The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act comes into force from today (15 October 2013), and means anyone found guilty of committing this tenancy fraud will face a fine and a custodial sentence of up to 2 years. Previously they faced little more than having to hand back the keys to a property they weren’t living in.
Tenancy cheats who live elsewhere and rent out their social home could cost the taxpayer as much as £1.8 billion a year, while making thousands of pounds in profits.
It is estimated that around 100,000 social homes in England could be unlawfully occupied.
Today’s new laws seek to redress the balance, and will give social landlords the power to recover the proceeds of sub-letting. This comes on top of £19 million government funding given to councils across the country to combat this fraud.
Measures including setting up specialist investigation teams and advanced data-matching techniques have been known to help individual landlords recover more than 100 homes a year - and uncover even larger cases of benefit fraud.
Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said:
For years, tenancy cheats have been able to carry on with their fraudulent activity, denying social homes to people in real need while facing little more than a slap on the wrist if they got caught.
Today’s new powers will ensure social tenants found sub-letting their home will face the real threat of prison time and a fine, while social landlords will have the ability to recover the profits they make.
These new powers have come into force after the government backed a Private Member’s Bill by Conservative MP for Watford Richard Harrington.
Richard Harrington said:
I am delighted that this Bill and the new measures will come into force. This will make a real difference to the many hardworking people and families waiting for a home, and no longer will those individuals who exploit the system to make money off the taxpayer be able to get away with it.
Social tenancy fraud has been a significant problems in major cities and the South East, including my own constituency of Watford. I have been shocked and appalled that people have been able to get away with defrauding the tax payer for so long and I am pleased that my Bill will go a long way in preventing this and properly dealing with those who continue to break the law.