Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 13th July 2012.

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Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 1:19 pm, 13th July 2012

I congratulate Richard Harrington on introducing this Bill, which is very timely given the current housing crisis facing the nation. Sub-letting for financial gain prevents people from obtaining a home, and we support the Bill. Its proposals build on the work done by the previous Labour Government, as the hon. Gentleman said, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend John Healey, who launched the first ever national crackdown on the fraudulent sub-letting of social housing. Almost 150 councils signed up to that concerted effort, including every London council and every top-tier Labour council that was responsible for its own housing stock. Under that initiative, councils got a share of a Government grant of £4 million, which was established to assist local authorities in developing their own anti-fraud initiatives. Councils and housing associations were also given practical advice on how best to tackle this problem. The initiative made a considerable impact.

Before the last general election, Labour committed to making the unlawful sub-letting of social homes a criminal offence. There have, however, been a number of successful prosecutions in cases where tenancies have been unlawfully sub-let. The Fraud Act 2006 has been used by both Camden and Westminster councils, and Nick de Bois said his council had taken action using current legislation as well, but I think explicitly making unlawful sub-letting a criminal offence will assist local authorities to deal with the problem. This Bill will make that a reality. It will assist local authorities to extend the work they are already doing. It will provide them with an additional tool to address the problem, and thereby to make the best use of their existing housing stock.

Notwithstanding the horrendous examples of abuse that Members have outlined in this debate, it is important to put on the record a point that the hon. Member for Watford made in his contribution: the overwhelming majority of council and social housing tenants pay their taxes and play by the rules. It would be very wrong if we were in any way to stigmatise people living in council homes by giving the impression that large numbers of them are abusing the system. There is no evidence that that is the case.