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Showing posts with label right to buy fraud. Show all posts
Showing posts with label right to buy fraud. Show all posts

16 Jan 2020

Man committed two social housing frauds

A housing fraudster from Kingswinford who sublet his council home has been handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years and a bill of more than £7,000.

Dudley Council successfully brought a case against John David Facer, aged 52, of Keepers Close, who was sentenced at Dudley Magistrates Court on Friday January 10.

Mr Facer was found to be subletting his one-bedroom property for three years while he was living in a property that he had bought in Kidderminster.

After selling the home in Kidderminster and making a profit of £58,000, Mr Facer moved back to Keepers Close and submitted a fraudulent Right to Buy application to purchase the property from Dudley Council.

Had his application been successful, this would have entitled Mr Facer to a discount to the value of £36,250.

However, due to further investigations into the sublet of the property the application was cancelled by the council.

Mr Facer pleaded guilty to subletting his council property, under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud.

Before sentencing District Judge Webster warned Mr Facer he was “close to leaving the court in a van” but he proceeded to sentence Mr Facer to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered Mr Facer to complete 240 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Facer will also have to pay back an unlawful profit order of £1,955.68, a victim surcharge of £115 and legal costs of £5,000.

Due to Mr Facer being unwilling to relinquish the tenancy voluntarily, the council are in the process of recovering possession of the property, in order that it can be allocated to an eligible applicant who is in need of social housing. The possession case is due to be heard at the end of January 2020.

Councillor Laura Taylor, Dudley's cabinet member for housing, communities and residents' welfare, said:
Mr Facer’s actions will have deprived someone in genuine need of housing and once again we are showing people that falsifying housing applications is a serious offence. I would remind anyone who may be considering falsifying a housing application that we will take legal action against people who commit housing fraud.
Source

3 Jan 2020

Bristol reports major successes in countering housing frauds

Fraud investigators at Bristol City Council have saved taxpayers more than £2million in the last six months, a report reveals.

The dedicated team’s work resulted in 19 council properties being recovered between April and October.

In one case that took 10 years ago to complete, a housing benefit cheat falsely claimed almost £20,000 after failing to declare owning a property.

Despite being convicted in 2012 and receiving a suspended jail sentence the following year, the culprit refused to abide by a confiscation order obtained by the council in court, which ordered the person to pay back the money plus £43,000 of local authority costs.

They served four months in prison as a result, and in 2019 the case finally came to a conclusion when a crown court judge appointed an enforcement receiver to force the sale of the property, with the council’s debt and costs to come from the proceeds.

The half-year counter-fraud report said the 19 council homes recovered amounted to nearly £1.8million, by far the largest portion of the savings to taxpayers.

A further £12,681 is recoverable to the council.

One council employee was sacked following a benefit fraud investigation with the DWP.

The 10-strong anti-corruption team, which investigates scams involving social housing tenancies, council tax reduction, direct payments and those carried out by council staff, also had successes in seven other cases from its tenancy fraud work, such as housing applications being cancelled or benefits savings.

Other examples, according to the report, included “a person removed from the housing register due to a fraudulent application, a person occupying a three-bedroom property but moved to a smaller property due to a fraudulent application and the removal of single person’s discount from a council tax account”.

It said a “key amnesty” was held in April and May with two housing providers where tenants committing fraud were offered the chance to voluntarily surrender their tenancy without recriminations.

As a result, two people handed back their properties, an anonymous tip-off led to a housing application being cancelled because a fraudster had failed to tell the council they had moved out of Bristol, and 23 cases are still under investigation.

Seven people who surrendered their keys during the amnesty period for “no apparent reason” were previously or currently subject to tenancy fraud investigation.

More

Well done, Bristol!

2 Jan 2020

Council tenant in illegal sub-letting and right to buy frauds

A council tenant who had applied to purchase his rented home through the Right to Buy scheme has been convicted of illegally subletting it to his children.

Waltham Forest Council tenant, Uwe Werner, 55, applied to buy his Leytonstone property through the Right to Buy scheme, entitling him to a £108,000 discount.

However, the council’s Corporate Anti-Fraud Team established Werner was not living in the Sansom Road property but was in fact renting in Braintree, Essex.

Werner had been subletting the Leytonstone property to his two adult children over a three-and-a-half-year period between January 2015 and June 2018.

Werner was convicted at Snaresbrook Crown Court of illegally subletting the property and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence.

In mitigation Werner explained that his circumstances had changed in 2014 when his work led him to move to Braintree with his wife and youngest children, and so he made the improper decision to illegally sublet the Sansom Road property to his adult children, making a profit of £5226.00.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Pounder said: “You were originally a legitimate tenant, but your criminal liability is you took a decision which was the wrong decision.”

