Showing posts with label illegal sub-letting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illegal sub-letting. Show all posts

28 Oct 2019

How Birmingham is tackling social housing frauds

This explores behind the recent revelation that sixty-four Birmingham homes had been recovered in a crackdown on housing fraud.

Amidst a housing crisis in the city with 13,000 people on the waiting list including around 3,000 families in temporary accommodation, every single home has become an extremely precious commodity. So it is scandalous that scores of perfectly good council houses are being abused every year - some just abandoned, while others are utilised for criminal enterprises such as cannabis farms.

But since 2010 the city council has ploughed significant investment into tackling the issue, with investigators using everything from light bulbs to library cards to detect fraud.

"It's always been there," said Neil Farquharson group auditor at the council, "But we have become more and more sophisticated and put more resources into tackling the problem.

"We realised how valuable a council property is, the amount of people we have got in temporary accommodation is growing and growing, therefore the more effort we can put into recovering properties and stopping people getting tenancies fraudulently, the better. Is it getting worse? It's difficult to say, but the housing crisis in the city is only going to exacerbate the problem."

In the past, illegal sub-letting grabbed the headlines being a major problem in London where property prices are notoriously high. It also prompted the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act in 2013. But that issue is 'rare' in the second-city where 'non-residency' is the most common type of housing fraud. This can often occur when people meet new partners and spend time living with them instead, or maybe move to a different part of the city or country for work.

Typically, tenants will also be in receipt of housing benefit which means they can stay away knowing their rent is covered. Is it naivety or an intentional abuse of the system?

"It's a mixture of both," said Mr Farquharson, "A lot of the cases we get are because a person's personal life has changed. There is a degree of naivety but also some people fully know what is expected of them and they will go ahead anyway."

Right to Buy, the government scheme which gives council tenants of three years or more significant discounts off the purchase price of a home, has also created an 'incentive' to obtain a council property. It has driven fraudulent housing applications whereby people may lie about the make-up of their household, falsely claiming there are six people living in a one-bedroom flat when there are only two, for instance.

Then there are the fraudulent housing applications themselves, when people will purport to have less than the £16,000 capital threshold which would render them ineligible. At the more extreme end of the scale, homes have been completely abused and used to grow drugs on an industrial scale.

"You will get cannabis farms that's one of the problems, that has been the case in Birmingham," Mr Farquharson lamented.

So how does the council go about tackling the problem? Partly, there is a reliance on tenant's neighbours reporting suspected misuse of a property. But over the years the authority has also developed a 'pioneering' anti-fraud data warehouse. It is essentially a mega-system which captures all of the data across the council to 'get a picture of a person' including council tax records, benefits records, licensing records and even library card forms.

"If we look at a housing application and somebody says they are living at an address in a particular part of the city we can say 'well actually according to your library card you don't live at that address, and according to your benefit records there's another inconsistency' so straight away it identifies anomalies," Mr Faquharson said.

It has become an incredibly efficient tool allowing for 'real-time matching' of information within 24 hours of a new housing application. The task then is for investigators to build up enough evidence to reclaim a property, which can take anywhere between three to 18 months.

Mr Farquharson said: "We speak to neighbours and say we haven't seen that person in the property for a long time. We have also got the power to request utility providers to tell us how much gas and electricity a person has used in a given period.

"We use industry averages as well, and can say 'your usage suggests you have had one light bulb on for the last two years, don't you put the heating on, the cooker on, the television on? So we build a case of evidence."

In some cases, the information is sufficient to cancel housing benefits and the prospect of a backdated bill is enough to cause tenants to surrender the keys without fuss. In other instances they may fight it.

Figures suggest that the fraud team is now getting ahead of the problem. While the number of homes being recovered is declining from 87 in 2017/18 to 64 last year, and just shy of 30 so far this year, the amount of cancelled applications is going in the other direction. There were 152 applications stopped before letting in 2017/18, increasing to 212 last year, while there have been more than 400 already in the current financial year.

High-profile results over the years, have also helped highlight the issue of housing fraud. Among them was Sonia Hunter who was awarded a 70 per cent discount on her Right to Buy purchase of 45 Attenborough Close, but failed to declare that she owned a home in Court Lane, Erdington. In 2014 she was given a 10-week prison sentence suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay the council £23,545 through the the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

In the same year concerns were raised about senior council housing officer Zara Danyaal, from Acocks Green. An investigation established she used fake identities and personal information to submit and process six fraudulent housing applications between 2011 and 2013.

