Tuesday, 23 May 2017

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.

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