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Data matching to spot illegal sub-letting



Local authorities will be able to dig out the data they need to uncover social housing cheats under new beefed-up powers.

Council chiefs are now allowed to tap into private information about suspects from banks and building societies, as well as utility and telecommunication companies.

Ministers say similar arrangements have proved useful in tackling social security fraud and council tax benefit cheats.

Now local authorities will be able to obtain information where there are "reasonable grounds" for believing a person (or a member of their family) has committed fraud.

The offences covered are illegal sub-letting of council and housing association homes, application fraud and bids to use 'Right to Buy' legislation.

Kris Hopkins, the housing minister, said: "Anyone who is committing social housing fraud should know that the net is closing in on them. These new powers will help expose the cheats conning councils and ripping off taxpayers and free up more homes for the families that really need them."

Hopkins said the new powers - which came into force on April 6 - would allow councils to step up their already encouraging efforts against tenancy fraud.

The number of homes recovered has already doubled since 2009 - to 2,642, last year - thanks to a £19m cash injection, with notable successes in:

* Wolverhampton - where 166 homes have been recovered since 2010.

* Greenwich - more than 200 homes over two years.

* Stoke - 193 properties in a single year.

The new powers to tap into information have been introduced as regulations under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act, passed last year.

The legislation means that anyone found guilty of illegally sub-letting can face a fine and a prison sentence of up to two years.

Previously, said Hopkins, they had faced "little more than a slap on the wrist, simply returning the keys to the property they were illegally subletting".

Across England, it is estimated that 98,000 social homes are being unlawfully occupied, having been sub-let by cheats living elsewhere off the profits.

In some inner London boroughs, as many as one in 20 properties involve cases of housing fraud - costing taxpayers as much as £1.8 billion a year.

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