Danyaal was jailed in June 2016 for three years - 30 months for one count of housing fraud and six months for two offences relating to job references. She was also ordered to repay £20,000. Her other Samara Malik, who was not employed by the council but awarded one of tenancies, was sentenced to ten months for one count of housing fraud after supplying false information.

Then there was Mbarak Awdah Abdallah who was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment - having already been jailed for another offence - and ordered to repay £18,990.30. He had gained the tenancy of 4 Milston Close in Druids Heath, after claiming a 'landlord' had ordered him to vacate his home at 191 Chinn Brook Road, Yardley Wood - a property, which it transpired Abdallah owned himself and had been renting out.

"If you are committing housing fraud we are getting more and more sophisticated with our detection methods, we will find you and there is legislation there that means we can prosecute you," said Mr Farquharson.

"To the members of the public, social housing fraud isn't something we should tolerate, we shouldn't be denying people who genuinely deserve social housing. If you believe somebody isn't using their property as their sole main residence, you should report it."


27 Sep 2019

64 Birmingham homes recovered in fraud crackdown

Dozens of Birmingham homes have been recovered and hundreds of housing applications cancelled due to fraud, a report has revealed.

It comes on the back of a warning the city council faces a £4m black hole by the end of the year if the homelessness crisis continues and the authority has to keep forking out to put families up in bed and breakfasts. In 2018/19 the council's corporate fraud team recovered 64 homes worth an estimated £6m in housing stock.

They also cancelled 212 housing applications prior to letting and stopped two Right to Buy applications.

The council's annual fraud report stated that homes were recovered when they were 'not being used as intended' such as when a false application had been made or the property had been illegally sub-let.

Council auditor Neil Farquharson said: "There are obvious social benefits in ensuring that only those with the greatest need are allocated social housing, but there is also a real financial saving from preventing and/or stopping social housing fraud, particularly in respect of providing temporary accommodation, and losing valuable housing stock through fraudulent Right to Buy applications."

The corporate fraud team also investigates fraud relating to its council tax reduction scheme and council tax exemptions. They made £559,534 worth of adjustments to council tax last year. Additionally they identified £858,202 worth of Housing Benefit overpayments.


10 Sep 2019

Council tax fraud and illegal sub-letting

Falsely claiming the Government's single person discount is the third most prevalent type of fraud in the UK, figures show.

This is where a person claims to live in a single-person household in order to receive a Council Tax discount from their local authority.

In the 2017/18 financial year, £15.8million was lost to this type of fraud - money that could have been used to support other services and individuals within the community.

The research, carried out by fraud prevention service Cifas, also showed that adults in London were twice as likely to consider falsely claiming a Single Person Discount on Council Tax as 'reasonable', as opposed to respondents in the East Midlands, West Midlands or South East.

These figures are being used as part of the Cifas 'Faces of Fraud' campaign, which aims to challenge those seemingly harmless behaviours that are, in fact, illegal. It said the awareness campaign - which has been trialled in Harrow Council, London - has so far saved the local authority £3.6million in lost revenue.

Fern Silverio, head of housing benefits for Harrow Council, said: "Like other Councils, Harrow is under pressure to maximise its income, particularly in the face of recent funding cuts. Our partnership has helped us keep fraudsters on their toes, at the same as future-proofing our own validation techniques."

In addition to Single Person Discount, unlawful subletting also remains a key housing fraud issue for local authorities.

The seemingly ‘victimless’ crime is estimated to have cost local authorities over £216million in the 2017/18 financial year- including fraud on right to buy.

Unlawful subletting in councils occurs when individuals let out their council housing without the permission of the council, meaning that in times of high demand for social housing, those in need may be denied the housing they require due to a seeming lack of available housing.

However, it is a criminal offence in the UK and can lead to criminal prosecution and the loss of the individual’s home.

Kevin Campbell, deputy head of Internal Audit and Anti Fraud from Waltham Forest Local Authority, said: "Council housing is in huge demand, and when a tenant’s circumstances change - for example, where they may have married and moved in with a partner - a council property is vulnerable to subletting.

"Council tenants do not want to relinquish their tenancies, as they are aware they may never obtain a council property again. Due to extremely high private rental charges in the area, by subletting a council property at a similar market rate to privately-owned properties, the council tenant will make a huge profit.

"Subletting has a huge impact on the Borough and local community, as the Council is unable to offer these properties to people in genuine need."

Mike Haley, at Cifas, added: "Unlawful subletting and fraudulent housing claims put huge financial pressure on local authorities and, more importantly, it means that families are missing out on the opportunity of a much-needed home.

