Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being saved by a council crackdown on fraudulent social-housing sales.
In a joint initiative with Homes for Northumberland, Northumberland County Council’s new corporate fraud team is carrying out enhanced checks on Right to Buy applications, and in its first three months has saved the authority over £400,000.
Right to Buy allows many social-housing tenants to buy their council homes at a discount, based on the length of time tenants have been in the address. Nationally, the scheme has been identified as an emerging risk for local authorities and an area of potential financial loss.
Northumberland also has a high percentage of sales against housing stock compared with other authorities – and tackling fraudulent sales has been one of the priorities for the new team.
Northumberland County Council deputy leader, Dave Ledger, said: “As with all types of fraud, preventing it from happening in the first place is far more cost-effective than taking action once it’s happening. We have introduced more stringent vetting procedures including completion of an anti-money laundering form, ID verification in person and credit reference agency data checks as well as visiting and interviewing applicants.
“Since we started carrying out these checks in July a total of 12 applications have been withdrawn in Alnwick, Cramlington, Blyth and Seaton Delaval. The total amount of discount that would have been given is a staggering £410,000.
“This, together with the retention of the property and the potential of associated temporary housing costs which could have been required, means significant savings to the council and ultimately benefits everyone living in the county.”
Kevin Lowry, managing director at Homes for Northumberland, said: “Every year hundreds of thousands of pounds of council taxpayers’ money is fraudulently claimed by right to buy cheats – money that should be spent on improving our local communities.
“Social-housing fraud affects councils across the country and it is a crime which ultimately deprives affordable homes from those who need it most. This partnership between Homes for Northumberland and Northumberland County Council has introduced a range of new, more rigorous checks to prevent housing fraud before it happens.
“The new enhanced checks will make a huge impact and send a clear message to those who commit social housing fraud or are thinking of committing this crime to think again.”