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Council sets up helpline after fraud pair plead guilty

A special telephone hotline and contact email address to help potential victims of an Empty Homes Grant fraud have been set up by North East Lincolnshire Council.

The move comes after Darren Major and Brian Drake each pleaded guilty to offences of fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act at Grimsby Crown Court.

Major, 41, of Grimsby, admitted six offences and Drake, 43, of Beverley, admitted five offences, relating to properties in North East Lincolnshire.

They were both given 12 month prison sentences suspended for 18 months and ordered to observe an 8pm to 6am curfew for 28 days.

The offences date from between April 2006 and December 2008 when Drake was responsible for distributing thousands of pounds of public money from the Empty Homes Grant scheme on behalf of NELC.

Major applied for grant funding to renovate empty properties but then failed to finish the work or completed it to a poor standard. Drake signed documents to confirm that the work had been done to a satisfactory standard and the grant money would be paid to Major.

North East Lincolnshire Council has worked closely with Humberside Police on the case since 2008, providing much of the information and paperwork on the housing grants fraud to detectives to help them in their investigations.

In addition, since concerns were first raised, the authority has re-visited a number properties where building activity was signed off by Drake and corrected work which has included ineffective damp courses, faulty windows and other sub-standard works. However, it is believed there may be still some outstanding cases which remain unresolved.

However, Cllr Ray Oxby, portfolio holder for environment and housing at the authority, said the Council had now set up a dedicated helpline to assist any other residents or landlords who think they may have suffered as a result of the fraud.

"We think we've covered all the properties affected by this, but in setting up this hotline, it will allow people to get in touch with us so we can look into any further possible cases between April 2006 and August 2008, when we first took action and called in the police to investigate,'' he explained.

"Immediately the fraud came to light we audited the service and put in place a number of checks and balances to prevent a similar occurrence and a further audit since then has shown those measures are working effectively.''

Cllr Oxby added: "Unfortunately any organisation can be a victim of fraud when individuals choose to break the law in this way, but we're pleased to have worked with the police to secure these convictions.

"This fraud affected works at the properties of some of our most vulnerable residents and I find it appalling that those convicted appeared to perpetrate their criminal actions without a thought for their victims' welfare in their own homes.''

The helpline number for anyone who thinks they may have been affected by the fraud is 01472 313131, the email address is BB-HIS.ServiceRequests@nelincs.gcsx.gov.uk.