Judge Pounder also imposed an Unlawful Profit Order for the full amount by which he profited from subletting his council property.

Werner must now vacate the address or the council will instigate civil proceedings to terminate the tenancy.

A council spokesperson said: “Waltham Forest Council is committed to fighting corruption and dishonesty. Combatting tenancy fraud is high on our agenda as we work to ensure that our properties are made available for those who have a genuine need for them.

“We hope this case sends a clear message – we will fully investigate any suspected cases of tenancy fraud and those found guilty may be required to vacate their homes as Mr Werner will now have to.

“This property will now be used to provide a decent roof over the head of a new family, giving them the security and stability they need to make the most of their life chances in Waltham Forest.”

Source

19 Dec 2019

The importance of housing fraud

CIPFA writes

Housing is a fundamental service that UK local authorities have a responsibility to provide.

Councils across the UK offer social housing options for local people based on a variety of factors, ranging from financial strains related to unemployment to above-average rents in urban areas.

For the most vulnerable in society, this public service can be a lifesaver in the most literal sense.

Unfortunately, as with all public services, the housing sector is not immune to fraud and other financial crimes. People can exploit the public housing system, depriving councils of funding by illegitimately participating in state programmes, making those in need worse off.

Fortunately, counter-fraud efforts in council housing are proving effective. The latest iteration of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accounting (CIPFA)’s Fraud and Corruption Tracker (CFaCT) shows that the number of fraudulent cases is decreasing – UK local authorities detected and/or prevented 3,632 instances of housing fraud in 2018/19, a decline of roughly 20% from the previous year and the second year of decline since 2016/17.

Of course all this shows is that detection is decreasing. It may not reflect the underlying level of fraud.

Over the past year, they prevented 652 and 826 cases of Right to Buy and illegal sublet frauds respectively. Furthermore, housing fraud represented 54% of the total value of fraud prevented by local authorities in 2018/19, while making up only 5% of the total estimated number of fraud cases.

While the numbers of Right to Buy and illegal sublet fraud cases declined, ‘other’ types of housing fraud, which includes succession and false applications, held steady at approximately 2,150 cases.

It’s worth noting that the way authorities record the income lost from housing fraud can vary. They may include the cost of putting up a family in a bed and breakfast for several months or they may include the cost of replacing a property entirely.

However, although making these calculations is certainly challenging, they provide a helpful snapshot of local authorities’ effectiveness at tackling this problem.

In recent years, local authorities have stepped up their counter-fraud work in social housing. This has had a big impact, given the low rates of turnover in tenancies in the current social housing stock.

The screening of Right to Buy applications by councils protects valuable housing stock from being sold at a discount to ineligible individuals. This measure, paired with tenancy audits and proactive exercises to detect illegal subletting and unused social housing, is tackling abuse in the sector.

By recovering properties from ineligible tenants, councils can then reallocate housing to those in legitimate need. These controls, along with more stringent checks on all applications, are preventing fraud in the housing stock and reducing the overall level of housing fraud.

It’s a strategy that CIPFA thinks has worked very well – and the figures tell us that councils’ counter-fraud strategies for housing are shifting trends in the right direction.

At CIPFA, we believe our role is to help councils put in place the proper preventative measures, controls, training and governance structures to stop fraud from happening at all. There’s still much to be done across all counter-fraud areas, but this year’s CFaCT report gives us a snapshot of the real progress that has been made on council housing counter-fraud efforts.

Source

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."

Source

6 Aug 2019

Wealden's fraud team reports savings of over £400k

Wealden District Council’s counter fraud team saved the authority more than £400,000 in the last financial year.

The team investigated 69 cases in 2018/19, which when combined resulted in the council either recovering or saving £412,332.

Introducing the report, David Palmer, the council’s head of business services, said the team had been formed in 2014 as a result of a rise in cases in recent years, which he attributed to the effects of austerity.

He said: “Austerity has really caused more risks to be taken by the public. We didn’t used to have a large amount of fraud against the council, certainly not detected fraud against the council.

“The only thing we really had to rely on in the past, was a thing called the National Fraud Initiative. That still exists but is a bit behind than what we do here and still doesn’t yield great results by comparison.

“The National Fraud Initiative would have found about £30,000 in the last year, but you will see from your report, that we detected and effectively stopped fraud of £412,000. The team was formed in 2014 and since then has stopped fraud of approaching £2m.”

Since 2014, Mr Palmer said, the counter fraud team has shifted its approach, concentrating on prevention.

