March 9 2014 Latest news:
Kay Atwal, Chief Reporter
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
An initiative to bring illegally sublet council homes back into use has seen the return of 26 homes to Newham Council.
New legislation introduced in October last year made tenancy fraud a criminal offence and has now saved the authority £1.4million.
Newham Council launched a key amnesty which ran from October until January 2014 offering tenants who had either illegally sublet their property or left it vacant, to hand the property back rather than face prosecution.
As a result, 26 council homes are in the process of being returned while another six are still being investigated. The council has already recovered 19 of the 26 homes which will be relet to families on the housing waiting list. According to figures from the Audit Commission, the return of these homes has saved the council more than £1.4m.
During the four month amnesty 50 people contacted the council, some to voluntarily hand back their keys, others to report illegal subletting. Tenants who admitted to subletting were given time to vacate the property.
The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013, which became law in October 2013, means tenancy fraud is now a criminal offence and punishable by a custodial sentence of up to two years and a £5,000 fine. It also gives the council power to recover profits made from fraud.
The council conducts regular audit checks on all of its properties. It also has a tenancy database which includes photographs of more than 11,000 tenants.
Cllr Andrew Baikie, executive member for Housing and Customer Service, said: “Tenancy fraud costs the council thousands of pounds and robs residents who may have been on the housing register for years of a home. Bringing these properties back into our housing stock frees them up for someone on the council’s waiting list.”