"The consequences of this type of fraud are very serious indeed, and could result in a criminal conviction and a prison sentence. I would urge anyone thinking of falsely claiming housing benefit to consider the real impact this can have on their future as well as that of the community at large."


1 Aug 2019

Councils' fraud team stops nearly £4.5m frauds

Nearly £4.5million in tenancy and Right to Buy fraud has been stopped in Ipswich and East Suffolk in the last year, shock new figures reveal.

In Ipswich, 14 Right to Buy applications were halted, preventing £969,598 being lost, while £1.7m was saved in tenancy fraud after eight council properties were recovered and nine applications prevented from those unsuitably attempting to claim a home.

In East Suffolk, 20 fraudulent Right to Buy applications were stopped saving £1,256,025 while £465,000 in tenancy fraud was identified.

Siobhan Martin, who heads up the joint team across the two authorities, said: "Our work is all about supporting legitimate people who are really deserving - hardworking genuine people. It's about identifying, evidencing and prosecuting those people who are abusing the system.

"Paying council tax is challenging for some people so we need to show what worth we are giving back [by stopping fraudulent activity] and ensuring value for money."

Among some of the instances behind the fraudulent activity are council house tenants sub-letting their property or money for Right to Buy coming from suspicious sources flagging up potential money laundering concerns.

The team also cracks down in other fraud areas such as disabled facility grants, improper blue badge applications and single person council tax discounts.

The team is part of a national co-ordination network, having seen instances where tenants have been sub-letting their Ipswich council house while living in another part of the country.

Mrs Martin said: "Where we see direct results there is also important information sharing with other organisations in other areas. It might be any one piece of information that can be the key."

Often tenancy fraud can be an indicator of other offences such as abuses of other benefits or drug operations, according to Mrs Martin.


29 Jul 2019

Council tenant fined £100k & evicted for renting out flat

A council tenant has been ordered to pay a record £100,000 for sub-letting his central London flat through Airbnb as councils in the capital struggle to cope with the booming market in short-term online lettings.

Toby Harman, 37, had been advertising his “cosy studio apartment in Victoria” since 2013 with amenities including a hot tub and had more than 300 reviews.


Last year Westminster successfully recovered 24 social housing properties from fraudsters meaning they can now be allocated to residents in need of a new home.

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P.S. Westminster Council said it was currently investigating at least 1,500 properties in the borough for short-term letting.

5 Jun 2019

Sub-letting tenant applied for right to buy discount

A Plymouth Community Homes tenant has been convicted of a £40,000 fraud in a landmark prosecution.

Adrian Pengilley, aged 43, applied to purchase his former council home under the Right to Buy scheme while illegally sub-letting the property.

He moved out and pocketed the rent from the tenant, Plymouth Crown Court heard.

PCH said that his fraud had denied a needy or vulnerable family from moving into his home – at a huge cost to accommodating them in bed and breakfast.

It is the first case of so-called Right to Buy fraud brought by Plymouth City Council.

Pengilley, a council and PCH tenant for 14 years, stood to benefit from a £39,600 discount on the property’s market value under the scheme – though the sale never actually went through.

Handing him unpaid work, a judge praised the council for bringing the prosecution.

Judge Robert Linford fold Pengilley: “The message needs to get out that it is a criminal offence to behave in the dishonest way which you did.”

Pengilley pleaded guilty to fraud between March 2016 and September 2017. He also admitted sub-letting the property between April 2016 and May 2018.

Christopher Cuddihee, for the council, said Pengilley had asked to purchase his home in Cheriton Close, West Park. But, he added, he moved out and sub-let the property.

Mr Cuddihee said that it meant he was no longer eligible for the Right to Buy scheme.

The barrister said that council investigators looked at his bills and social media accounts and spoke to neighbours to establish the defendant had moved out.

Mr Cuddihee said that property should have been available to vulnerable and needy families in need of social housing. He added that the council would spend thousands on placing the homeless in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Jason Beal, for Pengilley, said the sale process under Right to Buy took longer than his client had anticipated.

He said that because of his history, Pengilley was not going to get a mortgage to buy a home.

Mr Beal added that the defendant and his partner had debts of about £15,000 of debts between them.

Judge Linford handed Pengilley a 12-month community order with 160 hours of unpaid work and ten days of probation’s Rehabilitation Activity Requirement. He must also pay £750 towards the costs of the prosecution.

