By Alan Bryce, Non-Executive Director, Tenancy Fraud Forum
Tenancy fraud, often called social housing fraud, remains an enigma to much of the public. While some councils and Private Registered Providers (PRPs) take seriously their responsibility to prevent and detect tenancy fraud, others do little to tackle the threat and harm such fraud poses.
Arguably we are all, as taxpayers, victims of tenancy fraud. However, the individual victims sadly go largely unrecognised: the tens of thousands of homeless families in temporary accommodation unable to access social housing because of the actions of tenancy fraudsters; local people on housing waiting lists who will never be offered a council or PRP property; families unable to be moved into a social home to escape domestic abuse because of blockages in the allocation process caused by tenancy fraudsters. All are victims.
So how do we get ALL social housing providers to play a proportionate role in tackling such fraud? This is an issue that we at the Tenancy Fraud Forum (TFF), a not-for-profit grouping of councils and PRPs dedicated to tackling tenancy fraud, are keen to address. One way is to establish the true average national cost of a tenancy fraud that all housing providers use when assessing the cost/benefits of taking action.
For those who care about this issue, there has been nothing more frustrating than to hear the Chief Executive of a PRP say that “no action is needed as long as the rent is paid by someone” or that their PRP “does not incur homelessness costs so why should they pay to investigate the fraud”. The public may be shocked to know that some councils do little or nothing to tackle tenancy fraud in their area. We at the Tenancy Fraud Forum believe all housing providers have a moral responsibility/public duty to tackle tenancy fraud. Sadly, not every housing provider agrees.
That was why this year we at the TFF, in partnership with the London Boroughs Fraud Investigators Group, and supported by stakeholders such as the Cabinet Office’s National Fraud Initiative, Chartered Institute of Housing, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), Fraud Advisory Panel, G15 group of housing associations, CIPFA and Cifas, came together to research the true cost of tenancy fraud.
We quickly identified an approach and formula that our expert working group believed best reflected the true cost of tenancy fraud and required minor modification to establish the national cost. The approach is also flexible enough to allow individual councils to tailor the formula to meet their own local circumstances.
For PRPs, we recommend using the average cost to the national taxpayer that the formula established, in effect the moral responsibility/public duty value of a tenancy fraud. However, we also suggest that when undertaking cost/benefit assessments, PRPs consider their responsibility as stewards of housing assets which they have, due to the actions of the tenancy fraudster, temporarily lost control of. A new concept, but fundamental to PRPs governance responsibilities.
All the research findings, including the formula and resulting values are available in a free to download helpsheet, Calculating Losses from Housing tenancy Fraud, and webinar launched on 19th October as part of International Charity Fraud Awareness Week.
Copies of the helpsheet and further information on tackling tenancy fraud can also be found on the Tenancy Fraud Forum website.
And finally, what is the answer to the question we set ourselves at the start of the year – the true cost of a tenancy fraud? It is £42,000 per detected tenancy fraud.