Proactively detecting fraud by those who illegally sublet their council house means that social housing can benefit more of those in need. Fraud detection can also ensure local authorities and housing associations get maximum value from their housing stock.
Housing minister Grant Shapps announced in December 2010 that he would be cracking down on housing tenancy fraud. It was revealed that at least 50,000 properties in the social housing sector in England are being illegally occupied and based on government calculations, it would cost over £5 billion to replace these properties. The housing minister also said that the 51 councils doing the most to tackle housing tenancy fraud will receive a share of £19 million to support their efforts – which can include dedicated housing officers to investigate allegations and tenancy audits to ensure the lawful tenants are living in the property.
The Chartered Institute of Housing also announced that it was launching a new advice team funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, with one of its aims to help housing providers tackle tenancy fraud.
However, over the past 13 years, £17 billion has been spent on social housing but the number of people on housing waiting lists has doubled to nearly five million.
So, how do you make sure you are making the most of your social housing stock?
Previous experience in helping housing providers to tackle fraud has shown that the most effective techniques involve making the most of technology, the data you already hold, and industry expertise. Housing providers and local authorities should be able to assess which cases are potentially high risk in terms of the likelihood that the tenant is illegally subletting their home and then investigate further.
By cross-referencing housing provider data with data from credit reference agencies in a bespoke comparison system, housing providers can see which tenants might be committing fraud. A number of cases will appear high or medium risk and these are the ones that should be focused on; eliminating the low-risk cases at the beginning means that resources can be used better.
To reduce the cost of processing cases, trained call handlers can contact the high and medium risk cases and carry out a telephone interview using voice recognition analysis (VRA). Combined with the expertise of the call handler, VRA generates a trigger which shows whether or not further investigation is needed. Compared with the cost of traditional door-to-door methods, the use of VRA can improve the contact rate and significantly reduce costs.
Not only can technology save money, but it can also identify a wider range of possible cases for investigation compared with standard tenancy review models. For example, where rent is being paid by a standing order it is difficult to check who is actually living at a property. Technology can match housing and credit reference data to build an accurate profile of the tenant.
Housing tenancy fraud is not the only type of fraud that housing providers need to tackle, nor is it the only area in which there is scope for efficiency savings and streamlining of services. It is however an area where technology can deliver tangible savings and directly benefit residents.
Giles Reid is a director of Capita.