The financial and social impact of housing fraud will come under the spotlight next week as part of a regional awareness campaign.
Housing fraud is the third biggest type of fraud affecting councils in the UK, costing local authorities £135.6m in 2018/2019. It can also contribute to problems such as anti-social behaviour and vandalism within communities.
The North East Tenancy Fraud Forum is committed to tackling the issue and from Monday 3 February it will host its annual Regional Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week. The forum includes the council and local authorities in Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside, along with Livin Housing, Believe Housing, Home Group, Gentoo Group, Your Homes Newcastle, Johnnie Johnson Housing, The Gateshead Housing Group, North Star and Karbon Homes.
This week forum members will lead a social media campaign to raise awareness of the different types of housing fraud and to encourage members of the public to report their suspicions.
Types of housing fraud
Unlawful subletting- where a tenant lets out their council or housing association home without the knowledge or permission of their landlord;
Abandonment- where a tenant parts possession with their socially rented property, has no intention to return and does not inform the landlord;
Right to Buy/Acquire- where a tenant has applied for or completed the purchase of a socially rented home under the Right to Buy/Right to Acquire Scheme when they are not entitled, or misrepresented their circumstances to gain a discount;
Wrongly claimed succession- where a tenant dies or moves out and someone, who is not entitled to, tries to take over or succeed the tenancy;
Unlawful assignment- where a resident stops using their tenancy as their main or principal home, allowing another person to live there without permission;
Key selling- where a tenant is paid to pass on their keys in return for a one-off payment.
Each day, key messages focusing on a different theme will be sent out on social media with the hashtag #NEHousingFraud. The themes are: General housing fraud on Monday, abandonment on Tuesday, false application on Wednesday, false Right to Buy/Acquire on Thursday and illegal subletting on Friday.
Steven Graham, joint chair of the North East Tenancy Fraud Forum and our fraud manager, said: "Regional Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week aims to highlight both the financial and the social impacts of housing fraud and corruption.
"We are tireless in our mission to protect our members, partners and the public from fraud and corruption. We are adopting a zero-tolerance policy and view any act of fraud or attempted fraud as a serious offence.
Members of the public can report their concerns or suspicions through their local council or housing provider, and we would encourage people to do so to help us fight fraud. Reports can be made anonymously, will be investigated promptly and when proven, appropriate action will be taken."
Helping people in genuine need
Amy Hodgson, joint chair and our corporate fraud investigator at Northumberland County Council, said: "The forum is committed to tackling social housing fraud and raising awareness of this, to ensure that housing associations are able to provide housing to people in genuine need.
"Good housing provision has been proven to have a positive impact on health, education and the social care needs of a community, so the wider potential benefits to hard-working families are very important.
"Alongside the benefits of protecting the public purse, tackling issues such as property abandonment can help to prevent problems such as anti-social behaviour and vandalism in a community."