Focus on tenancy fraud – Tips from Raj Vine, Counter Fraud Specialist for Riverside Housing following recent Court of Appeal decision

In June 2021, Riverside Housing obtained a possession order and Unlawful Profit Order against a tenant who was unlawfully sub-letting their home.

The tenant was ordered to pay more than £155,000 to Riverside Housing, in what is said to be the second largest case of its kind.

Prior to joining Devonshires in April this year, solicitor Vicky Smith, worked on the case with Raj Vine, Counter Fraud Specialist for Riverside Housing.

The tenant had sublet her two bedroom flat in Camberwell, South London, to two women and their children. Through partnership working with Oxford City Council, it was found that the tenant had not been living at the property since at least 2008.

At Clerkenwell & Shoreditch County Court on 3 June 2021, the Judge dismissed the tenant’s account. The Judge granted Riverside Housing an outright possession order and made an Unlawful Profit Order in the sum of £145,178, together with a demand that the tenant repay £3,000 of rent arrears and £9,955 of legal costs.

Within his judgment, the Judge commented that “individually all of the above [evidence] may not be enough [to prove sub-letting] but put all the pieces together and it beats with a single rhythm”.

Tell us a bit about your role and what you love about it.
Riverside have over 56,000 properties nationally and my role is to investigate cases of unlawful subletting and key selling. I’ve worked for Riverside for over 13 years and it’s great to know that the counter fraud service is able to prevent and detect cases of fraud. I enjoy working with people who are passionate about the importance of social housing and put our customers at the heart of the service.

What would you say are the tell-tale signs that someone is subletting a property?
There are different indicators of unlawful subletting- no sign of the tenant using the property as their main or principle home, padlocks on doors, people coming in and out with suitcases, objects such as pictures and extra bedding that don’t belong to the tenant, credit on the rent account and access issues. There are many signs to look out for, all cases are different, being observant is key to any case as the person may want to remain undetected, it’s vital to look out for the clues.

When you think a tenant may be subletting, what are the first steps you take?
Referral information is key, obtaining as much detail as possible. As soon as information comes through ask the right questions. Getting a description of the person(s) who might be in the property and how long it’s been happening, when was the tenant last seen and is the property advertised online? Ask housing/asset officers and operatives if they have seen anything suspicious and of any upcoming appointments to visit the property.

How do you gather evidence of subletting, what sources do you use and what evidence do you think is key to a successful claim?
Looking at internal systems is important to establish how someone might want to remain undetected and also how someone has obtained the tenancy. Internal systems can also tell you the story of how active the tenancy has been. It’s a great starting point and also gives you information on repairs that might be carried out or gas inspections, this might be useful to gather intelligence and gaining access. Finding a linked address can also help and establish where the tenant has moved to. Gathering intelligence from open source can be helpful to obtain information.

What did you find particularly interesting about this particular Unlawful Profit Order case?
Partnership/multi-agency working was a great success. Working with Vicky was fantastic as we worked hard to put all the evidence together to show the extent of the case. The property was unlawfully sublet for twelve years, it was important for Riverside to gain possession and ensure the property went to someone who really needed a home.

Why do you think it’s important for social landlords to be taking action against tenants that sub-let?
With so many people on the housing waiting list, it’s essential that Housing Associations and Local Authorities protect the asset, ensure property are not misused and homes go to people who really need them.

Raj Vine – Riverside Housing

For more information, please contact Victoria Smith.

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