ANGER surrounds a benefit cheat’s decision to stay in his council home, despite having £475,000 in the bank.

Alan Hardman, 58, who lives with his mother in the Riverstone flats, in Crowstone Road, Westcliff, claimed £21,447 in housing benefit and £4,578 in council tax benefit over six years, despite earning thousands from a lucrative internet business.

The Echo told earlier this week how Hardman admitted five counts of fraud at Basildon Crown Court. He was given a £26,025 fine, eight month suspended sentence, 50-hour community order and was fitted with an electronic tag banning him from leaving his home between 7pm and 7am.

However, housing regulations mean Southend Council and South Essex Homes are powerless to evict him from the property he has lived in since 2003.

John Lamb, deputy leader of Southend Council, slammed Mr Hardman for staying in a flat which he could give up for an individual, or family, in need.

Mr Lamb said: “Anyone who is fiddling the benefit system should be prosecuted. I think taking money away from people who deserve it, especially someone who has got all that money in the bank doing it, is an awful offence.

“In my opinion, Mr Hardman shouldn’t even be allowed to stay in a council home, but because he amassed his money after being housed, we can’t force him to go.

“Most people who had all that money would want to buy their own property and not stay in a council place. It all seems very strange.

“Anyone who is fiddling the system should be given the maximum punishment possible and be forced to pay all the money back.

“I certainly hope this will make people think twice before cheating the system again.”

The Echo approached Mr Hardman to offer him the chance to put his point of view, but was told by his mother he was unlikely to comment.

Fellow Crowstone Road residents did not understand why Mr Hardman had not moved elsewhere after his online music competition turned into a successful enterprise.

Francis Carpell, 74, said: “I think it’s disgusting. It shocks me to hear someone would do that when pensioners are struggling to get by.

“Why would you stay there when you had the opportunity to move? He most probably didn’t spend a penny of what he had in the bank. You always find it’s the people who have money who seem to be the tightest.

“I’m just glad the council caught on to what he was doing.”

Another neighbour, who does not want to be named, added: “I certainly wouldn’t want to stay in that flat if I had the money to move elsewhere!”