Central Bedfordshire Council aiming to crack down on growth in housing fraud

PUBLISHED: 17:35 31 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:35 31 July 2018

A crackdown on housing fraud is underway in Central Bedfordshire. File photo.

A crackdown on housing fraud is underway in Central Bedfordshire. File photo.

Archant

A crackdown on housing fraud is underway in Central Bedfordshire.

The local authority’s counter-fraud team says an increase in housing fraud is expected this year.

This arises when people occupy social housing, or try to obtain housing unlawfully, according to a report to the council’s audit committee yesterday.

It can include subletting or abandoning a property, selling the keys to a third party, or failure by someone to use a property as their principal home.

Other common areas are providing false information in a tenancy housing application, a falsely applying for homelessness support, or a false right to buy application.

“This council is committed to providing an effective anti-fraud service,” revenue and benefits head Gary Muskett told the committee. “It ensures public money is spent where it should be on services for our community.

“Reporting and investigating fraud and error has a direct impact on the income of this authority.”

A corporate fraud investigation team was set up in 2015.

“Housing fraud is a key area of focus for the team,” said Mr Muskett. “It’s a growing fraud.

“Landlords across the patch are interested in working more closely with the team.”

He told the meeting social landlords, such as housing associations, do not possess the investigation powers available to the council.

And more than £36,000 was saved in uncovering council tax fraud last year, according to Mr Muskett.

“That’s a real positive for us,” he said. “The Department for Work and Pensions has decided to work more closely with us.

“There will be a new framework in place on this [council tax] fraud and others from the autumn.”

Blue Badge fraud was another area of success for the local authority.

Ampthill Conservative councillor Michael Blair, who chairs the committee, said: “I think the team are proving their worth many fold, and a lot of it has to do with the deterrent value, as well.

“There’s a lot more public notification that these things are going on now, and if that doesn’t save us a bit of money then I don’t know what will.”

Cranfield and Marston Moretaine Conservative councillor Robert Morris asked: “As you’re making us money, if we give you more staff will you make us even more money, or are we at the level at which we need to be?”

Mr Muskett replied: “We are uncovering a growing level of fraud. We have requested to bring a trainee into the team.

“We anticipate more fraud referrals, especially from our social landlords.”

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