Social Housing Speed Read: New Report estimates nearly 150,000 social homes involved in Tenancy Fraud
4th July, 2023
A new report has been published by the Tenancy Fraud Forum (TFF) in partnership with the Fraud Advisory Panel: 'Lost homes, lost hope: Social housing fraud in England – recovering social homes for those in need'.
The report, available to read here, attempts to address the absence of official data collected in respect of tenancy fraud and calls for social housing providers, policy makers and the Regulator of Social Housing to take new measures to address the problem.
Between 2009 (when the Audit Commission first published tenancy fraud detection rates for each local authority) and 2014, increased accountability and awareness led to a considerable increase in detections of tenancy fraud by local authorities.
However, since the government’s creation of a Single Fraud Investigation Service in 2016, leading to a decrease in in-house local authority fraud investigators, and the dissolution of the Audit Commission in 2015, there has been very limited data available in respect of tenancy fraud detection. The generally accepted estimate is that “nearly 98,000” social homes in England could be subject to some sort of tenancy fraud, but this figure originates from a report by the Audit Commission in 2012, and is therefore clearly considerably out of date.
The TFF Report, which is very critical of the lack of data collection and analysis, asserts that the availability of accurate data is fundamental to tackling the issue of tenancy fraud, and aims to “build a bridge” over the “data chasm” between social housing stakeholders and a properly calibrated fraud response by providing a snapshot of current social housing fraud.
In order to examine the scale of current tenancy fraud and the extent of detection deficit, the TFF has carried out a series of calculations based on a combination of historic data and current data for sub-letting offences gathered by local authorities (reportedly the only type of tenancy fraud data currently collected).
The Report highlights that tenancy fraud detections have more than halved between 2013/2014 (the last year for which data was published by the Audit Commission) and 2019/2020 (when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted trends in data collection). It estimates that 3,691 more properties remained subject to fraud in 2019/2020 than should have been the case, at a total cost of £155 million to the public purse. However, the Report suggests that this doesn’t capture the full scale of the problem, and that if “good practice” in tenancy fraud detection had been more widely adopted during this period, levels of detection may have doubled rather than halved.
Alarmingly, TFF estimates that in the year 2019/2020 76% of tenancy frauds in England went undetected, and that at least 148,000 social homes in England were subject to tenancy fraud.
The Report calls on providers of social housing (both local authorities and housing associations) to increase measures to tackle tenancy fraud, such as strengthening recovery using tools such as Unlawful Profit Orders and adopting good practice in tenancy audits. However, it stresses that ultimately it is central government and the Regulator of Social Housing which must “take the lead” in addressing the issue. TFF calls on the government and the Regulator to collect and publish comprehensive, sector-wide tenancy fraud detection data, fund the adoption of good practice in tenancy fraud management by all social housing providers and also hold providers to account.
While it remains to be seen whether the Report will have any impact on the way tenancy fraud is monitored or addressed in England, it nevertheless paints a worrying picture of both the extent and consequences of fraud and the prospects for decreasing the impact of tenancy fraud upon the provision of social housing should the government and the Regulator not take the lead in sector-wide reforms.
If you have any questions on the above and how it may affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or another member of our expert Social Housing Team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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