Millions in taxpayer cash stopped from being lost to housing fraud
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More than £8.2million of taxpayer money has been saved from being lost in Right to Buy and tenancy fraud in two Suffolk districts last year.
Data for the last financial year revealed that in East Suffolk 31 ineligible Right to Buy applications totalling more than £4.3million were stopped, while £372,000 in tenancy fraud was also scuppered.
At Ipswich Borough Council meanwhile, 35 fraudulent Right to Buy applications were halted totalling £2.3m and a further £1.2m prevented from being lost in tenancy fraud.
MORE: £4.5m in tenancy and Right to Buy fraud stopped in 2019/20Siobhan Martin, who heads up the corporate fraud and internal audit teams at Ipswich and East Suffolk councils, said it was about supporting genuine applications and stopping those who were trying to abuse the system.
“Sometimes people haven’t quite understood how to apply appropriately [for Right to Buy] and we support them through that, so a lot of what we do is ensuring people provide the correct data for buying their house and we are supportive of all of that,” she said.
“But when applicants are applying a lot is to establish the voracity of the income so we do a lot of anti-money laundering work.”
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The team takes a zero-tolerance approach to fraud, and follows the ‘prevent, protect and prosecute’ mantra.
Right to Buy fraud is often centred around suspicious sources of money to fund the house purchase, while tenancy fraud often includes tenants sub-letting to someone else and not living there themselves, or more than the allowed numbers living there.
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Other fraud the team cracks down on is blue badge misuse and people attempting to claim singe person council tax discount when they are not eligible.
Last year, around £4.5m in tenancy and Right to Buy fraud was stopped across the two districts, with the increase this year as a result of the average value of houses increasing as well as a rise in referrals.
Mrs Martin said the demand for council homes and tight council budgets made stamping out housing fraud key in order to protect the public purse and support genuine claimants.
“It’s fundamental – we have got thousands of people on the waiting lists, eligible people trying to get a property so every single property is really key,” she said.
“We will not tolerate any behaviour like that.”
This year, fraudulent claims for government Covid-19 support packages administered by local authorities will also be investigated by the team, while further work on cybercrime is also on the agenda.
To anonymously report any suspected tenancy or Right to Buy fraud, call 01394 444444 for East Suffolk or 01473 433999 for Ipswich.