Cllr Sally Haydon, Cabinet member for Customer Focus and Community Safety, said: "Fraud will not be tolerated in Plymouth, especially when it attempts to deny innocent people of something they really need. Social housing is an essential community asset and with waiting lists at an all time high, it is not for people to make money out of. I welcome today's verdict and hope that it stands as a reminder that we will not be afraid to prosecute those who try and cheat the system."

Source with picture

15 May 2019

Polish woman illegally let social housing

Magistrates have ordered a social housing tenant to repay thousands of pounds of rent she received by illegally subletting the Banbury property.

Rogue landlady Justyna Koczela, 43, of Zaulek Wisniowy, Poland was ordered to pay £6,254.90, comprising a fine, unlawful profit order, costs, and a victim surcharge.

Meanwhile the family who innocently rented the house are waiting to be rehoused.

A Cherwell District Council spokesman said: “A Banbury family is being supported into new accommodation after their former landlady was convicted of illegally renting out social housing".

The offence began in November 2017 when a member of the family rented the property in good faith from Koczela, who assured them that she was the owner. The residence is in fact the property of social landlord Sanctuary Housing.

Graeme Kane, Cherwell’s chief operating officer, said: “This conviction will leave people in no doubt that we will act to protect the district’s social housing stock for the people who really need it.

“The tenants are the real victims in this case. They had moved into the property in good faith and have had to endure considerable disruption through no fault of their own. I am pleased that we have been able to allocate a new home to them through the housing register.”

The defendant has now moved out of the country and did not appear in court.

When the tenants were made aware that they were living in an illegally sublet property they were eager to do the right thing and promptly contacted the council and the police for advice. They are expected to move into their new home in the coming fortnight.


9 May 2019

Ipswich woman must repay £93k after illegally sub-letting council house

An Ipswich woman who was jailed for illegally sub-letting her council home and then buying it at a large discount has been ordered to repay more than £93,000 to Ipswich Borough Council.

Before Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday, May 8, for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act via a prison video link was Janice George, 60, who was jailed for ten months in December.

The court heard that George had lied to Ipswich Borough Council by falsely claiming she had lived at the property in Ulster Avenue, Ipswich, for five years and had used the right to buy scheme to purchase a £70,000 home for just £21,000 - a 70% discount - in 2015.

She was in fact living with a partner in Wallace Road and renting the Ulster Avenue flat to others for up to £450 per month in that time.

Between 2010 and 2015, George had received an estimated £27,000 in rent and letting agent fees.

Richard Kelly, prosecuting, said George's benefit from her offending was £93,500 and she had assets of £96,800.

Judge Rupert Overbury made a confiscation order in the sum of £93,500 to be paid as compensation to Ipswich Borough Council.


11 Apr 2019

Sentence on sub-letting solicitor upheld

A man caught subletting his council home in Lewisham while working in Birmingham as a solicitor has had his criminal sentence upheld after a failed appeal. (h/t Cornerstone)

Rahand Raza, 39, appealed the 12-week sentence, which was suspended for two years, after he was prosecuted in Bexley Magistrates' Court in May of last year.

He was living in Birmingham when he spent over three years illegally subletting his council home.

Kevin Sheehan, executive director of customer services, said: "Social housing is vital for those people who are in genuine housing need and we will always prosecute those who try to cheat the system."

The judge handed him a suspended jail sentence under the Prevention of Social Housing Act and Mr Raza was ordered to pay legal costs of £5,000.

He also had to pay back his profits of £3,496.

Lewisham Home’s Tenancy Audit Team became aware of the subletting allegations when people were seen moving out of the home.

It was later found that Mr Raza applied for the "right to buy" scheme while others lived in the flat.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been made aware of the conviction.


25 Mar 2019

Man jailed for illegal sub-letting

A pub landlord who cost local taxpayers almost £250,000 by subletting his council house has been jailed for two years.

John Bristow had a property provided by the borough for more than 12 years even though he was living and working at The Bakers Arms in Upper Stratton.

As well as depriving a needy family of a home – costing taxpayers £219,000 – the 66-year-old even let it out, making profit on the rent.

And he told the woman to whom he was subletting to lie to the council about why she was living there and not to register her name and address with them for anything.

When he was questioned he said he had kept hold of the Penhill house for his retirement, or in case his relationship or pub tenancy collapsed.

Harry Ahuja, prosecuting, told how Bristow was given an temporary tenancy at a house on Abbey View Road, Moredon, from August 2003 to November 2005.

