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Fraud in UK social housing costs £1bn per year

Fraud in UK social housing costs £1bn per year

Fraud in UK social housing costs £1bn per year

Across the UK it is estimated that 50,000 housing association and council homes are occupied by someone who shouldn’t live there or have obtained the tenancy fraudulently.

These can fall into several categories:

  • Unlawful subletting– where a tenant lets out their council or housing association home without the knowledge or permission of their landlord. They often continue to pay the rent for the property directly to their landlord, but charge the person they are subletting to a much higher rate. It is unlawful and unfair to sublet and to profit from a property which could be given to someone legally entitled to occupy it. The Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 makes it a criminal offence for a tenant to sublet their home. The maximum penalty is a two-year jail sentence and a fine of up to £50,000. The court also has the power to make the tenant pay back any profits made through subletting.
  • Obtaining housing by deception– where a person gets a council or housing association home by giving false information in their application, for example not telling the landlord they are renting another council or housing association property or giving false information about who lives with them.
  • Wrongly claimed succession– where a tenant dies and someone, who is not entitled to, tries to take over or succeed the tenancy. For example, they might say they lived with the tenant before they died, when in fact they were living elsewhere.
  • Key selling– where a tenant is paid to pass on their keys in return for a one-off payment

Social housing is a valuable national asset with over four million social housing properties in England providing homes for many low income households and families. At a time when demand for social housing is outstripping supply it is estimated that up to 50,000 homes may be unlawfully sublet which equates to more than 1 in 100 housing association and council homes across England. With temporary accommodation for homeless families costing Councils’ around £18,000 per family, per year, the public purse is being depleted to the tune of nearly £1 billion per annum.

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What can be done about this?

From a practical point of view is it viable to go around all of the Council and Housing Association properties in the whole of the country? Probably not, but better ways of vetting people initially through specific forms of identification being requested, checking bank statements, a visit to a previous address when a new tenancy starts or encouraging other tenants to inform the relevant authority on potential subletting, could yeild dividends.

Sources. Town and Country Housing/Peabody Group and The Audit Commission

SIRS achieves ISO 27001 accreditation again!

SIRS achieves ISO 27001 accreditation again!

ISO 27001 – SIRS achieves key accreditation once again!

We are pleased to report that our certification for the ISO 27001 standard – Information Security Management – has been renewed until 2020.

We are one of the few tracing and investigation companies to hold this accreditation and it reflects our commitment to ensuring the highest possible standards. In continuing to achieve this standard we reaffirm our commitment to keep our clients’ data safe and have a robust approach to information security.

An Information Security Management system is a framework of policies and procedures that includes all legal, physical and technical controls involved in an organisation’s information risk management processes.It is an internationally recognised standard and involves 114 controls in 14 clauses and 35 control categories.

To qualify for the renewal, we were audited to confirm that the organisation remains in compliance with the standard.

Commenting on the Teams continued success, John Wood, Director said, “This shows SIRS’ commitment to quality – particularly from a clients view point. The staff should be pleased with the part they have played in ensuring this accreditation has been retained.”

 

 

Surveillance – It’s not just for TV shows!

Surveillance – It’s not just for TV shows!

Blog – May 2019

Surveillance – It’s not just for TV shows! 

Surveillance can be a vital tool in obtaining real time information. In the real world of commercial investigations – rather than say how the Police may go about observing a subject – cost does play a major role. However, the number of operatives utilised and how these are deployed is key to obtaining results. Two operatives could say be split to one in a car and one walking, or one on a motorbike and one in a car – which can be particularly effective in a large congested city.

It should always be borne in mind with surveillance that a no result is still a result eg where an employee is off work due to illness, it may be found that he or she does actually have a problem walking or doesn’t leave the house. Similarly, the unexpected can happen. One of the newspapers favourites used to be where a person claiming say disability allowance is seen playing football or is the regular linesperson. Amazing recovery!

Surveillance is very useful across a number of sectors:

Insolvency – Following company directors who may be working when they are banned. Undertaking surveillance on a company the day prior to a Freezing Order being issued to check on any assets being removed.

Employment – Checking on employees who are off work sick – are they working elsewhere? Do you know where your top sales person is going everyday – are they meeting clients, simply staying at home or in liaison with the competition waiting for the opportunity to move companies and take your clients with them?

Family – In cohabitation cases, is a clients ex living with a new partner. How does this affect maintenance payments?

Evidence must be acquired in the correct way. Witness statements tell a story but photographic or video evidence provide so much more.

Better Council Tax collection methods would lead to a higher level of services or cheaper bills

Better Council Tax collection methods would lead to a higher level of services or cheaper bills

Blog – May 2019

Better council tax collection methods would lead to a higher level of services or cheaper bills ……………………….I don’t think so!

Why does this never happen?

Two articles caught my eye in recent weeks relating to Council Tax Recoveries.The first in the Guardian stated that “an analysis of government figures found the total amount of council tax arrears across England in the 2017-18 financial year was £944m, 37% higher than in 2012-13, when it was £691m.”

Imagine the additional services that could be delivered with that amount.

The average collection rate for a Council in England for 2017-18 is 97.1%. Consider the amounts involved across all the Councils.

The second was a Government press release,

“Every year, councils issue nearly 24 million Council Tax bills to help fund key local services, from adult social care and children’s services, to refuse collections and leisure facilities. Uncollected tax means less money for services and higher bills for residents who do pay on time.

The government wants to bring in a more effective Council Tax collection system which treats people more fairly, while ensuring the money required to fund public services is collected. It recognises consideration of personal circumstances can help a person’s financial recovery.”

Ultimately, it is about all Councils working together with reputable tracing agents and debt collection suppliers, charities and advice agencies in order to ensure that the customer is at the forefront of all of this. The can’t pay and won’t pays need to be sifted correctly. One solution does not fit all and that has to be recognised.

Sources: Guardian article 13/4/19 and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government press releaese 10/4/19.

The Defunked Art of “Proper” Address Tracing….or is it?

The Defunked Art of “Proper” Address Tracing….or is it?

Address and Asset Tracing can nowadays be separated into two main areas, the way they did it in the past which involved manual databases, telephone verification and field agents; and the new era of Experian, Creditsafe and a whole host of other online information providers.

So is the old way out of date? With the advancements made in the availability of online databases over the past few years, the potential is there to solely rely on this cheaper alternative. However, Proper tracing is still a vital part of the debt recovery process, provided it is carried out in a compliant manner.

Solely using databases picks up some of the information, but there will always be people who escape the online searches. Proper Tracing helps you to uncover as much information as possible including old loan/mortgage/credit card including telephone numbers, full names and changes of address assets owned by related parties and even current employers, if you need to request an attachment of earnings at a later stage.

We are currently seeing more companies writing off uncollectible debts based on having gone through the seemingly more cost effective use of their own internal trace teams, debts which could have been recovered had they had all the information.

But why do companies settle for low trace success rates based on online database tracing, which subsequently leads to low collection rates? The usual answer is budgets, and the fear of the unknown by stepping outside into the investigation world, but ideally it is always better to get a debtor on a low level repayment of debt plan now, rather than leave a file which potentially could be statute barred quicker than you may think.

So clearly Proper Tracing has a place in the market, and if budgets are a worry, there are a few companies that will work on a no success/no fee trace basis, SIRS Europe being one of course!