4. Sanctions and prosecution
The Council takes tenancy fraud very seriously and will take action against those found guilty of tenancy fraud. Our Estate Management Officers follow up any reported incidents of tenancy fraud and refer them to the Devon Social Housing Fraud Forum (DSHFF). The DSHFF will lead any investigations with assistance from the Estate Management Officers who will pass on all evidence and ensure it is accurate and supported.
If found guilty of tenancy fraud the following actions may be taken:
- Repossession of the home obtained by fraudulent means
- Exclusion from Devon Home Choice register
- A fine of up to £5,000
- A criminal conviction
- An unlawful profit order
The Devon Social Housing Fraud Forum Sanctions Policy (see Appendix B) provides the framework within which partners to the project can achieve a fair and consistent approach to tackling social housing fraud and the sanctions available.
There are a range of sanctions available and these may be used singly or in some instances a combination of sanctions may be used. This can include both civil and criminal proceedings.
Civil sanctions will be:
- Removal from the Devon Home Choice housing register. It will be the responsibility of the Housing Needs and Strategy Manager to ensure that on removing a person from the register that the action is reasonable, proportionate and in the public interest.
- Loss of tenancy. Where social housing has been obtained fraudulently there will always be a ground for possession, this is covered by legislation as well as within our tenancy agreements.
Criminal sanctions will be:
- Simple caution. A caution is an official warning issued to a person who has admitted to defrauding the council and is intended for those persons at the lower end of the range of tenancy fraud and first time offenders.
- Prosecution. Where a property has been obtained by deception and false statement the tenant can be prosecuted within the first 6 months of the tenancy under the Housing act. The six month time bar does not apply to fraud act offences.
- Unlawful profit order. An unlawful profit order requires the offender to pay the landlord an amount representing the profit made.
Prior to taking any civil or criminal action the Council will take into account the following:
- Seriousness of the offence (s)
- Strength of evidence
- Public interest
- Social factors such as age/state of health of the offender
- Co-operation and explanation of the offender
- Whether the fraud was premeditated
- Amount of profit obtained.
Any decision as to whether or not to prosecute will also take into account the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the evidential test and public interest test. The evidential test will consider whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that the evidence is reliable, credible and admissible. Where there is sufficient evidence the Council will consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
In determining the sanction(s) to be used, decisions and actions will be made on a case by case basis, but using the policy as reference that contributes to the decision making purpose. The Council will strive to apply consistency when reaching a decision.