remains outstanding prior to completion of the purchase. During this review the sisters were asked to provide proof of residency and funds. Nasra Ban provided bank statements on 10 February 2020 pertaining to herself and Fatima Zahra, which raised concerns. A subsequent investigation revealed that Fatima Zahra had in fact been living with her husband in Rochdale and working at a Dental Practice in Oldham.
The investigation also revealed that the bank statements relating to Fatimah Zahra, which had been supplied as proof of residency in Slough had been doctored. A total of 104 transactions had been fraudulently changed on the bank statements, to make it appear as though they occurred in the Slough area, instead of the Rochdale/Oldham area.
On 3 September at Reading Magistrates Court, Nasra Ban and Fatimah Zahra both pleaded guilty to dishonestly making a false representation on an application under the RTB scheme contrary to s1 & 2 of the Fraud Act 2006. Fatimah Zahra also pleaded guilty to two offences of making and/or supplying articles for use in fraud, contrary to s.7 of the Fraud Act 2006. Due to the serious nature of the offending, the case was committed to the Crown Court for sentencing.
The sisters were sentenced by HHJ Real on 15 November at Reading Crown Court (sitting at Reading Magistrates Court). They were represented by Mr. Nawaz QC who addressed the court in mitigation on their behalf, stating that neither sister had been a leading force in the fraud, having been pressured to make the application by their brother, Raza Ban who it was intended, would pursue the RTB application with the council to completion, including provision of the falsified bank statements.
HHJ Real reduced their sentences to give full credit for their early guilty pleas and although she concluded that custodial sentences were justified, she suspended them on the basis that neither sister were the leading force behind the fraud. Fatima Zahra received 12 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months (same sentence concurrent for the other two offences) Nasra Ban received 10 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. Both also must do 15 days rehabilitation through the probation service. They were also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,956 each at £500 each per month to begin within 28 days.
Cllr Beni Bains, cabinet member for regulation and public protection, said: “We hope this is a warning to anyone else who may be thinking of attempting this type of fraud. Our many checks are put in place to stop people taking advantage of the system and making sure that Right to Buy discount is only received by those eligible. A great result was achieved in this case, thank you to all the council officers involved.”