Northern Ireland

Tenancy fraud not dealt with by DSD says Public Accounts Committee

Houses in Belfast
Image caption It estimated that 2,400 properties in Northern Ireland could be occupied fraudulently

The Department of Social Development has failed to deal properly with a scam operating in social housing, according to a Public Accounts Committee report.

The report said the issue of tenancy fraud - the use of low-rent housing by someone not entitled to it - has largely gone unchecked.

It estimated that 2,400 properties in Northern Ireland could be occupied fraudulently.

No-one has ever been prosecuted for tenancy fraud in Northern Ireland.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was following up on an Audit Office report last year.

It said social housing providers had been "too slow to react".

The fraud can include giving false information on an application, or obtaining the property and selling the keys to someone else for a one-off payment.

'Alarming'

Between them, the Housing Executive and about 30 local housing associations manage 123,000 properties in Northern Ireland.

The PAC said the fraud was denying a home to some of the most vulnerable in society and contributing to an "alarming" £11m spend on temporary hostel or B&B accommodation to those classed as homeless.

Its report makes a number of recommendations.

It said the Department for Social Development (DSD) had not yet established the level of tenancy fraud in Northern Ireland and "we expect them to do this urgently"

PAC chairperson Michaela Boyle said: "Social housing tenancy fraud is a serious problem that impacts on the most vulnerable in our society.

"We look forward to seeing a more proactive approach to prevention, detection and investigation in the future."

No-one has ever been prosecuted for tenancy fraud in Northern Ireland.

A DSD spokesperson said: "We welcome the PAC report on social housing tenancy fraud and will consider the committee's recommendations in full.

"We are grateful that PAC has acknowledged that progress has been made by the range of measures that have been put in place by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Northern Ireland housing associations to tackle tenancy fraud proactively.

"The department, Housing Executive and housing associations are fully committed to ensuring the recommendations are implemented in full."

The spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to "comment in detail" until it had prepared a "considered response" to the issues raised.

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