A woman from Hove has been spared prison by a judge over an £80,000 “right to buy” housing fraud.
Debbie Mclean, 54, was caught out after an investigation by a council fraud team which included covert surveillance.
At Brighton Crown Court, Mclean admitted a charge of fraud by false representation by trying to pretend that she was living in a three-bedroom council house in Wivelsfield Green.
Judge Shani Barnes said that Mclean’s offence was “thoroughly dishonest” and sentenced her to 20 months in prison, suspended for 18 months.
Mclean, of Hallyburton Road, Hove, was taken to court by Lewes District Council for trying to buy the council house at Green Park Corner, in Wivelsfield Green.
The council said: “Although she was the registered tenant, she had in fact moved out of the property, residing at various other addresses in Sussex since 2014.
“Had Mclean still been a tenant at that address, she would have been entitled to the maximum discount on the purchase price under ‘right to buy’ rules, getting a £80,900 discount from the public purse on the property.
“The false declaration and abandonment of the property was discovered by the council’s counter fraud team.
“Council officers undertook a thorough investigation of the case, including covert surveillance of Mclean that proved she was not living at Green Park Corner.
“This led to the successful prosecution for fraud by false representation, the first case of ‘right to buy’ fraud brought by Lewes District Council.
“The council also took possession proceedings to ensure that the property could be used by a family in genuine housing need.
“In addition to the 20-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, Mclean is also required to complete 100 hours of unpaid work, 15 rehabilitation activity days and a victim surcharge of £140 was applied.”
Judge Barnes, the former honorary recorder of Brighton and Hove, said that Mclean had deprived others more in need of accommodation for the sake of her own self-interest since the property could have been used to the advantage of a family with children.
She said that Mclean’s actions had been “despicable”.
Councillor William Meyer, cabinet member for housing, said: “Housing fraud deprives people in need from having a home and we have a zero-tolerance approach.
“We investigate all reports received and take swift action against anyone found offending. This may include prosecution, as highlighted by this case.”