A FRAUDSTER mother let her son to raise his young family in her council flat without the authority's permission has been spared jail time.

Elca Keir failed to tell Reading Borough Council she no longer lived in the Katesgrove property for more than five years after she moved out to live with her ex-husband in west Reading.

Over that time her son Jimmy stayed in the flat at the council's subsidised rent saving thousands of pounds on living costs at the expense of council tax payers.

A judge praised the regular church goer for her position in the community but said her actions meant another family on the housing waiting list were left without a home of their own.

The court heard how the true value of the fraud may be impossible to work out, but that additional costs in housing an extra family in temporary accommodation are around £18,000 per year.

Judge Dugdale said: "She let her son live at the property intending that this would save him money on what he would have otherwise paid on the rental market."

Coming to the UK from the Caribbean in 1991 Keir first moved into the flat in Aveley Walk with her new husband Vaughn.

Following an "awkward divorce" the home was transferred to the 55-year-old mother-of-two in 1998 before she later moved back in with her partner in Cranbury Road.

The council flat was then left for her son Jimmy and his wife and child while Keir continued to pick up the council's bills and return correspondence as if she was still living there.

Judge Dugdale said: "He [Jimmy] got a much nicer flat at a much cheaper rate that would have gone to another family.

"That other family and the council lost out because they almost certainly had to house that family somewhere else at some expense."

However he added: "I do not think she had the faintest idea how serious it was."

Christopher Blake, defending at Reading Crown Court today [Tuesday], said: "The nitty gritty of this, if I can cut to the chase, is whether this woman aged 55 of previously good character, should have an immediate custodial sentence.

"It is my submission that because of the unusual nature of this offence she should not be facing a custodial sentence with immediate effect."

Keir was convicted of one count of fraud following a trial in January at the same court.

Judge Dugdale sentenced her today [Tuesday] to a 12 month community order and ordered her to undertake 200 hours unpaid work.

A later hearing on August 9 will be held to determine whether money saved through the fraud should be confiscated and what level of compensation or costs is appropriate.

Speaking after the sentencing a Reading Borough Council spokesman said: "The council was pleased with the successful prosecution in the case of Elca Keir.

"A tenant can be found guilty of tenancy fraud if they move out of their council home without cancelling their tenancy and if they allow somebody else to live in the property.

"By their actions, it means the home is not available for a family on the council’s housing register with a genuine need. It can cost up to £18,000 per year for the council to re-house a family in temporary accommodation.

"Anyone who suspects that tenancy fraud is taking place should call the dedicated free phone hotline on 0500 500 777 or visit www.reading.gov.uk/fraud"