Court finds St Albans couple guilty of �36K housing benefit fraud

A COUPLE who admitted stealing �36,000 of taxpayers’ money in housing benefit have been sentenced in court after a joint operation between two councils.

Nina Tullar and John Pickett appeared at Wood Green Crown Court after an operation between St Albans and Haringey councils discovered the extent of the fraud in the city and in Tottenham.

Tullar claimed �36,125 in housing benefits for properties in Tottenham and St Albans, claiming she was paying rent to landlord John Pickett.

But after she applied for housing benefit in 2005, a St Albans investigations officer became suspicious about the relationship between the pair.

Officers from the two councils teamed up to investigate after discovering that Tullar had made claims for two houses in Tottenham, both owned by Pickett, and had provided each council with tenancy agreements signed by the two of them.

Between 1999 and 2006, Tullar received �21,000 in housing benefit against the two Tottenham properties and �15,000 in St Albans.

In an interview, Pickett said he was the father of Tullar’s child and maintained she had never paid him a penny in rent because he was providing a home for his son. He said he had signed each of the tenancy agreements after being asked to by Tullar.

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Throughout three interviews with fraud investigators, Tullar denied that Pickett was the father of her child and insisted she had always paid rent to him.

Both were charged with offences of false accounting and obtaining money by deception. Pickett pleaded guilty at an early hearing while Tullar changed her plea to guilty in relation to two charges ahead of standing trial.

Sentencing Tullar to a six-month suspended prison sentence and a 12-month supervision order and Pickett to 80 hours community service, Judge Lyons said: “This was a particularly bad case of benefit fraud over a number of years. There’s nothing more infuriating than those who cheat the system.”

Tullar was also ordered to pay �500 in legal costs and Pickett �1,000 in costs.

Plyush Fatania, head of internal audit at the district council, said: “It is because of the diligence and quality of the investigation that guilty pleas were made by Mr Pickett and Ms Tullar.”

Cllr Chris Oxley, portfolio holder for community engagement and support, added: “No council gets any pleasure from prosecuting citizens but all will do so where there is fraud.”