This prevention work currently focuses on Right to Buy applications, which are checked to ensure claims are genuine and the applicant is in a position to proceed with the purchase.

According to the report, the checks are made to ensure the council is not being used for money laundering purposes or that the applicant is purchasing on behalf of a third party.

Two such applications were stopped during the year saving a total discount of £145,900, the report says.

The report also notes an increase in the number of social housing fraud referrals being investigated, rising by 15 per cent on the previous year to a total of 20 cases. When combined, these investigations saw the council save £233,260, the report said.

Of the 69 cases investigated by the team, 16 related to investigations connected to Wealden’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS). During the year, investigations connected to council tax (including both CTRS and single person discount schemes) saw £77,261 of fraud proven.

Source

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.

Source

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

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.”

Source

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.”

Source

10 Sep 2018

Bromsgrove team claims £140k housing fraud savings

THE anti-fraud team at Bromsgrove District Housing Trust (BDHT) has saved the organisation and its customers £140,000 by successfully targeting those seeking to secure social homes they are not legally entitled to.

With housing fraud on the rise, the trust set up a dedicated team 18 months ago to investigate suspected fraud under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2012.

Working with the National Anti-Fraud Network and residents the team was able to identify fraudulent activity and, where necessary, reclaimed properties for eligible tenants.

BDHT’s communities first manager Annette Trow said: “We take housing fraud very seriously as it strips away money desperately needed to provide homes for those in urgent need of social housing.

“We have seen a particular increase in right-to-buy fraud, where we have received a request to buy a property but we discovered that the named tenant was no longer living at the address and someone else, usually a relative, was trying to purchase the property at a reduced rate.”

Fraud is a criminal offence and has severe consequences, potentially carrying a prison sentence of up to ten years.

BDHT’s chief executive Mark Robertson added: “It is sad that it was necessary for us to develop an anti-fraud team to combat the issues we and other housing associations are facing from a relatively small number of residents.”

Source

On the face of it, for a team of five to save £140,000 (over eighteen months?) doesn't look like a strong return, but we are not told how the figure was calculated.

6 Dec 2017

Man sentenced for right to buy fraud

David Cobbold, 55, from Great Horkesley, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court for sentencing. (h/t TenancyFraud)

He was found guilty by a unanimous jury verdict of fraud by false representation after he forged his deceased mother’s signature on a Right to Buy form between August 27 and September 18 2015, with the intention of obtaining a home in Rectory Road, Colchester, at a reduced price.

The jury took around two and a half hours to reach the decision.

Sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court, Cobbold was handed a two year jail sentence, suspended for two years by Judge Martyn Levett.

He was also ordered to pay costs of £2,400 and must carry out 300 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Source

18 Oct 2017

Tenancy fraud & right to buy fraud in Bassetlaw

A Bassetlaw A1 Housing tenant who was living and studying overseas for a number of years has been booted out of the property in a crackdown which has seen three fraudulent tenancies terminated.

An investigation was launched after the A1 Housing tenant applied to buy the property through the Right to Buy scheme - but it was suspected that it was not their main property.

It emerged that the tenant was "spending a considerable amount of time outside of the UK" and that they had been "living and attending university abroad for the majority of their time over a number of years".

Joint investigations by Bassetlaw District Council’s Fraud Investigations Team and A1 Housing - who manage the council's housing stock - uncovered the case and two other cases of tenancy fraud. All three resulted in voluntary terminations of the tenancies.

In the second case, the investigation team uncovered evidence that suggested a tenant was subletting their property. At an interview under caution the tenant admitted that their family had not been living at the property for the last 18 months.

And in the third case, housing officers had suspicions that the male tenant was subletting when, during a routine visit, only women's belongings could be seen in the flat. After initially denying the fraud, the tenant terminated the tenancy and returned the keys to A1 Housing.

Cllr Steve Scotthorne, cabinet member for Housing at Bassetlaw District Council, said: “Tenancy Fraud is illegal and deprives genuine tenants access to a home they may desperately need. The Council’s investigation team and A1 Housing will look closely into any suspicious circumstances and will not hesitate to recover a property, or pursue a criminal prosecution, should they find someone guilty of committing benefit fraud.”

None of the three tenants resulted in criminal prosecutions.

Tenancy cheats can face a fine of up to £50,000 and a prison sentence of up to two years if they are caught committing fraud. But the council says that should tenants voluntarily return the property back to them, they will not face any further legal action.

Tenancy fraud can include unlawfully subletting your property, dishonestly applying for a council property using someone else’s details or false information, continuing to live in a property if that person passes away and you do not have succession rights, or using someone else’s tenancy rights to put in a Right to Buy application.

