Headlines: March 9th, 2010

The New Local Government Network is today calling for the sub-letting of social housing to be made a criminal offence. In a detailed report it estimates that there are at least 50,000 people living in homes they have no right to and that 80 per cent of them do not qualify for council help.

The NLGN report says it is imperative that central government now makes the changes that would make it possible for tenants who sub-let their homes to be prosecuted for fraud. That step, it says, would enable local authorities to galvanise their efforts and minimise the high social and financial costs of tenancy fraud, which it puts at 750 million pounds.

In the report, ‘Don’t Let On’, the author Tom Symons says that sub-letting and the fact that the social housing register is now close a record high of 1.76 million, the time has come to think more radically about how the problem can be tackled on a wider scale. Councils, he writes, face two key problems, difficulty in sharing information and the perception thatsub-letting is not a serious offence. These lead intuitively to the need for unlawful sub-letting to be elevated to a criminal rather than civil offence. This would put the matter on the same legal footing as other types of benefits fraud and would give councils greater scope to recover more properties and reduce the amount of sub-letting in the first instance.

Mr. Symons says the national crackdown on tenancy fraud has been a step in the right direction but adds: “There is huge scope to adopt a more radical approach and start addressing, on a more fundamental level, the major barriers that are faced by local authorities when tackling unlawful sub-letting.”