He was then given a secure tenancy for a two-bed house on Imber Road, Penhill, but by then he was living at a pub. In March 2005 he and partner Kathy Kelly got the tenancy of The Bakers Arms on Beechcroft Road, where they still live. But he kept the house until the council took it back in October 2017 after an investigation.

And it was discovered that in 2011 he had sublet the house to a woman charging her £100 a week while he was paying the council £60, raising to £80 a week. Over the six-year period it could be proved he had a tenant in the house Mr Ahuja said he had made a profit of £3,699.

The court was told that it could not be established whether he had anyone else living there before her.

When he was questioned by the council he initially claimed he had been living at the two homes with his sons, even though his partner told investigators otherwise.

As a result of the extra inquiries he said the costs to the council of the case totalled £20,148, making the total loss to them nearly £240k.

Bristow pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and deception between April 1, 2005, and May 30, 2017.

Susan Cavendar, defending, said the offences were caused by him trying to seek stability for his family. After his marriage collapsed in the early noughties he wanted a home for him and his children and was never sure how long the pub job would last. “He thought if he held on to it if he would retire there or the job would end and the tenancy go,” she said.

Jailing him Judge Robert Pawson said “This country is going through a period of almost unprecedented austerity. In housing terms it doesn’t have property to hand over to someone like you to profit from. The waiting list at the start was 15,000 people, the waiting list at the end was 3,000 people.

“As a result people on the emergency housing list have had to be housed by the council at a conservative estimate that costs a little more than £18,000 per annum. And that loss of money, and it is a loss of money has to be made up by council tax payers in the Swindon area.

“It comes down to your dishonesty and your selfishness. You are remorseful. This went on for 12 years. You were only sorry when you were caught.”

Swindon Borough Council has welcomed the outcome of the jailing of Bristow.

Councillor Cathy Martyn, cabinet member for housing and public safety, said: “I hope it sends out a strong warning that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.

“The welfare of our tenants is a top priority for us. We will not allow people to take advantage and abuse the system in this way. Mr Bristow’s actions cost the council almost a quarter of a million pounds and he took advantage of other people who were in actual need of a home by denying them that opportunity, preventing them from accessing housing to which they were entitled.

“We work closely with the police and I can say with confidence that people engaging in fraudulent activity will always be caught in the end.”

Source with pictures

15 Feb 2019

Light sentence for illegal sub-letting

A housing association tenant has been fined for sub letting his home.

Edwin William Peacock appeared at Barrow Magistrates Court in the first prosecution of its kind in South Lakeland.

Magistrates were told Peacock, 53, was the tenant of an SLH property in Windermere, but he lived in a house in Oxenholme.

Suspicions were raised when Peacock applied to purchase the SLH property under the Right to Buy scheme. Investigations found that Peacock had a mortgage on his residence in Oxenholme, that he lived there and that utility bills for the SLH property were in the name of another person.

Peacock faced one charge of sub-letting.He was fined £466 and ordered to pay £1,140 costs and a £46 victim surcharge.

Katie Booth, SLDC’s corporate anti-fraud officer, said: “Sub-letting in this way deprives social housing to deserving residents and costs South Lakeland District Council money in providing Bed and Breakfast accommodation to unhoused tenants.

"There is currently a 12-year waiting list for properties of this type in Windermere and offences like this increases waiting time for prospective tenants. People who could otherwise be housed lose out because of fraudsters sub-letting.

“If allegations or evidence of such behaviour comes to light we will investigate and prosecute. We hope this sentence will send out a warning that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and could lead to serious consequences for the perpetrators.”

Alison Kinnon, director of customers and communities at South Lakes Housing, said: “There are almost 3,000 people in South Lakeland who need an affordable home, so it is absolutely right that we tackle those who fraudulently abuse this much-needed asset.

"As this case has proved, people who think that they are getting away with it get found out in the end. We are working closely with South Lakeland District Council to investigate other people who are suspected of committing tenancy fraud.”

Now other housing association tenants in South Lakeland have been warned that sub-letting their properties to others is illegal and could land them in court.


13 Feb 2019

Light sentence for illegal sub-letting

A Cheltenham man has been fined nearly £500 for illegally sub-letting his flat.

John Stevens, 55, had been a long time tenant of his Newton Road social housing flat, but moved out to live with his girlfriend and did not tell the landlord.

At the same time, Stevens rented the flat out to a friend, illegally sub-letting the Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) property.

Following a tip-off, Stevens was visited by CBH officers and terminated his tenancy on the flat shortly after, but not before his crime was brought to light.