Source

13 Oct 2017

Oxford recovers 21 social housing properties IN ONE YEAR

Oxford City Council's Investigation Service saved the Council £5.1 million in 2016/17, recovering 21 social housing properties that were in the hands of non-authorised occupants, and sifting out 33 fraudulent right-to-buy applications. (h/t Fraudmanager)

That was just in one year.

How much could that be nationally? Every year?

29 Sep 2017

Council crackdown uncovers millions of pounds worth of housing fraud

A crackdown has uncovered millions of pounds worth of housing fraud, according to council bosses. (h/t tenancyfraud)

Hundreds of cases of fraud or errors in applications for council housing were reported leading to dozens being marked as fraudulent.

East Dunbartonshire Council said the reports of fraud were up on previous years with almost 250 cases coming to their attention in the last year, with 42 marked fraud or containing errors.

Investigations led to 39 offers of a tenancy being withdrawn and a saving to the council coffers running into millions of pounds.

The council said each case of tenancy fraud costs and estimated £93,000 and affects others on the waiting list for housing.

The crackdown has, the council said, led to homes being unlocked for others who were further down the list who could have missed out.

The cost is estimated to be £3.6m saved.

The investigations also found three houses not to be occupied and they have since been reclaimed.

Another six homelessness applications were identified as having been made either fraudulently or in error.

The council said it has sent one case to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of criminal proceedings.

As well as the housing scams the fraud team also found Council Tax irregularities totalling £202,412, business rates evasion of £54,363 and employment-related fraud/theft of £1,139.

And on top of that a total of £89,337 was saved through the National Fraud Initiative.

The investigations across council departments found a range of fraudulent applications including for education places/funding requests and taxi licences.

Councillor Gordan Low, Leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, said, “Well done to everyone within the Corporate Fraud Team for their work over the past year. We have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption, and are committed to safeguarding public funds. Rest assured, we will continue to work with our partners to tackle all incidents of fraud - protecting the public purse and ensuring fairness as regards issues such as social housing, Council Tax and school placing requests.”

He urged the public to help the council by reporting any cases of fraud to help keep council costs down and protect council services.

Source

26 Jun 2017

Team stops £4.3m frauds in Suffolk

An anti-fraud team for three Suffolk authorities has stopped more than £4.3 million of public money being lost to fraud in the last 12 months, latest figures have shown. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

A dedicated team of five full-time specialists work across Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney councils, investigating suspicious activity in Right to Buy applications, blue badge and bus pass misuse, social housing and housing benefits and council tax fraud among other activities.

After being formed in May 2015, the team reported it had stopped more than £3.2m of fraudulent activity in its first year across the three councils, and has now reported it has prevented £4.3m for the last 12 months.

Siobhan Martin, head of internal audit for the three councils, said: “It’s really making sure the money is there for the purpose it is there for, and providing value for money. We have a zero tolerance approach to fraud, and we do really mean it because there are people losing out from this. We are here to provide a public service the public are paying for, so it is about building public confidence.”

Among some of the issues identified were people using false identification, applying for Right to Buy discounts when they were unable to demonstrate how they could pay a mortgage or were otherwise ineligible, sub-letting council houses and misusing bus passes and blue badges.

In Ipswich 29 Right to Buy applications were stopped, saving nearly £2m alone. A further 21 were stopped in Waveney saving a further £2m from being lost.

Mrs Martin said the figures did not necessarily mean more fraud was happening, but said that a greater network of contacts, more experience and the addition of another investigator has helped the team prevent more fraud from happening.

It has now been approached by other authorities and agencies to help in their own work, but reiterated its zero tolerance message to would-be fraudsters.

Mrs Martin added: “We will take them down and we will prosecute if necessary.”

A spokeswoman from Suffolk police said it worked closely with partner agencies, including the fraud team, and worked alongside it to curb any criminal activity found during investigations.

To report suspicious activity confidentially call 01473 433999.

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30 May 2017

Team tackles housing frauds in Southwark

The number of council housing fraud cases passing through Southwark Council has fallen dramatically since 2014, a report has shown. (h/t tenancyfraud)

A “special investigation” team within Southwark Council’s Housing and Modernisation Department detected 509 suspect housing-tenancy cases between April 2016 and March 2017, compared with 1,751 in 2014-15.

Investigations in 2016-17 resulted in 89 council homes being seized. 173 applicants were taken off the council’s housing waiting list, while 106 applicants were classed as “bona fide”.

The work carried out by Southwark’s two verification officers, within anti-fraud services, also saw 22 right-to-buy applications stopped or cancelled.

