“We’d been desperate for a home of our own”

Concerned neighbours have made sure a number of empty homes across the county will soon be let to families that need them, thanks to the success of a Kent-wide key amnesty.

We've played an active part in the key amnesty, which brought together 14 housing associations and local council landlords in offering people committing tenancy fraud the chance to give their keys back in June, without risking legal action.

As well as offering tenants the chance to hand back their keys and walk away without being prosecuted, the campaign was designed to raise awareness amongst neighbours, and it succeeded in persuading many people to report seemingly empty homes to their local landlord.

In one case, the neighbours of a Gravesend Churches Housing Association (GCHA) home in Gravesend called to say that the tenant only appeared every two months to pick up her post, while the garden was becoming increasingly overgrown. When investigators discovered she was living in Essex with her boyfriend and had abandoned the property, they issued her with a Notice to Quit.

“The couple told us that they hadn’t wanted to interfere in the past but then saw the publicity around the campaign and realised that their neighbour was committing fraud. They told me what really made up their mind had been remembering how desperate they had been to find a home of their own and how long they had waited for it. Once they realised there was a family out there that could be living in this empty home, they got in touch”, explained Felicity Dunmall, Housing Services Manager for GCHA.

Other partners in the campaign run by the Kent Tenancy Fraud Forum, part of the Kent Housing Group, also received keys back, either from tenants taking advantage of the amnesty or following tip-offs from members of the public.

“We have had several reports of keys being returned, but equally importantly we know that we raised a lot of awareness about what tenancy fraud is and about how important it is that our homes are occupied by people who deserve them. Abandoning a property to go and live with a partner but keeping it as a ‘bolt hole’ simply isn’t fair, particularly when the rent is being paid through Housing Benefit”, said chairman Adam Simmonds.

Tenants who defraud their local authority or housing association can face severe penalties, with a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to £50,000 possible.

“The most basic form of fraud is simply lying about your circumstances in order to rent a home you wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to,” explained Adam.

It is also against the law for tenants to sublet a spare room for profit without asking the landlord’s permission or to move out completely and charge another family or families rent on the home registered to them.

“There are also cases where the tenant dies and a relative falsely claims to have been living in the house for a number of years, often claiming they were looking after the former owner, in order to be given the tenancy,” Adam went on.

“However it is done, tenancy fraud is a serious issue. It restricts the amount of housing available for those with a genuine need and it is a drain on the public purse because the authorities have to provide people still on the list with temporary accommodation.”

“The idea behind this campaign was to raise awareness that tenancy fraud cheats people out of a home and can come with severe penalties. The fact that a number of people handed their keys back to partners involved is a real bonus. Tackling tenancy fraud plays an important part in our ultimate ambition to help end the housing crisis in north Kent. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you think someone might be subletting or committing tenancy fraud”, said Georgina Pennicott, Customer Team Leader at mhs homes.

Concerned neighbours are urged to continue to report potential fraud. “This is not about snooping, but about ensuring our homes can be let to people who genuinely need a roof over their heads,” Adam stressed.