A council tenant tried to buy their property while living in America and another was found to be subletting theirs while living in the Isle of Wight.

A housing scrutiny panel at Enfield Civic Centre on Monday, April 22, heard some of the more serious examples of fraud in the borough.

In the ‘Right to Buy’ case, Enfield Council obtained airline data showing the tenant had been out of the UK for “long periods” and was married and had bought a property in the US, where it was believed he lived with his wife and children.

In the subletting case, the council’s fraud team found evidence of illegal subletting when a tenant’s banking transactions “overwhelmingly” were in the Isle of Wight.

Housing fraud occurs when someone obtains or occupies a council property that they are not entitled to, or sublets it to some else without permission. 

Over the past couple of years, 20 properties have been recovered after the council discovered cases of illegal subletting. By gaining possession of these properties the council has said it saved £304,000 in 2022/23 and £338,500 in 2023/24.

Neil Wightman, director of resident housing services at the council, led the discussion on fraud and said the council’s counter fraud team, which has three members, focuses on the most difficult cases. They look at four areas of housing fraud: housing application fraud, occupancy and subletting fraud, succession fraud and Right to Buy fraud. 

He said: “Most of their work is reactive, they get fraud cases from employees, contractors, councillors, but particularly residents sending information around suspected fraud cases.”

Committee member Cllr Adrian Grumi asked what kind of sentences were normally given out for housing fraud, particularly for subletting, as an individual could have made “quite a lot of money, depending how long it’s taken to catch them”. 

Mr Wightman said this was called “unfair enrichment” and the council would seek a rent repayment order at a tribunal. 

In terms of most housing fraud, he added: “It tends not to be criminal in nature; if there’s money involved it can become criminal, but it tends to be a civil matter. 

“If we prove they [a tenant] does not have the right to succeed, they don’t succeed, if we prove they don’t have the right to buy they don’t buy.

“It’s a really important matter for the council, obviously it affects the availability and quality of the housing we have, it’s such a limited resource it’s really important we tackle housing fraud and take it really seriously.”