A SCHEME aimed at rooting out unlawful subletting of social rented housing has saved Huntingdonshire District Council an estimated £500,000 at the same time as reclaiming 12 homes for families on the housing registers.

Investigations by Huntingdonshire District Council and social landlord the Luminus Group into unlawful sub-letting disclosed a number of people fraudulently claiming discounts on their Council Tax, benefits and other government grants. Several people have also been prosecuted.

The council and Luminus established a common fraud hotline for tenants to report any suspicion of properties that were being sublet. In all, 32 allegations have been received with 12 properties recovered to date, and a number of investigations and court actions still ongoing, HDC said yesterday (Tuesday).

The sub-letting included people who sold their keys to unsuspecting third parties and acted as a landlord charging much higher rents than those being charged by social landlords. Nationally, the cost to the taxpayer of this activity was estimated as high as £2billion, partly because local councils have to meet the costs of housing homeless families due to shortages in housing stock, caused in part by tenants' sub-letting their homes.

Julia Barber, HDC's head of customer services, said: "Sub-letting of social rented property is not a victimless crime. We have over 2,700 households on the housing register in Huntingdonshire, and people who illegally sub-let are pocketing a profit at the expense of these people.

"We intend to work with other housing providers to ensure that our precious social housing stock is used for the people who need it most.

"Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have identified other frauds of almost £50k that were going on at these same properties," she added.

She said the occupants of the 12 homes had been evicted by Luminus, and the homes returned for re-letting.

"It doesn't make much of a dent in the housing register, but it has to be worthwhile to send the message to people that, if they don't need their homes, they must hand them back."

Fraud team leader Nick Jennings said the council had prosecuted a 13th tenant for benefit fraud and making a false housing application and was in the course of trying to recover that property.

He advised prospective tenants to go through a letting agent who would be obliged to ensure that the would-be landlord was entitled to let the home.

"We have to be careful when we recover these properties that we don't create new problems of homelessness."