Winston Leigertwood, Southern Housing Group’s Tenancy Fraud Investigation Officer, talks about his role and what the Group is doing to fight tenancy fraud.
In 2015-16, 17 properties were returned to Southern Housing Group as a result of tenancy fraud. Of these, two tenants were convicted and ordered to pay back the profits they had made through subletting. Each year, around 5% of Group properties are investigated for fraud.
What does your role entail?
I investigate cases of tenancy fraud that come to me as reports or referrals. This includes external searches using intelligence databases, data matching, interviewing tenants and witnesses, interviewing people under caution, training and updating staff about tenancy fraud, preparing cases for legal action, and representing Southern Housing Group in court.
How widespread is the problem of tenancy fraud?
It’s quite high – not just for Southern Housing Group, but for other registered social landlords and local authorities as there is a housing shortage and high demand for rental properties.
We treat tenancy fraud seriously and we are committed to ensuring Southern Housing Group properties are used by people with genuine housing needs.
How do you come to know of properties being sublet?
It varies; sometimes reports are raised by staff members or customers, other times outside agencies such as the police, local authorities or registered social landlords will come to us.
What can people do if they suspect a property of being sublet?
What happens when someone is suspected of tenancy fraud?
Once we have evidence of tenancy fraud, we take the most appropriate action considering the type and extent of fraud.
This may include:
Obtaining a possession order to evict the tenant
Recovering any profits the tenant has made from subletting their home via an Unlawful Profit Order
Supporting the relevant local authority to prosecute the tenant
If a tenant is found guilty of tenancy fraud, we give them an opportunity to terminate their tenancy and inform them of the actions we may take under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. Under the act, those convicted could face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to £50,000. The courts also have the power to order the tenant to pay back any profits the tenant has made through illegal subletting. Nine time out of ten, the tenant chooses to vacate their property.
Case study: Ms A, Hackney
A local authority recently advised Southern Housing Group’s Housing Options Team that, while visiting a Hackney-based client, they were introduced to a man who the client claimed was his landlord. This man claimed he was given the property – a one-bed, two-person flat in Hackney - by an unnamed relative who no longer needed the property.
The Housing Options Team checked internal databases for information on the registered tenant, carried out investigations, and undertook an unannounced tenancy audit at the address. They also interviewed the unauthorised occupants and got statements and evidence of tenancy fraud.
Southern Housing Group then issued a Notice to Quit and Notice of Seeking Possession to the registered tenant of the property, Ms A, who did not attend the court hearing. Southern Housing group was subsequently awarded outright possession of the property and Ms A was ordered to repay £3,000 in profits she had made from subletting the flat.
For all enquiries, please contact:
Mary Weeks Communications Manager Southern Housing Group 0207 553 6841