Tenancy cheats can earn thousands of pounds a year renting their social homes out to private tenants – but if caught, may currently face no greater penalty than losing their tenancy.
Shapps wants to see much greater legal consequences for these cheats – and so is consulting on proposals that would introduce specific criminal offences for tenancy fraud, such as those which already exist for social security fraud.
Some estimates suggest that between 50,000 and 160,000 social homes are currently being unlawfully occupied across the country.
The Minister said the plans would also strengthen councils’ legal rights as landlords to help them detect and prosecute tenancy fraud more effectively and return lost revenue back to local coffers.
* A new criminal offence with a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £50,000 if the case goes to the Crown court;
* Proceeds of tenancy fraud to be reimbursed to the social landlord in whose stock the fraud was committed rather than being confiscated by the State;
* More powers for local authorities to investigate social tenancy fraud through better access to data from banks and utility companies. While councils can currently request data, organisations can refuse to provide it. The proposed changes would oblige them to comply.
Shapps said: "Tenancy cheats are taking advantage of a vital support system for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and getting away with a slap on the wrist while our waiting lists continue to grow. It’s time for these swindlers to pay the price.
"It would cost us billions of pounds to replace the huge number of unlawfully occupied social homes across the country. Meanwhile tenancy cheats can earn thousands of pounds letting out their property, which was given to them in good faith and which could instead be offering a stable home to a family in need.
"The proposals I’ve announced [today] would not only deliver justice to these fraudsters, but will also act as a deterrent to those who think they can earn a fast buck from this precious resource. I want everyone to know that our country’s social homes are going to those in genuine need, not providing a ‘nice little earner’ to someone who could afford to live elsewhere."
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