Housing Minister John Healey has today launched the first-ever national crackdown on tenancy cheats to recover up to 10,000 council and housing association homes fraudulently sub-let, and release them to those in real need.
Tenancy cheats live elsewhere and can earn thousands of pounds a year by unlawfully sub-letting their properties at higher rental rates. If caught they will lose their tenancy, and could lose their right to social housing in future.
Those occupying these properties may not know about the fraud but 80 per cent do not qualify for a council or housing association home, and instead have to find a new home through the private rented sector.
The Audit Commission have suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully acquired or sub-let could range from one in 100 to as many as one in 20 in some inner-city areas - totalling as many as 50,000 homes nationwide.
145 councils, including Barking and Daganham, have signed up to the Government's first ever national crackdown on housing fraud. With councils working alongside the housing associations in their areas, they will benefit from a share of £4million to set up their own anti-fraud initiatives - including special hotlines and crack squads to investigate allegations of fraud.
Mr Healey has today handed over to councils and housing associations leads to follow to potential tenancy cheats in their communities, found through data sweeps by the Audit Commission matching tenancy records against records held by councils, housing associations and other public bodies.
Public tip-offs are vital to tackling the fraudsters - half of all homes recovered from cheats are done so after tip-offs from neighbours. So he is offering a reward of £500 to anyone whose information leads to the recovery of one of the first 1,000 homes.
The average cost of recovering a property from a tenancy cheat can be as little as £3,000 - while the total cost of building a new council or housing association home can reach well over £100,000.
This anti-fraud drive to recover homes comes on top of the largest council house-building programme for nearly two decades and new guidance for councils to manage their waiting lists according to local priorities.
John Healey said:
"We can't allow cheats to hang onto the tenancies of council houses they don't need and don't live in. I want people to feel the system for housing families who need homes is fairer and that's why I'm launching this national crackdown on tenancy fraud.
"This is first-ever fraud drive nationwide, which could free up as many as 10,000 homes for those on council waiting lists, with £4million and 8,000 hot leads for suspect tenants, 145 councils across the country can today get this crackdown on fraud off to a flying start.
"But public tip-offs are vital in tackling this problem. So I am also offering £500 to anyone whose information leads to us recovering one of the first 1,000 homes."
Councils and housing associations are also being given practical advice on how best to tackle housing fraud, as well as access to posters and leaflets that they can adapt to meet their needs, to encourage people in their area to come forward with any information they may have on local fraudsters.