CBH prosecuted him under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013.

Stevens told Cheltenham Magistrates' Court that he thought he was helping a friend by allowing them to stay at his flat.

The magistrates took his guilty plea and means into account ahead of handing out their sentence. He was fined £300 and ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £50 towards prosecution costs.

The flat was quickly re-let to new tenants who had been waiting for a property to become available.

Caroline Walker, head of community services at CBH, said: “Illegal sub-letting of social houses prevents people who genuinely need them from getting access to homes. This is a good result for us, not least because it helped to give a home to someone but also because it sends a strong message to people considering sub-letting. We will find out and you will be prosecuted.”


9 Jan 2019

Illegal sub-letting brings heavy penalties

A "despicable" fraudster must pay £42,000 after illegally subletting her council flat for more than 10 years.

Pfavai McNab, a hair and beauty salon owner from Southampton, received a two-year suspended prison sentence at Woolwich Crown Court after she was convicted of two charges under the Fraud Act in relation to the three-bedroom flat in Plumstead.

Known as Pfavai Chidavaenzi when she obtained the property in Barnfield Gardens in 1996, she subsequently married and moved to Southampton.

In 2017, under her former name, she submitted an application under the Right to Buy scheme to purchase the property from Greenwich Council, declaring it as her only and principal home, for which she would have received a £103,900 discount off the purchase price.

Council checks revealed she had married in April 2000, was living under her married name of McNab and had purchased a home in Southampton.

Further checks revealed she had left her daughter occupying the flat since at least 2007 and had also set up her own hair and beauty salon on the south coast.

As well as the suspended prison sentence, McNab must also undertake 100 hours of unpaid work.

She was also ordered to pay the council £35,000 within two years relating to the financial loss suffered by the council for having to provide emergency accommodation due to flat not being available for others in genuine need.

She must further pay the council's legal costs of £6,920 within six months. If she fails to do so, she will go to prison for one year.

Councillor Christine Grice, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “Mrs McNab was caught out by her own greed when she applied to buy the council property, and her many years of not residing at the three-bedroom flat were identified. She has evaded prison. However, I hope that the £42,000 she now has to pay Greenwich will be a good reminder of her despicable actions.”


29 Nov 2018

Woman fined for subletting housing association flat

A woman who illegally sublet her housing association flat while living abroad has been forced to pay back nearly £10,000 she made in profit.

Esperance Hakizimana had been renting out her flat in Rose Hill since April 2014 while living in the Netherlands.

The 42-year-old was caught after an investigation by Oxford City Council and Greensquare Housing Association.

The council brought a prosecution for unlawful letting of social housing and last Tuesday at Oxford Magistrates' Court she pleaded guilty.

Hakizimana was fined £500 and ordered to pay back unlawful profit of £9,768.68, with £3000 of it to be paid within seven days. She was also ordered to pay costs of £480.

City council board member for finance Ed Turner said: "This is another example that shows the effectiveness of the Fraud Investigation Team in clamping down on fraudulent subletting. By working with Greensquare Housing, the team uncovered and prosecuted the person who has committed this fraud, and who has now paid the price. This also means that a much-needed social home can be re-let to someone who is really entitled to it. Social housing tenants need to remember and adhere to rules on sub-letting."

Since its creation in 2015 the fraud investigation team has prevented fraud losses and generated revenue of more than £12m for the council.

A light sentence considering the length of time this woman denied accommodation to someone who needed it.


10 Oct 2018

Tenant admits illegal sub-letting & 'right to buy' fraud

A father has admitted fraudulently trying to buy his Kilburn council flat under the government’s right-to-buy scheme – despite having lived in Watford for five years.

Ryan Cooper lived in Camden Council’s Casterbridge block in Abbey Road for more than a decade.

He was given the lease to the council flat in 2001, but ceased living there in October 2013.

At Highbury Corner magistrates’ court Cooper pleaded guilty to two charges and he will be sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on a date to be determined.

Along with the right-to-buy fraud, Cooper was convicted of illegally sub-letting the Abbey Road flat for five years between 2013 and 2018 after he moved to out to live with his wife and young son.

Camden Council has also made an unlawful profit order in hope of recovering £36,000 – the estimated difference between what he made in rent and what he was paying the council – from Cooper.

The defendant spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth and to enter his guilty pleas.

Prosecuting on behalf of Camden Council, Edward Sarkis told magistrates: “Under the fraud act, you are looking at medium-to-high culpability here.

