Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Sector backs plans to criminalise tenancy fraud

Plans to create a new criminal offence for people who commit tenancy fraud have been broadly welcomed by the sector.

A consultation on social housing fraud, published by the Communities and Local Government department in January, calls for subletting tenants to face two years in prison or a fine of up to £50,000.

The consultation closes today, and submissions from councils and housing associations indicate that the sector is behind tougher sanctions.

Mark Rogers, chief executive of Circle Group, said: ‘During our work to combat [tenancy fraud], we have seen some disturbing cases where the original tenant has made significant amounts of money while also depriving people in housing need of a home to call their own.

‘We hope that proposals to make this a criminal offence will make it clear that this is fraud which is a drain on communities and should not be tolerated.’

John Bryant, policy leader at the National Housing Federation, said: ‘We are broadly supportive of the proposals, but there are some problems with technical issues that need to be worked through.

‘We need to be careful that the availability of criminal sanctions doesn’t get in the way of existing civil remedies.’

A response from 20,000-home housing association Moat also supported the proposal, although it said the organisation does not anticipate ‘large numbers of prosecutions’ under a new offence.

Councils backed the introduction of a criminal offence of tenancy fraud, although some questions were raised about how often it would be used. A draft response from Tower Hamlets anticipates it would be ‘extremely rare’ for it seek a criminal prosecution, although it notes the stronger sanctions could act as a deterrent.

Wandsworth Council said it would have taken criminal action in around 40 per cent of tenancy fraud cases it has pursued over the past three years if the powers had been available. It suggested the ability to seek criminal prosecutions for tenancy fraud should be extended to housing associations.

Under the plans local authorities would be able to bring prosecutions for tenancy fraud. Housing associations would not have access to the same powers, due to concerns over the impact this would have on whether they are classified as private or public bodies, so would have to work with a local authority partner to instigate criminal proceedings.

The government will make a statement on the responses later this year.

Readers' comments (33)

  • I have trouble understanding this point that comes up about the difference between housing associations and councils.

    A couple of years back the high profile case of Weaver v. London & Quadrant ended with the courts deciding that housing associations are public bodies for the purposes of their housing management functions. Surely this sub-letting business comes under housing management functions.

    Is there a lawyer in the house?

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  • athair_siochain

    Two years in jail or a fifty thousand pound fine for subletting, now that stinks, the landlord is free to do what ever, they charge high rents, because there is no law to protect tenants I realise most of the government officials with power more than likely collect rent, I do know the Majority of politicians on all sides collect rent and interest.

    Where are all these people, that can thank a tenant who is subletting for a roof over their heads going to go, the fact is we have a Council that is creating a situation where a shortage of a place to stay, will give greedy landlords more incentive to charge higher rents,
    How can subletting be a fraud, when the real landlords are are the bedbugs of humanity, will be celebrating, and the question is where are all the students going to stay?

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  • So, who are we going to criminalise? The occupant who rented a cheap flat from someone advertising on Gumtree? The tenant who sub let? The bone idle management office who can’t be bothered to knock on the door from time to time to find out who is living in the property they manage? Why not criminalise private landlords who let properties in substantial disrepair or charge excessive rents? What about the failure of successive Governments to provide suitable appropriate accommodation at a fair and reasonable rent; that must be criminal.

    If you really want to make a change that will give people access to a home why not legalise squatting in properties that are registered as empty homes by local Councils? Remember that most empty homes are repossessed properties held by banks and building societies that are waiting for the market to pick up before they try and sell these assets.

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  • athair_siochain

    What will happen to people who have children teenagers who contribute to the familypurse,
    The landlords control most of our government institutions, how many landlords are on Wandworth Council? do most of them collect rent, if they do, then they should lower their heads in shame,

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  • The attacks on tenants has gone on relentlessly creating more and more criminal offences for them but none for the landlords abusing tenants in all sorts of ways.

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  • I am sorry but what are you all on??? This housing is all at least part funded by the tax payer so if someone gets a 'council house' and pays say £400pcm for a 2 bed property then lets it out in the PRS for say £700 pcm because they can live somewhere else this is wrong on so many levels, this housing is meant for vulnerable members of our sociaty not profiteers! I am areally sorry, i agree tenants get a raw deal and are being squezed but come on this is just wrong, it should be treated as fraud and those who do it should be jumped on from a very high hieght, it is NOT a victimless crime and just saying housing associations or councils are too lazy to chaise it up does not make it right. Rant over. (I also agree landlords need more regulation and tougher punishments if they do things wrong)

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  • Adam Farrands, you must look at the whole picture and at the fact that tenants of all type and kind are suffering and are going to suffer even more for their constant demonisation over many years... You say that subletting is not a victimless crime...
    then explain to me - or better to yourself - why a tenants are allowed to buy the properties they live in and sell them off to a profit? What is the difference with tenants subletting their properties for a profit?... Why am I allowed to buy and sell my tenancy and not to sublet it?... Can't you see that the wrong is in the government playing football with tenants for its own agenda?...

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  • Surely subletting should be a far less crime, if crime it is, than buying and selling your tenancy for a profit?... Why aren't they both made into crime?... And if they should not be crimes, surely the aspiration of some tenants to sublet can't be worse than that of some tenants to buy their properties for whatever use they will make of them, live in them or sell them off for a profit?

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  • And of course landlords love this because is yet another weapon in their hands to bash their tenants with if and when they wish to - because I suspect they will not use it against tenants they 'like'.

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  • I am a private landlord and can understand the arguement from both sides however tenants are always the first to have a pop at their landlords about sub quality properties etc. Lets put the shoe on the other foot, I look after my properties in my portfolio however we regularly have tenants damaging proiperties also taking the rent the council pays them for my rent and they spend it on alcohol etc leaving me out of poicket to pay the mortgate.

    Why not create a two way database of bad landlords so tenants can chose who they want to rent off, however also have an up to date database or unruly, untrustworthy, fruadulent tenants and create an even playing field for all parties - meaning tenants are looked after and also so are good landlords.

    A one strike and your out database.................

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