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.
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
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!
Why use surveillance?
The ability to actually see something unfolding before your eyes gives compulsive evidence. Surveillance with accompanying witness statements, video footage or stills photographs, in many cases, solves an investigation immediately. To actually get to that point though can take a long time in some instances or similarly can be over and done with in a matter of a few hours. The art of surveillance is in the timing of the operation, the background planning, the number of operatives involved and clear information from the client concerning the subject(s).
Surveillance is an option in many different types of instances:
An employee off work ill may be working elsewhere
A senior executive may be planning setting up their own business and taking valuable clients with them
Your best sales person may be in the process of moving to a new employer and lining up clients to take with them
Alternatively, your worst performing sales person may just be sat at home or in their car and not making sales calls either in person or on the phone
It could be for a suspicious wife who thinks her husband may be having an affair.
Cohabitation issues may need surveillance. Maintenance payments may be cut if it is proven a former wife or husband is living with a new partner.
Surveillance is utilised in conjunction with other areas of investigative work. Eg Mystery shopper/Test purchase activity or surveillance may help set the scene for say the service of documents.
The key to all of the above is in the use of experienced operatives who are able to both plan and carry out a surveillance operation. Being alert at all times, utilising technology to the best of its ability, knowing when and where to follow a subject and when to remain stationary, are just some of the areas where using the right people make the difference to achieve an outcome.