“The second offence saw Mr Cooper submit a right-to-buy application. The application should be from someone who had actually been living in the property, but Mr Cooper had been living in Watford with his wife and child.”

Mr Sarkis added: “Having had the lease since 2001, he would have been in line for a considerable discount under right-to-buy.”

Defending, Jeffrey Lewis said; “Obviously Mr Cooper should get credit for his guilty pleas. He also handed back the keys to the property – Camden did not have to seek a possession order.

“At the end of the day we are talking about a man of good character, and I hope to prove this whether in this court or another.”

As he bailed Cooper to appear at Blackfriars Crown Court for sentencing, the lead sitting magistrate said: “We are talking about potential loss to Camden Council, but more properly the loss to the person on the council housing waiting list who should have been in that property.”


27 Sep 2018

Three court hearings & mild punishment for social housing frauds

A tenant of Hackney Council has been forced to pay nearly £148,000, after an investigation found he had been illegally subletting his property whilst living elsewhere.

A shockingly large amount of money.

Jeremy Matuba pleaded guilty in August to three criminal offences under the Fraud Act 2006 related to subletting his home and providing false information on two right to buy applications.

Matuba received a two year suspended prison sentence, 250 hours community service and a three month curfew.

The criminal prosecution followed separate proceedings in the civil court to end the tenancy, which resulted in an award of outright possession to the council.

This legal procedure forces inefficient use of taxpayers' money.

A confiscation order under the proceeds of crime act was made against Mr Matuba at Snaresbrook Crown Court on September 19 for £147,998.97.

Here we are again - a third court hearing.

Ian Williams, the council’s corporate finance director, said: “Hackney is determined to ensure that our social housing is used for those genuinely in need of housing assistance.

“We will continue to use all available powers to take a firm stance against those involved in the subletting of social housing, which not only deprives families of permanent accommodation, but also places a significant financial burden on the council at a time when we are already working hard to deliver services that are valued by our residents, despite reduced budgets.”


19 Sep 2018

Jail for illegal sub-letting

A housing association tenant has been sentenced to 14 months in jail after being caught subletting.

Anthony Rose, 45, illegally sublet his housing association property for more than six years.

Rose obtained the one-bedroom property from the Hyde Group in December 1996.

Hyde became suspicious of subletting when staff visited the property in April 2017 and found a woman living alone at the address.

Hyde’s tenancy team asked Greenwich Council's anti-fraud team to investigate and they visited the property and met with the current occupant.

She confirmed she had been living there since October 2015 and was paying a monthly rent of £800 to her landlord, Rose.

Council investigators also found that prior to his current tenant Rose had also sublet the property to various other people from July 2011 and that his bank accounts showed a rental income from July 2011 to December 2017 totalling more than £57,000.

In January 2018 council investigators invited Rose for interview, but he refused on advice from his lawyer.

He then claimed the woman living at the property was his girlfriend and he was living there with her, but this was denied by his tenant.

In March, after being shown the evidence against him, Rose offered to return the keys to the property.

He asked that no proceedings be taken as he did not want a criminal record, but he was taken to court.

Rose appeared at Woolwich Crown Court and pleaded guilty to offences relating to the Fraud Act 2006 and the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013.

Councillor Christine Grice, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “Mr Rose deprived genuine people of much-needed accommodation for many years and made a substantial profit from his despicable actions.

"The council has submitted an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to recover the money Mr Rose made from the illegal subletting.

"Just because you give the keys back doesn’t mean you won’t be prosecuted and lose the profits of any illegal activities.”


18 Sep 2018

Tory council candidate had social housing fraud conviction

A Conservative party candidate for this year’s local election has a criminal conviction for tenancy and benefit fraud.

A BBC investigation showed how Richard Kays, also known as Richard Kagumya, illegally sublet a council property in Ilford, making £400 per month in unlawful profits back in 2016.

But his previous conviction only came to light in a BBC documentary broadcast on Monday, September 10.

Despite his criminal conviction, Mr Kays was still selected by the Conservative Party to stand as a local election candidate in Wanstead Park ward in May this year. He was unsuccessful.

He also ran an event for the party in the Houses of Parliament.

In 2016, the 29-year-old had also wrongfully claimed housing benefit of £400 per month whilst charging his sub-tenant £800 per month to live in the council property.

According to the BBC, his total profits from the illegal subletting and fraudulent housing benefit claims over a five month period came to more than £5,000.

Mr Kays was alleged to have shown no remorse for his crimes and was labelled “arrogant” by those prosecuting him.