So they were cost effective on this measure alone.

The council received 1,005 referrals from members of public via its website, by email, and its fraud hotline in 2016-17. This contributed to 77 “successful sanctions” among the 509 suspect cases that were detected.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for housing, said:
The council has an obligation to ensure all applicants on our housing waiting list are genuinely in need and don’t have other properties, mortgages or undeclared changes to their circumstances, for example.

The council has focused on key areas which will prevent, reduce and detect fraud in order to safeguard and recover public assets – taking the matter to court where necessary.

A great deal of work has gone into improving the way the council verifies identities, cross references information and raises awareness of fraud to members of staff and the public.

Right to Buy applicants are reminded of the gravity of fraud and money laundering. These factors, combined with the push for prosecution for housing fraud, have attributed to a reduction in fraud in all areas.
The investigators’ scope was to look at unlawful subletting, non-occupation of council homes, succession, assignment, mutual exchange of homes between tenants, and right-to-buy.

Southwark has carried out annual fraud investigations of its housing department since 2014, after new government legislation.

The most prolific case to emerge from Southwark’s investigations came last year, when one of its former housing officers was handed a five year jail sentence for handling 24 bogus cases between 2003 and 2005. Five of the officer’s clients were also successfully convicted for offences such as illegal subletting of their council homes, and making applications using fraudulent birth certificates for children they didn’t.

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13 Apr 2017

Deserved jail sentence for right to buy fraudster

This is good news. Right to buy fraud is a wicked crime, taking a property out of the social housing stock at a big discount under false pretences. In this instance he was caught in time, and given an 18 month prison sentence.

A conman who tried to buy a council flat under the Right to Buy scheme was jailed after officers discovered he was illegally subletting it. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Babak Karimaghaei, 37, claimed to be living in a bedsit in Park View on the Highbury Park Estate when he applied to buy it. But Islington Council’s housing investigations team discovered he was living somewhere else, and he was prosecuted before he could get a £103,000 discount.

On Friday, March 31 at Blackfriars Crown Court, Karimaghaei was convicted of fraud by false representation, and jailed for 18 months.

Sentencing him, judge Richardson said: “Immediate custody is required to punish a cynical abuse of a right intended for people who were really living in the house which they were applying to buy.”

Town hall housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said Right-to-Buy fraud took housing away from the people who badly needed it and profited fraudsters like Karimaghaei. “We will investigate all suspected right-to-buy fraud, take legal action where there is evidence, and pursue the strongest penalties against offenders,” he said.

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31 Mar 2017

Woman convicted of social housing frauds

A woman who lied about living at her mother's council house so she could inherit it after her mum died has been convicted at court.

The case against Cara Wood, from Paignton, was brought by Plymouth City Council's Corporate Fraud team on behalf of Teignbridge Council.

Wood appeared at Plymouth Magistrates Court on Tuesday, where she was convicted of making a false claim on 9 October 2014 to Teign Housing by stating that she lived at 39 Furlong Close, Buckfast for at least 12 months with a view to gaining a succession right to the property following her mother's death.

On further investigation, the electoral roll and council tax records of Teignbridge Council showed Cara Wood's mother, Deborah Lawton, as living alone at the property during the period Wood referred to, and Wood actually living above a wine bar at 14 North Street, Ashburton at the time of her mother's death. The court heard Wood had not lived at the Furlong Close address for at least five years.

Wood was also convicted of making a dishonest false statement with a view to gain for herself by indicating that she had held a social tenancy for at least three years to qualify for the Right to Buy a social housing property at 29 Westabrook in Ashburton by stating that she had held a social housing property between August 2008 and June 2015.

Had Wood been successful in her Right To Buy application, she would have saved herself £57,750 on buying the property. The court was told she withdrew her application after an interview under caution.

Wood received a five month prison sentence for each offence to run consecutively, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £450 and a victim surcharge of £85.

In mitigation, the court heard that Wood had been pressured by family members to apply so her sister and her family could obtain the property. Wood said she did it to stop her sister and children from becoming homeless.

Councillor Ian Darcy, cabinet member for finance for Plymouth City Council said: "This case sends a clear message that we will not tolerate any fraud in Plymouth, and in particular housing fraud, at a time when there is a large waiting list for social housing. The conviction was for an offence that is contrary to the Fraud Act 2006. Social housing properties are at a premium in the UK and a scarce asset. Social housing cheats deprive those in genuine need of one of the most basic needs in life – somewhere to live."

The Corporate Fraud Team operate as the South West Anti-Fraud Service and cover the whole region. They said they have already had a number of successes for other local authorities across Devon as well as Plymouth City Council.

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