Bristol council house tenants who sublet their homes cost city council millions of pounds... and leave homeless on the streets
COUNCIL tenants in Bristol who fraudulently sub-let their homes or leave them empty are costing the city council millions of pounds a year, a report reveals.
A crackdown by the council's tenancy fraud team has brought 59 homes back into use during the past three years, saving the authority £875,000.
But the report suggests this is only scratching the surface of a much bigger problem which is denying people from having a home of their own and aggravating the city's chronic housing crisis.
The council set up the specialist team in July 2010 and during the first eight months of the operation, 22 properties were recovered.
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Since April 2011, a further 37 homes have been brought back into proper use.
A further 49 cases are currently under investigation with nine pending recovery action.
A hotline was originally set up to help track down tenancy fraud but the vast majority of cases – 64 so far – have been uncovered by the council's own housing officers.
The council has been praised nationally for its work in the field and its approach has been used as an example at a recent seminar on fraud.
But the report explains the problem could be much worse.
Research in London shows that tenancy fraud is running at between four and six per cent.
If this figure is applied to Bristol, it suggests that between 560-840 properties in the city could be unlawfully occupied.
This is 14 times greater than the number of properties recovered and represents an actual loss to the council of about £11.5 million a year – about one-third of next year's budget cuts.
"Whilst much work has been done, further work is needed," the report says.
But it says that further funding for tenancy fraud is uncertain and might cease after April next year.
The report warns: "If internal or external funding is not made available, then work will have to stop, the impact of which will be that tenancy fraud will go unchecked in Bristol and any suspected fraudulent misuse will not be dealt with.
"Applicants waiting to be rehoused will be disadvantaged as a result and this may manifest in other social and economic challenges for the council as well as reputation damage."