At last … something to praise the coalition for …


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Council tenancy fraud:  new law proposed to end sub-letting.

Sub-letting by local authority tenants could see them jailed under proposals being considered by the government, targeting an estimated 50,000 people who  are living elsewhere whilst renting out their council homes. Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that under the proposed new laws those abusing the system will lose their tenancies and face a prison sentence. The properties would then be rented to those with the highest place on the council housing list.

Grant Shapps, the housing minister, said: “Social housing is really precious and it’s not right that tenancy fraud and abuse locks out some of the most vulnerable families from getting a roof over their heads.” At the moment it is not illegal to rent out a property in this way. The estimates of losses – those who need a home having to rent from the private sector – runs to around £4 billion a year. There is currently no criminal sanction against council home sub-letting, which is believed to cost about £5bn a year. Some people who sub-let are thought to earn as much as £20,000 a year from the arrangement.

Sub-letting is specifically excluded in local authority and housing association tenancies but this type of letting is often carried out subversively. Prevention therefore requires evening or very early morning visit and often surveillance to uncover the wrongdoing. Naturally local authorities have been worried about the invasion of privacy or even human rights implications but  while it is important to protect the civil liberties of tenants who live in the property, not pursuing a robust line lets the fraudster go about his business.

The government should set up a registration system for let properties with HMRC through the land registry. This would at least demarcate who is a legal occupier and who isn’t. The fines for evasion of registration should be set high – a year’s rent would be sobering slap for a fraudster – and imprisonment for persistent offenders. Well done Mr. Shapps, it looks like you are at last earning your salary. This legislation has been overdue for years as the practice has been known about since the 1980s.

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