THE Housing Executive is vowing to get tough on fraudulent tenants after the publication of a damning public purse watchdog report.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office has revealed that as many as 2,400 social housing properties – over one in 50 – could be occupied fraudulently, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has said.
The NIAO report suggested the problem was “significant” and that “dedicated strategies” were required to tackle the issue which was a drain on public funds.
The Housing Executive said it will now work with other agencies to hunt out the crooks.
It and around 30 local housing associations manage 123,000 properties across Northern Ireland.
The fraud can include:
* giving false information on an application form;
* obtaining the property and selling the keys to someone else for a one-off payment;
* tenants can also move out and give the property over to a friend or family member, allowing them to “queue jump” the waiting list of 40,000 people.
The Audit Office said that in 2012 the Housing Executive spent more than £10m providing temporary accommodation to those classed as homeless.
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said: “Public funded housing occupied by individuals not entitled to be there is illegal, immoral and unacceptable.
“Such fraud deprives those families most in need of a decent home.”
Until recently, the Housing Executive did not have a dedicated tenancy fraud strategy and relied on tip-offs and the vigilance of staff.
The Audit Office made a number of recommendations, like establishing a fraud team between the Housing Executive and housing associations.
The Housing Executive may also improve photographic records of tenants.
In a statement, the Housing Executive said it “welcomes the publication of the report in tenancy fraud by the Northern Ireland Audit Office”.
“The Housing Executive will now work with the Department of Social Development and housing associations to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and incorporated in our approach to tackling tenancy fraud.”