Housing Minister John Healey has today launched the first-ever national crackdown on tenancy cheats to recover up to 10,000 council and housing association homes fraudulently sublet, and release them to those in real need.
Tenancy cheats live elsewhere and can earn thousands of pounds a year by unlawfully subletting their properties at higher rental rates. If caught they will lose their tenancy, and could lose their right to social housing in future.
Those occupying these properties may not know about the fraud but 80 per cent do not qualify for a council or housing association home, and instead have to find a new home through the private rented sector.
The Audit Commission have suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully acquired or sublet could range from one in 100 to as many as one in 20 in some inner-city areas – totalling as many as 50,000 homes nationwide.
147 councils have signed up to the Government’s first ever national crackdown on housing fraud, including every council in London. With councils working alongside the housing associations in their areas, they will benefit from a share of £4million to set up their own anti-fraud initiatives – including special hotlines and crack squads to investigate allegations of fraud.
Mr Healey has today handed over to councils and housing associations around 8,000 thousand leads to follow to potential tenancy cheats in their communities, found through data sweeps by the Audit Commission matching tenancy records against records held by councils, housing associations and other public bodies.
Public tip-offs are vital to tackling the fraudsters – half of all homes recovered from cheats are done so after tip-offs from neighbours. So he is offering a reward/bounty of £500 to anyone whose information leads to the recovery of one of the first 1,000 homes.
The average cost of recovering a property from a tenancy cheat can be as little as £3,000 – while the total cost of building a new council or housing association home can reach well over £100,000.
This anti-fraud drive to recover homes comes on top of the largest council house-building programme for nearly two decades and new guidance for councils to manage their waiting lists according to local priorities.
John Healey said:
"We can’t allow cheats to hang onto the tenancies of council houses they don’t need and don’t live in. I want people to feel the system for housing families who need homes is fairer and that’s why I’m launching this national crackdown on tenancy fraud.
"This is first-ever fraud drive nationwide, which could free up as many as 10,000 homes for those on council waiting lists, with £4million and 8,000 hot leads for suspect tenants, 147 councils across the country can today get this crackdown on fraud off to a flying start.
"But public tip-offs are vital in tackling this problem. So I am also offering £500 to anyone whose information leads to us recovering one of the first 1,000 homes."
Councils and housing associations are also being given practical advice on how best to tackle housing fraud, as well as access to posters and leaflets that they can adapt to meet their needs, to encourage people in their area to come forward with any information they may have on local fraudsters.
Sarah Webb, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said:
"Unlawful sub-letting and occupation of scarce affordable housing is worse than theft. In addition to the financial loss to the public, it also means some families are missing out on a decent, affordable home and all that this can bring.
"CIH believes that making the best use of existing housing is essential and I am delighted that we have been asked to write this guidance which provides landlords and local authorities with good practice and legal advice to support them to clamp down on these unlawful practices."
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said:
"Tackling unlawful subletting is an important part of housing associations' commitment to supporting those in housing need. Every home which is freed up through this initiative is another home available to a family who genuinely need it.
"Through effective partnership working between associations and local authorities, this initiative can deliver significant benefits to those who need affordable, secure homes."
Notes to editors
1. Tackling unlawful subletting and occupancy:Good practice guidance for social landlords is published today and can be viewed at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/housingfraudguidance
2. The 147 councils signed up to today’s initiative will benefit from a share of £4million. The breakdown by council is as follows: www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/doc/regionfraudfunding
3. John Healey has today handed over 8,000 leads for councils and housing associations to follow.
4. Examples of action councils and housing associations have taken to recover properties fraudulently acquired or sublet include:
Southwark Council: Following the success of the council’s Special Investigation Team in recovering homes from unlawful subletting, it was decided to undertake a pilot with the local housing association, Family Mosaic, to extend their approach further. Of the 300 properties visited over three months, 253 were found to be occupied by the legal tenant; 14 cases of unauthorised occupation were identified – of which 12 were recovered; and investigations were continuing on 33 properties – with 26 final warning letters and eleven Notices to Quit having been served.
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and Welwyn Hatfield Community Housing Trust: Welwyn Hatfield have combined the annual gas servicing and safety visit with the collection of household information for every tenant. Information collected by their heating contractor during their routine checks is compared to existing tenancy records and any discrepancies are investigated further.
Gentoo Sunderland: Tenancy and Estate Officers from Gentoo Sunderland undertake a rolling programme of tenancy audits and property inspections over a two-year period. Visits are conducted with weekly quotas set for each officer. As part of the visit, tenant and household details are gathered and updated in order to shape future service provision.
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department