9 Apr 2014

Govt announces new powers against social housing fraud

Councils have been given the power to access personal information about people suspected of tenancy fraud. The new measures will allow councils to access information from banks, building societies, utility and telecommunication companies to identify if someone is committing social housing fraud.

Housing minister, 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 £19m 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.
With estimates showing 98,000 social homes are unlawfully occupied in England, the Government has also introduced tougher penalties for those found guilty of tenancy fraud. The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act means those found guilty of illegally sub-letting a council home could face a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine.

A new £16.6 million fund has also been launched to tackle fraud in local government. The money will help fund an additional 270 government investigators across England and will help the Single Fraud Investigation Service and councils to share data.

A commentator writes
My brother-in-law has worked in fraud prevention for one of the largest social housing providers in the country. When he audited the names on the tenancy agreements against the electoral roll and other data, over 8% of tenancies were suspect. One of the most blatant examples was a Polish woman who he tracked down to Germany, where she was living with her mother. She was charging the three Polish builders who were living in her UK house three times the rent she was paying to the housing association.

The problem is that these housing associations have stock scattered over all the country, and do not inspect their properties every few months like a small private landlord would do. Their whole setup in completely exposed to fraud: the bargain subsidised rent is always paid, everything looks normal, but the houses are being sublet at vast profit to sharers, gangmasters and so on.
Social housing fraud is the most immoral type of welfare fraud. It's not just the money. If those estimates are right, nearly one hundred thousand families are deprived of decent accommodation and any sense of settled permanence. In the nature of such estimates, it may be many more.

The government should blitz a few neighbourhoods, to see if there should be a greater national effort.

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