Government closes in on tenancy fraudsters

Housing minister Kris Hopkins has warned tenancy fraudsters that they are living on borrowed time, as local councils’ step up their efforts to combat con-artists that are depriving hard-working families of the opportunity to live in a council home.

The newly introduced measures to will give councils new powers to access information about people suspected of tenancy fraud from banks, building societies, and utility and telecommunication companies. The new powers could be essential in identifying and prosecuting cheats, which in turn would free up homes for deserving families.

Current tenancy fraud is large-scale, with an estimated 98,000 social homes unlawfully occupied, with the tenancy cheats in question living off their sub-letting profits elsewhere. In some London boroughs housing fraud cases are as common as 1 in 20 properties, which could be costing the taxpayer as much as £1.8bn a year.

The new powers form part of the government’s initiative to tackle fraud across local government. This initiative includes a £19m investment to help councils combat tenancy fraud. As a result councils have recovered more than twice as many homes per year as 2009, with today’s measures representing further progress still.

Already as result of the tenancy fraud clamp down:

• 166 homes in Wolverhampton have been recovered and given to people in genuine need of a home.

• Over 200 homes in Greenwich have been freed up for families in two years.

• 193 properties were recovered in Stoke in one year.

The government has also issued tough new penalties for tenancy fraudsters, ensuring that anyone found guilty of illegally sub-letting can expect a fine and a custodial sentence of up to two years.

Local minister Baroness Stowell welcomed the clamp down: “By giving councils more power to identify tenancy fraudsters we are stepping up the fight against fraud and ensuring that fairness is restored.

“We are giving councils over £35m in total and more powers to help them tackle fraud because local government owes it to the decent people who are paying up and losing out to go after those cheating the system.”