Tackling tenancy fraud
Capita Local Government is tackling tenancy fraud through the use of intelligence and citizen data to timely identify potential fraudulent tenants.
The government estimates that nearly two million families in this country are in need of social housing, a figure which continues to grow as the recession bites.
In spite of this growing demand, it’s thought that over 50,000 social houses are being occupied illegally across the UK, with tenancies being illegally sub-let, relatives not reporting the death of residents and ’inheriting’ the houses, and relatives of tenants moving into houses when they have relocated to a social care facility.
Not only does this activity extend the waiting times for needy families, it costs local authorities vast sums of money in providing alternative accommodation for those on the list. For example, putting a family into temporary housing can cost upwards of £18,000 a year. At a time of austerity and budget cuts, dealing with this fraud costs councils over £900m – money which could be allocated elsewhere.
At the moment, councils and registered social landlords have a difficult job in detecting tenancy fraud and dealing with it. They will be aware of problem families, those who don’t pay the rent and those who regularly disturb neighbours. However, what they aren’t likely to be aware of, are the tenants who aren’t actually living in the properties, despite paying their rent on time or in advance, never causing problems or reporting damages. However, these ‘tenants’ could in fact be living elsewhere and charging high rents to sub tenants, breaking the law and the council may never find out.
Tackling this issue depends largely on intelligence and access to citizen data. Councils maintain the electoral roll and can cross check against that, but the information it contains rapidly becomes out of date and inaccurate, and so councils will need to look beyond this in order to make a real impact. Some councils have worked with partners to secure information on their tenants from a variety of sources, such as consumer credit information. Using this intelligence, they can combine the public with the electronic data to build up a picture of who is living at a property based on financial and other links to the address.
The use of data matching and profiling, based on constantly updated information, can show whether an address appears to be occupied or not and if so by whom. Comparing this with the housing records shows whether the expected tenants are resident or living elsewhere, and if there are strong indications of unofficial reassignment or subletting. Investigations can then be targeted at those risky cases where tenancy fraud appears present and can lead to evictions and subsequent re-housing of people on the waiting list.
While the Audit Commission believes around 50,000 social housing properties (1% of total figure) are at risk of fraud, recent exercises in data matching suggest the figure may be closer to 5% of the total number of properties, which means councils need to act promptly before the situation escalates further.
Using this information takes the guess work out of identifying the possible fraudulent tenants, and means the councils don’t have to wait until they catch them out.