A BOUNTY of £500 is on offer to people who inform on neighbours unlawfully sub-letting council or housing association homes. A recent investigation by the Audit Commission suggested that as many as 50,000 homes across the country could have been unlawfull

A BOUNTY of £500 is on offer to people who inform on neighbours unlawfully sub-letting council or housing association homes.

A recent investigation by the Audit Commission suggested that as many as 50,000 homes across the country could have been unlawfully sublet to people who do not qualify for social housing.

Now the Government is offering a £500 reward for each of the first 1,000 of those properties that are returned to the use for which they were provided.

Under a £4million campaign launched this week by Housing Minister John Healey, Huntingdonshire and South Cambridgeshire District Councils will each get £10,000 contributions towards anti-fraud initiatives.

HDC will spend the cash on a £12,500 pilot scheme with the Luminus Group - the district's largest social landlord - to identify properties that have been unlawfully squeezed out of the social rented sector by fraudulent sub-letting, so that they can be returned to people on the council's housing lists.

If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out to other social landlords in the district.

Nick Jennings, who heads the council's fraud investigation team, told The Hunts Post: "The main driver is to get the properties back into proper use. People who know about unlawful subletting can tell us on the council's fraud hotline, 01480 388188."

The fraud team's routine tasks are investigation of benefit fraud and people who wrongly claim the 25 per cent Council Tax discount for people living alone.

"Illegal sub-letting often has a knock-on effect in housing benefit fraud," Mr Jennings added.

South Cambs, which still owns its stock of council housing, said it would work with its own housing department and local housing associations on a year-long scheme to investigate the extent of tenancy fraud and help stop it in the future.

The Government says tenancy cheats can earn thousands of pounds a year by unlawfully subletting their properties at higher rental rates. If caught, they will lose their tenancy, and could lose their right to social housing in future.

Those occupying these properties may not know about the fraud, but 80 per cent do not qualify for a council or housing association home, and instead have to find a new home through the private rented sector.

The Audit Commission has suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully acquired or sublet could range from one in 100 to as many as one in 20 in some inner-city areas - totalling as many as 50,000 homes nationwide.

Mr Jennings is conscious that success in identifying fraudsters could put additional strain on HDC.

"If we find that someone has sub-let a three or four bedroom home to three or four families, we could find ourselves needing to re-house them," he said.