Housing fraud crackdown could save £1m
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Housing, Legal
Westminster Council recovers £250,000 from housing benefit cheats
A crackdown on housing fraud is set to more than triple the number of people caught and save council tax payers an estimated £1 million a year, two local authorities have claimed.
Richmond Council and Kingston Council have joined forces in a social housing investigation partnership (SHIP), the first of its kind in London, designed to uncover more fraud and recover scores of homes from cheating tenants.
The SHIP, bringing together officers from both boroughs and working with five major housing associations in the area, aims to uncover 60 cases of housing fraud a year as well as reducing the number of fraudulent applications for social housing.
Since April, the new shared service has recovered 11 properties with eight more due to be seized - saving the councils almost £200,000 (based on Audit Commission estimates that it costs £18,000 to place a homeless family in temporary accommodation).
Housing tenancy fraud, such as unlawfully sub-letting properties or making a false right to buy application, costs councils nationwide an estimated £900m a year.
The two boroughs secured a £200,000 government grant to help fund the joint venture after demonstrating the success of their housing fraud investigations. Both Richmond and Kingston will receive £200,000 each for the next two years from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The DCLG made a total of £9m available to councils to bid for.
Richmond Council's cabinet member for adults and housing, cllr David Marlow, said: “Social housing fraud affects councils across the country and it is a crime which deprives affordable homes from those who need it most. This new partnership service with Kingston and its largest Housing Associations will do everything it can to bring those responsible for housing fraud to justice.
“I strongly believe the service will make a huge impact and send a clear message to those who commit social housing fraud or are thinking of committing this crime. The Council will pursue you, it will never stop, and the Council has more resources than ever before to bring you before the courts – and we will do everything in our power to see to it that you are adequately punished.”
Councillor Patricia Bamford, Kingston Council’s lead member for better homes, said: “Every year thousands of pounds of council tax payers’ money is stolen by housing tenancy cheats - money that should be spent on improving our local communities.
“People on waiting lists in genuine need of somewhere to live are being robbed of the chance by fraudsters who are either illegally sub-letting council or housing association properties or leaving them empty.”