A STUDENT defrauded a council out of more than £5,000 by secretly moving her mother into her home.

Biri Chingwaru, 55, of West Road, Westcliff, told Southend Council she lived alone so she would be exempt from paying council tax.

She admitted fraud at Southend Magistrates after claiming more than £5,000 she was not entitled to.

Council finance boss Joe Chesterton said the case should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of committing the same kind of offence.

He said: “We have a duty to protect the public purse and will therefore take action against people committing fraud and abuse.

“Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to anyone receiving an exemption that they must tell us if their situation changes, as to not do so is fraud.”

Chingwaru told Southend Council that she was a full-time student at South Essex College and was a single adult living in her property alone.

She received a 100 per cent student exemption from council tax liability. As a result, she was not asked to contribute towards any council tax from 2007.

She had to reapply for the exemption each year.

The court heard officers conducted a review of Chingwaru’s circumstances in June 2016, where it was discovered that her mother, Cathrine, had links to the property.

There was no record to show that Biri Chingwaru had ever declared that her mother lived there.

The matter was referred to Thurrock and Southend Council’s Counter Fraud and Investigation Service, which conducted an investigation.

She attended an interview under caution with council investigators, where she admitted not telling the council that her mother had been in occupation at the property since 2007.

As a result, Chingwaru avoided meeting her council tax liabilities and the loss to public funds amounted to £5091.31.

If Southend Council had been made aware of the true circumstances, an exemption would not have been applied and a full charge would have been payable.

The court heard that Chingwaru would have repeatedly received a bill and seen that she was receiving the exemption and that she made no attempt to rectify the situation.

In mitigation, her defence stated that she had now repaid the debt in full and had shown remorse.

She was sentenced to a community order of 12 months, in which she will have to complete 150 hours of unpaid work, costs of £287 and a victim surcharge of £60.