At the time, he was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid community work and had to repay costs of almost £2,000 to Redbridge Council and more than £5,000 to the housing association involved.

Earlier this summer, Mr Kays also organised and ran a children’s Question Time-style panel event in the Houses of Parliament for the Conservative party.

At the time, the event was criticised for the panel’s lack of diversity. Every panel member was affiliated with the Conservative party, all were white and only one of panellists was a woman.

Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, was chairman of the children’s Question Time panel and had been invited to chair proceedings by Richard Kays.

Mr Duncan Smith said: “I understand Richard Kays was a member of the Leyton and Wanstead Constituency Association but that he is no longer a member. As I understand it Leyton and Wanstead did not know he had a conviction, it is of course quite wrong for someone to join the Conservative Association and stand for council, without informing the Party of any criminal offence. Each Conservative Association is responsible for their own membership reporting to Conservative Central Office. ”

In Redbridge, social housing makes up just 12 per cent of the council’s housing stock and there are currently 2,200 homeless families in the borough living in temporary housing in the borough, waiting for a permanent council home.

Cllr Linda Huggett, leader of the Redbridge Conservative group, said she played no part in Mr Kays’ selection earlier this year.

She said: “The matter has been referred to the Press Office at Conservative Campaign Head Quarters. At present I have no further comment to make.”

Cllr Paul Canal, former leader of the Conservative group, has been contacted for comment.

Harriet Bailey, a spokesman for the national Conservative party, said: “Richard Kays has resigned from the party.”


A chancer

30 Aug 2018

Light sentence for illegal subletting

A homeless woman who was given a Derby Homes property has been dealt with in court after being caught sub-letting it to another family.

"Selfish" Marinela Langenbucher was given the property in October 2016 after becoming homeless in July 2016.

But she later illegally sub-let the home to a friend and moved to Shropshire with her family from August 2017.

Langenbucher's scheme started to come to an end when somebody phoned Derby City Council querying the council tax charge for the property.

The authority's counter fraud team was brought in and investigated and found Langenbucher had moved to Shropshire and had been sub-letting the property out which was a breach of her tenancy agreement.

She was interviewed under caution by the counter fraud specialists for failing to notify Derby Homes of the change.

She was summoned to a hearing at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates' Court on Thursday, August 2. She pleaded guilty to an offence under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013.

She was handed a £168 fine and ordered to pay £150 in costs and a £30 victim surcharge. Derby Homes has recovered the home, which is now being occupied by another family.

The city council said Langenbucher did not make a financial gain from the scheme but, by allowing her friend to live at the property, she has deprived another person or family who would be entitled to social housing accommodation.

Councillor Roy Webb, cabinet member for adults, health and housing at Derby City Council, is now urging people to blow the whistle on any residents they suspect are illegally sub letting their council property.

He said: “When social housing is in demand and we have waiting lists for accommodation this behaviour is selfish. Not only are people on our waiting lists being denied much needed homes but sub tenants are being put at risk of losing what they believe is their home. If we suspect that our properties are being sub-let, we will investigate and will prosecute if we have the evidence. I would encourage residents to use Derby Homes whistleblowing process if they suspect a property is being sub-let.”


7 Jun 2018

Small fine for sub-letting council flat

A council house tenant has been fined after admitting subletting his Exeter home.

Dave Kelly, from Farnborough, admitted subletting his council flat in Clifton Road, Exeter, from September 28 2014 until August 2016.

He pleaded guilty to the offence at Plymouth Magistrates Court and was fined £325, ordered to pay back the £5,985 he gaoned by subletting the property, a victim surcharge of £32 and £450 costs.

The court heard that at the time of the offence, Kelly was working away in Hampshire where he was staying with his girlfriend.

He decided to sublet his council property to a friend of his mother and arranged for the unlawful sub-tenant to pay £540 a month into his bank account. This amount was later increased to £590 and then £610 a month.

An investigation, carried out by Plymouth City Council Fraud Team on behalf of the Devon Tenancy Fraud Group, was started after an anonymous telephone caller alleged that the tenant was not occupying the property but was instead sub-letting it to someone else.

After the case, an Exeter City Council spokesman said that social housing fraud costs the UK economy £1.8 billion a year:
At a time when social housing is at a premium, this criminal behaviour is totally unacceptable. Exeter City Council has a zero tolerance approach to fraud and will continue to protect the public purse. Fraudulent activity diverts money and resources from those who legitimately have need of council services and contributes to higher council tax bills.