A Council tenant has been ordered to pay almost £3,000 by way of an Unlawful Profit Order in addition to a further £2,914 in costs to the Council - after letting out his property on the website AirBnB. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)
Peter John Wootton, aged 46, of Coastguard Flats, West Looe, was due to appear at Bodmin Magistrates Court on Wednesday 22 February, but failed to attend. As a result, the Magistrates agreed to hear the case in his absence.
During the hearing, the court heard that the Council's Corporate Fraud Investigations Team began investigating Mr Wootton in July 2016 after receiving an anonymous tip off that he had been advertising his property on the website AirBnB. Under the terms of Mr Wootton's tenancy with Cornwall Housing Ltd he did not have permission to sub-let the property.
Further investigations identified 10 instances where payments were made to Mr Wootton, totalling £2,958.
The court heard that a number of attempts had been made to interview Mr Wootton under caution. He eventually attended for interview in November 2016 but decided that he did not want to stay or be shown the various items of documentary evidence. He later sent the Council a short handwritten statement stating that during the summer he had had people staying who he classed as lodgers.
After hearing the case, Magistrates found Mr Wootton guilty of an offence under Section 1 of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act for sub-letting and parting with possession of his whole dwelling house, ceasing to occupy it as his only or principal home.
Kevin Hill, prosecuting for Cornwall Council, then presented the Court with a Section 4 Notice under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act for an Unlawful Profit Order to the value of £2,958.
The Magistrates awarded full payment of the Unlawful Profit Order of £2,958.00 and, in addition, granted the Council's application for investigation and legal costs totalling £2,914.00. This amount covered the costs of investigating the matter and bringing it before the Court.
Following the conviction, Pete Jarman, Landlord Services Director for Cornwall Housing Ltd, said: "Cornwall Housing Ltd. takes tenancy fraud very seriously and works closely in partnership with Cornwall Council's Corporate Fraud team to identify, investigate and potentially prosecute cases of tenancy fraud. It is important that such a scarce resource as social housing goes to individuals and families who are in genuine housing need."
Simba Muzarurwi, Cornwall Council's Head of Internal Audit and Risk, said: "Our team of professional investigators continue to work with Cornwall Housing Ltd to combat fraud. The Council has a zero tolerance policy on all forms of fraud so the Corporate Counter Fraud Team will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible for perpetrating fraud are brought to book. By continuous checking and investigation of anomalies in information supplied by tenants and potential tenants, we can help ensure that housing in Cornwall is allocated to those in most need."
Despite the brave words, this is another case where the housing provider only found out about the illegal sub-letting through an anonymous tip-off.