Westminster launches battle against housing benefit fraud

New scheme will tackle growing problem of housing benefit recipients illegally subletting their properties

With an ever-increasing population and a finite number of properties in the borough, Westminster’s housing supply is having to cope with a demand that is rising every day.

At the same time, hundreds if not thousands of residents are abusing the housing and benefit systems at the expense of families in need.

A recent raid on one Paddington housing block revealed a massive 75 per cent of housing benefit claimants were not living in their registered properties and were illegally subletting them for thousands of pounds a week.

Another raid on the luxury 600-flat Park West development on Edgware Road found 61 per cent of claimants were subletting their properties.

After a crackdown last summer which saw a number of housing blocks targeted, including Carlton Gate in Maida Vale and Dudley Court in Upper Berkeley Street, Westminster Council launched a cross-party housing benefit fraud working group last month to investigate the issue.

Chairman and Conservative Abbey Road Cllr Lindsey Hall said a number of her constituents had complained about the problem.

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“There were prosecutions for subletting in Park West in 2008, so it was pretty demoralising to see that the same thing is back again and it has got worse,” she said.

“One of the problems is that the council receives a 100 per cent subsidy from central government for housing benefit, but we lose 60 per cent of that if fraud is suspected. So it’s no wonder that local authorities have been reluctant to investigate the issue. You could be looking at millions of pounds.”

One Westminster claimant was recently found to have received �16,000 in housing benefit while living abroad.

Officers have also found fake companies being set up that pretend to employ housing benefit claimants.

Cllr Hall said the new working group would focus on preventing such crimes and “protecting resources”.

“A lot of these people have properties in other boroughs or other European countries,” she said.

“They clearly don’t need a home in Westminster that is funded by the taxpayer.

“We are trying to put houses back into the hands of people who need them. We have such a big waiting list for housing that it’s a cruel abuse of this precious resource.”

Labour Westbourne Cllr David Boothroyd, who is also a member of the housing benefit fraud working group, said: “What we are mainly dealing with is what appears to be organised fraud worth millions of pounds, which is run by people with a very sophisticated knowledge of the system.

“If we can crack down on that and prevent them, it will help direct housing benefit towards the needy families to receive what they are legitimately entitled to.”