Tenancy cheats warned as housing minister gives councils new powers and £35m
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Housing, Legal
FraudImage: Fraud via Shutterstock
Housing minister Kris Hopkins has warned tenancy fraudsters that the net is closing in on them.
Hopkins said that life was about to get tougher for illegal subletters or those who make false applications for social homes or for right to buy, as he announced that councils are to be given more powers to tackle the issue.
The new measures will allow local authorities to access information about people suspected of tenancy fraud from banks, building societies, and utility and telecommunication companies.
Additionally, £35 million is to be made available to help councils fight housing cheats.
Across England, it is estimated that 98,000 social homes are being unlawfully occupied.
In some inner London boroughs, cases of social housing fraud are as high 1 in 20 properties. The government estimates that tenancy fraud could be costing taxpayers as much as £1.8 billion a year.
Across the country, councils are catching more tenancy cheats and freeing up homes:
- Since 2010, 166 homes in Wolverhampton have been recovered.
- In Greenwich, over 200 homes have been freed up in two years.
- In Stoke 193 properties were recovered in one year.
Last year's Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act made subletting a criminal offense. Whereas previously offenders faced little more than having the property taken away from them, subletters can now expect a fine a prison sentence of up to two years.
Kris Hopkins said: "Anyone who is committing social housing fraud should know that the net is closing in on them. These new powers will help expose the cheats conning councils and ripping off taxpayers and free up more homes for the families that really need them.
"This government is taking the fight to fraudsters. We have already given councils £19 million to root out tenancy fraud, more than doubling the annual number of social homes recovered and we have made sure that rather than getting a little rap on the knuckles these fraudsters could face time in jail."
The councils' new powers came into force this week. Local authorities can now compel certain listed organisations to supply them, for social housing fraud investigatory purposes, with data they hold. Similar arrangements are already in place for social security fraud and council tax reduction scheme fraud.