Published Friday, 17th February 2023
Following a lengthy investigation by the Council’s Fraud and Financial investigations Team, a 46-year-old nurse pleaded guilty to housing fraud and was sentenced at Guildford Court.
Sub-letting tip off leads to criminal conviction
Ms Nicoleta Mezei, formally of Radstock Way, Merstham, was successfully prosecuted by the Council after an initial tip off from a concerned member of the public. From 2016 to 2018, she sublet her social housing property to others, whilst living elsewhere. As a result, she gained a criminal benefit of at least £6,500 in rental income and deprived people in real need of the chance to live in that home.
Social housing is in short supply and the Council often needs to pay for homeless families to stay in temporary accommodation, whilst they await a property. Ms Mezei’s sub-letting actions were also calculated to have caused losses to local taxpayers of nearly £50,000 in these and other potential costs.
Zero tolerance of fraud and supporting local people
Cllr Tony Schofield, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Finance and Governance, said: “The Council’s Fraud and Financial Investigations Team work hard to prevent, detect and investigate all types of fraud. Ms Mezei cheated the system for her own benefit, and I hope the sentencing and penalties in this case are a warning to others that we will not tolerate fraud of any kind.
“Although it takes a long time to investigate and bring this sort of case to Court, we will seek the maximum penalty for those committing social housing or any other fraud. I encourage anyone who suspects fraud against the Council to report it in confidence using our fraudstoppers details.”
Executive Member for Housing and Support, Cllr Caroline Neame, adds: “Social housing is there for those that really need it and we do everything we can to support local people in finding somewhere to live. This sort of unfair and selfish act puts an extra strain on social housing at a time when resources are already stretched. As well as costing the Council a significant amount of money, this criminal behaviour also prevented the opportunity for a family on our Housing List to move into a home.”
Court community order and costs
The success of this important case is based on the thorough and collaborative work of our Fraud and Financial Investigations Team and our Legal Team.
During the hearing, the Judge noted that although Ms Mezei pleaded guilty to this serious offence at the first opportunity in Court, she had denied the allegations when she was interviewed during the fraud investigation.
Ms Mezei was sentenced to a 12-month community order of 100 hours unpaid work. Because of her limited means, the Court also ordered a reduced contribution and for her to pay £1,000 to the Council. This was made up of £600 towards compensation for the losses to the Council and £400 towards the Council’s costs.
Nicoleta Mezei was sentenced at Guildford Crown Court on 27 January 2023. After pleading guilty to one count of an offence under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 s.2. of sub-letting her social housing property to others, whilst having a principal home elsewhere with her partner.
After the sub-letting period finished in 2018, and before the Council started investigating the alleged fraud, she moved back into the social housing property. Ms Mezei voluntarily gave it back to the Council in October 2021.
Reporting fraud to the Council
If you have any information or concerns about a suspected fraud, please contact us in confidence via our Fraud and corruption page, by emailing email@example.com or call our fraud hotline on 01737 276620.