Criminalising tenancy fraud could reduce sub-letting if housing providers have sufficient resources to detect the problem, says Kerry Gwyther
Tougher measures are to be introduced to combat social housing fraud if Conservative MP Richard Harrington’s private member’s bill becomes law.
Illegal subletting does not fit easily within the existing criminal offences of fraud which has meant that not many cases have been successfully prosecuted. Consequently, most cases are dealt with by civil proceedings where the worst punishment the tenant can expect is to be evicted.
However, under the measures introduced by the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill social housing, tenants that illegally sublet their properties would face up to two years imprisonment as well as potentially unlimited fines. Social housing landlords would additionally be able to recover the profits obtained as a result of the fraud.
Local authorities would be tasked with prosecuting tenants within their area and taking action on behalf of private social housing providers.
The eviction process would also be made be less onerous for landlords. Assured tenants would lose their assured status under the proposals if found to be illegally sub-letting. In such circumstances, the tenancy could be brought to an end by giving notice which creates a level playing field between secure and assured tenants.
These measures should provide a much needed, and long overdue, deterrent to help tackle the estimated 150,000 social housing tenants that are illegally sub-letting their properties in the UK at a cost of £900 million a year to the taxpayer.
Although the key to success is likely to be ensuring that housing providers have sufficient resources and robust systems in place to be able to detect fraud in the first instance. Careful consideration will have to be given as to how housing providers exercise their investigatory powers to avoid being embroiled in any claims relating to harassment and unlawful eviction.
The next stage is for the Bill to go before the Public Bill Committee for review before it receives a final reading.