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Letting agency couple given suspended sentencesA couple who fraudulently claimed nearly £54,000 in benefits while running a letting agency have been handed suspended jail sentences.

James Furness, 50, of Hove, was sentenced to a term of 16 months in prison suspended for 12 months. He was ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work and pay costs of £2,698.75.

Sonja Pullan, 55, was sentenced to 11 months in prison suspended for two years, and was ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work. She will also have to pay £2,698.75 costs.

A court in Brighton has head that Furness told the local authority he only had one bank account but a joint investigation by Brighton & Hove council and the Department for Work and Pensions revealed he also had three business accounts for a company called Hove Properties.

He neglected to declare his partner, Pullan, who was also in receipt of benefits. Furness's business accounts were all registered at Pullan's address.

Between them the couple claimed £22,000 in housing and council tax benefits. The rest of the benefit money was for Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance.

The council's investigation uncovered at least 18 properties being managed by Hove Properties and 66 documents linking Furness to the lettings agency. There were also documents linking Pullan and Furness to the joint running of Hove Properties.

Furness claimed he was paying rent when he was not, and Pullan produced false receipts purporting to be for rent received from him. He also produced a tenancy agreement for the flat when he was not living there. Investigators found a third party living at the property.

The investigation revealed that Pullan received income from foreign students as well as money from her work at Hove Properties.

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