Social tenants who sub-let their accommodation may find themselves guilty of fraud with a proposed change in legislation. Indications that may cause social tenants to become of interest to fraud investigators are primarily linked to tenants having additional addresses for bills or active credit accounts.
According to the department for Communities and Local Government, some estimates suggest that between 50,000 and 160,000 social homes are currently being unlawfully occupied across the country.
While sub-letting social housing is currently not a criminal offence, it is considered a civil offence and tenants who sub-let are often asked to hand back their keys to the council or housing association that owns the property. Claiming housing benefit for a property where someone is not resident is a crime and the claimant can be prosecuted for benefit fraud.
Housing minister Graham Shapps has said, "Tenancy cheats are taking advantage of a vital support system for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and getting away with a slap on the wrist while our waiting lists continue to grow. It's time for these swindlers to pay the price.”
Last week, Shelina Akhtar, a councillor in the London borough of Tower Hamlets was convicted of £1100 in housing benefit fraud. The cost of her monthly rent was £400. She earned a significant profit through subletting the property for £1000 a month.
Councils and Housing Associations are currently required to pursue social tenants through the courts when evidence of sub-letting is apparent and landlords wish to evict. In 2011, 1800 properties were reported to have been recovered via formal evictions. Sub-letting tenants can be left in the dark as to who owns the property and can find themselves in the centre of eviction proceedings.
The way forward for social housing tenancies
Graham Shapps is committed to greater legal consequences for social tenants who are intent on taking advantage of the current law. Proposals for a change in legislation are currently in the consultation stage. If these proposals become law offences for tenancy fraud may carry similar consequences to social security fraud.
The Housing Minister envisages stronger legal rights for social landlords, particularly, local councils who will be focused on detecting and prosecuting tenancy fraud. Lost revenue is a concern and needs to be recovered to benefit communities.
Overall, local councils would have more powers to investigate social tenancy fraud. This would be provided by having better access to data from banks and utility companies. While councils can currently request data organisations can refuse to supply customer information. The proposed legislation would oblige them to comply.
Learn more about new social tenancy fraud legislation
To follow progress of the consultation for the proposed change to legislation to make sub-letting social property a criminal offence, visit the Communities and Local Government website
Please note that Action Fraud is not responsible for the content of external websites.
Anyone who has been a victim of fraud should report it to Action Fraud.