A mum who bought a house while illegally subletting two council properties has narrowly avoided going to jail.

Paula Callaway moved into a three bedroom house in Ravenoak Way, Chigwell, in 1999 - but didn’t tell the authorities when she bought a new house in Dunmow, Essex, in 2008. 

She rented the Chigwell house out to her son and five other people, something which was in breach of her tenancy agreement with Moat Housing.

Then in 2012, she said she needed to downsize and asked the council if she could take part in a house swap. 

This was approved and she pretended to “move in” to a one bedroom in Felstead Way, Loughton, but instead rented that property out, too.

But it then transpired she carried out the mutual exchange with her sister-in-law so she could move into a three-bedroom house.

After a five day trial at Chelmsford Crown Court Ms. Callaway was found guilty of two offences relating to social housing fraud. 

Having previously pleaded guilty to the criminal offence of dishonestly subletting a property, she was sentenced with a 12 month suspended sentence on both counts of fraud, 150 hours community service and a victim surcharge.

The Judge stated: “You were given social housing once you had bought a home of your own. 

“There is chronic shortage of social homes and you deprived a family from living in a home for six years. 

“This went on far too long. It went on but you must know what you did was wrong.”

Finance portfolio holder councillor Gagan Mohindra said: “Fraud affects everyone. 

“Money stolen by housing tenancy fraud, council tax fraud or business rates fraud is depriving our public services of the vital resources they need.”

“Please tell us if you suspect someone is committing fraud by filling in our online form or by calling our fraud investigation team”