Report calls for tougher measures to tackle organised criminals scamming millions from Westminster Council in housing benefit

Westminster is “haemorrhaging” millions of pounds in fraudulent housing benefit claims by organised criminals, a council investigation has revealed.

A report, presented to the Tory Party conference on Tuesday, calls for better measures to tackle fraudsters who claim housing benefit, then sub-let their properties.

Cllr Lindsay Hall, who presented the report, estimates there are 1,112 “high risk” claims in the borough, which could be ripping off tax payers to the tune of �3.5 million a year.

Ms Hall told the Wood and Vale: “This money is being taken directly from the tax payer, and we as a party should look at how we can get that back before we make any more cuts.

“The problem has been out of control for years.”

The two-and-a-half year investigation began after residents in the Edgware Road area reported concerns of large scale fraud in sub-let private properties.

In one building raided in July last year, 61 per cent of housing benefit claimants were found to be illegally sub-letting their properties.

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The fraudsters were typically non-Europeans, who had gained a European passport, and set up a fake company at which they claimed to work to pass the habitual residence test required to claim benefit. The properties were then rented on short-term leases to wealthy foreign nationals undergoing private health treatment in the UK.

Lynda King Taylor, a resident of one of the fraud hotspots off the Edgware Road, who has campaigned on the issue said: “There has been a continual deterioration of the area because the people who take up the sub-lets live here briefly and don’t have a long connection to the area.”

“We have had trouble with anti-social behaviour, littering and people sitting outside their flats smoking shisha pipes.”

The report warns that official estimates of the scale of housing benefit fraud are a “huge underestimate”.

It calls for more robust anti-fraud strategies with the newly established Single Fraud Investigation Service to tackle the problem.