Businessman fraudulently tried to claim £80,000 in Covid grants from Lambeth Council

11 January 2024

Written by: Lambeth Council

Better and Fairer Lambeth - Campaigns - Council statements and updates - News and announcements - Post Type - Spending and transparency

A Birmingham man has been given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work after he admitted falsely claiming tens of thousands of pounds in Covid support grants from Lambeth Council.

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Businessman fraudulently tried to claim £80,000 in Covid grants from Lambeth Council

Mirza Altaf Ali Baig pleaded guilty to one count of Fraud by False Representation, in relation to a series of eight false Covid-19 Retail Hospitality and Leisure grants, through which he attempted to claim £80,000 from Lambeth Council.

At a hearing at Southwark Crown Court, he was handed an 18-month suspended sentence, ordered to attend 150 hours of unpaid work and pay the council £6,000 in costs.

The Retail Hospitality and Leisure Fund was a government scheme to assist small businesses during the first Covid lockdown, which began on 23 March 2020. Under the scheme, businesses trading in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors on 11 March 2020 were entitled to one-off cash grants of up to £25,000 from their local council.

Around May 2019, Mr Baig had subdivided commercial premises at Streatham High Road into eight separate units, which he then let to small businesses.

Between May and July 2020, he made fraudulent applications for Covid-19 grants, using the names and identities of friend and associates, asserting that they were based at these eight units. Any grant money would therefore have been directed to him, rather than being paid to the businesses in occupation at the time.

The fraud only came to light when some of Mr Baig’s legitimate tenants began making grant application themselves. Lambeth Council acted swiftly to stop four fraudulent claims before they were paid and referred the matter to the Counter Fraud team for investigation.

On sentencing, in November, His Honour Judge Perrins told Baig: ‘This was calculated, dishonest conduct at a time of national emergency, diverting funds away from people who genuinely needed it.

“Your fraud only came to light when legitimate tenants began making applications. Had you been successful, the situation would have been very different.”

Word from the Cabinet

Councillor David Amos, Lambeth Cabinet Member for Finance and Cost of Living, said: “The Covid pandemic was one of the biggest crises to hit this country for generations, and I’m proud that Lambeth came together to support the communities and businesses that needed our help the most.

“The Retail Hospitality and Leisure Fund was a lifeline for many of our local businesses, and it is sickening to know that it was seen by some as an opportunity to profit fraudulently. We’ll continue to rigorously investigate rigorously and pursue any allegation of fraud, to ensure that anyone who attempts to take advantage of the system is held to account.”