Council Tenants Could Face Prison or a Fine for Sub-letting

by Mark Johnston

Presently there are nearly 5 million people on a waiting list for social housing; most of these families will not get a home any time soon.

However, almost 160,000 council homes are being sub-let by their tenants, this practice increases the pressure on the public purse, through providing those who need a home urgently and can not get one with temporary accommodation.

According to the audit commission there are around 80,000 people currently in temporary accommodation, which is costing the tax payer more than £2 billion a year.

Data has shown that in 2009 around 50,000 council homes were being sub-let, but fresh analysis concluded that the true figure is now approximately 157,077.

Social housing tenancy fraud is the use of social housing by someone who is not entitled to occupy that home.

Nick Mothershaw, Experian’s director of fraud and identity, said “our initial research suggests that the level of social housing tenancy fraud in Britain could be much higher than previously estimated”.

At the present time sub-letting a council property is not a criminal offence. A loophole in the system allows some council tenants who have moved out and live in private homes to make thousands of pounds in rent above the figure they are charged by local authorities.

The only thing that can happen to them at the moment if they are found out is they will lose the right to live in the council house, which given that they are likely to have moved out anyway is not much of a hardship. Many experts say that “it is extraordinary that this is still the case”.

Grant Shapps, the housing minister said that “the current system was a scandal, which the government was determined to end”. He also added “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 waiting lists continue to grow”.

The government therefore now feels that sub-letting council properties needs to become a criminal offence as the current rules are ‘too weak’.

Under the governments new proposals council tenants who do sub-let their homes will face up to a maximum of 2 years in prison or fines of up to £50,000. The money gained through these fines would be then handed back to the social landlord in whose stock the fraud was committed rather than going in to government coffers.

The department for communities and local government said of the proposal “ministers have been clear of their commitment to tackle tenancy fraud, which costs this country billions of pounds and means people who could otherwise be housed are losing out. That’s why in addition to a national crackdown, which has been backed with £19 million government cash, we will shortly publish proposals for consultation to criminalise tenancy fraud”.

With in these proposals local authorities would also gain stronger powers to investigate fraud, including easier access to data from banks and utility companies.

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