The Government has launched a national crackdown on social housing fraud to recover up to 10,000 council and housing association homes fraudulently sublet and occupied, and release them to those in real need.
The Audit Commission has suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully acquired or sublet could range from 1 in 100 to as many as 1 in 20 in some inner-city areas - totalling as many as 50,000 homes nationwide.
Fraudulent tenants earn thousands of pounds a year by unlawfully subletting their properties at higher rental rates. Sub-tenants may not know about the fraud but 80% do not qualify for a council or housing association home. If caught both the tenants and sub-tenants will lose their tenancy and could lose their right to future social housing.
147 councils have signed up to the Government's crackdown on housing fraud,
including every council in London. As part of the crackdown, the Government
will distribute £4 million to help councils and local housing associations set
up anti-fraud initiatives - including special hotlines and crack squads to
investigate allegations of fraud.
The Department for Communities and Local Communities has also handed 8,000 leads to councils and housing associations to follow potential tenancy cheats in their communities - these tenants were identified 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 also vital in tackling fraudsters - half of all homes recovered from cheats are done so after tip-offs from neighbours. So the Government is offering a £500 reward 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.
Announcing the crackdown, Housing Minister 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."
And Sarah Webb, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: "Unlawful sub-letting and occupation of scarce affordable housing is worse than theft. In addition to the financial loss to the public, it also means some families are missing out on a decent, affordable home and all that this can bring."