January amnesty for tenancy cheats to ‘hand back the key’

Tenants who illegally sublet their council house urged to come forward

East Devon District Council is giving tenants who illegally sublet their council house a month-long amnesty in January 2018 to come forward and hand back their keys to avoid prosecution.

The council is hoping that the ‘key’ amnesty will make more East Devon council homes available to honest people in need of affordable housing. Tenants who illegally sublet their properties are breaking the law and if convicted face an unlimited fine or imprisonment of up to two years for committing fraud.

The amnesty, from January 2, 2018 to January 31, 2018, means that tenants who are carrying out the illegal activity can hand back their keys with no questions asked. However, from February 1, 2018 the council is warning tenancy cheats that they will actively seek them out and will prosecute.

Latest figures show that there are 723 households in East Devon with a high need for affordable social housing in East Devon and they are waiting for a home to become available. The council suspects that some of its properties are being illegally sub-let by dishonest tenants who are profiting by charging a higher rent to a subtenant.

From February 1 next year the council will start to target the cheats using a variety of data matching tools which use credit reference information.

Cllr Jill Elson, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said:

The vast majority of our tenants are living in their homes legally and they have nothing to worry about. However, nationally we are aware that tenants do sublet council houses and we want to make sure this isn’t happening in East Devon.

Our message is clear: if you are an illegal tenant, then we are giving you a month’s grace to hand back your keys and give up your tenancy and no further action will be taken. However, from February 1, if you are found to be illegally occupying your home, you risk a criminal conviction, unlawful profit orders and, of course, the loss of your council house.

Cllr Pauline Stott, Chairman of East Devon District Council’s Housing Review Board, added:

The council is determined that its limited number of affordable homes are occupied legally by honest tenants.

If you are committing tenancy fraud, this is your opportunity to do the right thing and hand back the key. When you return the key, no questions will be asked.

The ‘key’ amnesty is targeted at tenants who:

  • Illegally sublet – where the tenant lets out their council home while they live elsewhere, without the permission of the landlord (East Devon District Council). They often continue to pay rent but charge the subtenant a higher rent and make a profit and deny a genuine tenant of an affordable home.
  • Obtain housing by deception – where a person gets a council home by giving false information in their application, for example not telling the landlord they are renting another social housing property or giving false information about who lives with them or their financial circumstances.
  • Wrongly claim succession – where a tenant dies and someone, who is not entitled to, tries to take over or succeed the tenancy. For example, they might say they lived with the tenant before they died, when they were actually living elsewhere.
  • Sells the key – where the tenant is paid to pass on their keys to another individual in return for a one-off payment and that individual then takes over the tenancy illegally.

To find out how to hand back the key, call us on our 24 hour helpline number which is 01395 571657 or email handbackthekey@eastdevon.gov.uk

If you believe that someone you know is committing tenancy fraud you can provide details at stopfraud@eastdevon.gov.uk or by calling our anonymous 24 hour answer service on 01395 517494.