The growing rise of tenancy fraud and its impact on housing associations
There is a shortage of affordable housing across the UK, and the problem is only increasing. Social housing goes some way to reducing this problem by providing a lifeline to families and individuals who cannot afford to rent or buy on the open market.
Unfortunately, tenancy fraud is on the rise. There’s no way of obtaining exact figures, but it’s thought as many as 100,000 social housing homes in the UK are currently being affected by some form of tenancy fraud. This puts a huge strain on the service, leaving many vulnerable individuals and families on lengthy waiting lists.
The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 made tenancy fraud a criminal offence, and the worst offenders can face two years in prison and/or up to £50,000 in fines.
However, while this is a positive step, it is yet to prove itself a suitable deterrent. Prosecution relies on these fraudsters being identified and reported, and there being sufficient evidence of their crime. Housing associations need to be proactive in uncovering tenancy fraud so they can protect their assets and ensure their most vulnerable citizens get the support they need.
Types of tenancy fraud
Some of the most common types of tenancy fraud include:
Tenancy fraud can take different forms. Some tenancy fraud is committed purely for profit and can be part of a wider organised crime syndicate. Other cases occur when family members or friends try to help each other by bypassing application processes or providing misleading information
A tenant rents out part or all of their home without permission from the landlord
Procurement by deception
The tenant gave false information on their tenancy application
Wrongful succession or assignment
The original tenant dies or leaves the property, and someone takes over the property without following the proper application process
the resident is paid to pass on their keys in return for a substantial one-off payment
Misrepresentation on Right to Buy/Acquire schemes
false information is provided to take advantage of right to buy or right to acquire schemes
Regardless of the type of fraud being committed or the reasons behind it, those who are complicit are abusing a system put in place to help society’s most vulnerable people.
How to improve prevention and detection of tenancy fraud
There are several systems and procedures that housing associations can implement to help prevent and detect tenancy fraud.
Councils and public sector organisations have a huge amount of data – library cards, taxi driver licensing, blue badge holders, bus passes and so on. The information stored on these databases can be utilised to identify potential problem addresses.
Housing associations can collaborate with councils and other registered providers and use data-matching systems to check applications, identify dual tenancies, and detect unregistered occupants.
Audits and investigations
Local authorities, housing associations and other registered providers should all have robust auditing processes to detect potentially fraudulent activities.
Investigating tenancy fraud can be tough – those involved go to great lengths to avoid detection. Where housing associations do not have skilled investigators in-house, it can be worth collaborating with other providers and considering the use of specialist investigators.
Raise public awareness and encourage reporting
Many citizens will have suspicions or even evidence that their neighbours are committing tenancy fraud, but they might be nervous about coming forward.
A dedicated hotline with guaranteed anonymity for callers allows members of the public to report suspicions of fraud without fear of recrimination. And when this service is available, it’s important to raise awareness of it, so citizens know how to report tenancy fraud.
One of the most cost effective ways to combat tenancy fraud is to provide all your employees with adequate training.
Employees are often at the sharp end of service delivery, may live locally and are in a prime position to spot suspected fraud and potential fraudsters. Giving them the tools and knowledge to identify fraudulent activity is an easy but effective step towards preventing, detecting and successfully prosecuting tenancy fraud.
Your fraud awareness training should also cover the process for reporting and investigating tip-offs or suspicious activity.
Focus on Fraud Awareness – Housing Associations
Focus on Fraud Awareness for Housing Associations is the latest addition to the growing suite of digital learning courses offered by Meritec Ltd.
Building on our highly successful Focus on Fraud Awareness course, this course is tailored specifically for housing association employees, with a key focus on tenancy fraud. As with all our courses, Focus on Fraud Awareness for Housing Associations has been developed in collaboration with subject matter experts.
With our fully hosted Learning Management System, you can customise the course to your organisation’s specific needs, track completion rates and issue completion certificates. Alternatively, you can host the course on your existing learning platform – all our courses are SCORM-compliant.
Our aim is to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible to quickly upskill your team. Pay an annual base fee and a monthly subscription that covers all employees.
Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about digital learning
via Meritec’s Focus on Fraud Awareness product
or to book a demonstration.