Grant Shapps launches crackdown on housing fraud

At least 50,000 social homes in England are being unlawfully occupied - providing the equivalent number of new social homes would cost more than £5 billion, and it is estimated that the number of unlawfully occupied properties ranges from one in 100 in some parts of the country to more than one in 20 social homes in some inner London boroughs.

Tenancy cheats live elsewhere, but can earn thousands of pounds a year charging higher rents for their social homes. If caught, these cheats lose their tenancy and can lose their right to a social home in future.

Those living in these homes may not know about the fraud, but fewer than 5% of those evicted once their 'landlord's' fraud is detected subsequently apply to the council as homeless - they often find alternative accommodation in the private rented sector.

Mr Shapps announced that the 51 councils doing the most to tackle this menace will receive a share of £19 million to bolster their efforts - which can include dedicated housing officers to investigate allegations, and tenancy audits to ensure the lawful tenants are living in the property.

He outlined how he is looking to back all councils across the country with a dedicated national action team, based at the Chartered Institute of Housing which will be available to offer practical support and advice to local authorities looking to tackle tenancy fraud in their area.

The Minister also said he is looking to lower the cost of using the services of credit reference agencies to help identify potential cheats. The Government is working with the National Fraud Authority to develop standard contracts for councils to agree with credit reference agencies, at standard prices, to lower the costs of using their services.

Grant Shapps said: "Tenancy fraud costs this country billions of pounds, but it's not just the money that's wasted. The housing waiting list has doubled and tenancy fraud means that tens-of-thousands of people who could otherwise be housed are losing out because of cheats. We cannot afford to ignore this problem.

"The start of [the] campaign is part of a wider Government effort to ensure council homes go to those who need them most. That's why I've launched plans for the biggest shake up in social housing for a generation, including the introduction of more flexible tenancies and greater fairness in the way social homes are allocated."

Sarah Webb, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: "We are delighted to be leading the sector in ensuring they have the professional advice and practical guidance to help them make more of their existing social housing. The new advice team that will be based at CIH will be made up of professionals who can support other professionals in local councils and housing associations to tackle illegal subletting and make the most of existing social housing.

"We have also issued a new guide on tackling housing tenancy fraud with the National Fraud Authority, which brings together examples of initiatives that really work and will help more housing providers ensure social housing goes to those in genuine need."