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Extra cash to combat council house fraudsters

Councils are to get an extra £19 million to oust fraudsters who unlawfully sublet council and housing association properties, the Government said today.

At least 50,000 homes are thought to be unlawfully occupied at present - often by unwitting victims - with as many as one in 20 properties involved in the worst affected areas.

Providing the equivalent number of homes for people truly in need of them would cost more than £5 billion, ministers estimate.

The cash boost will be shared among 51 councils at the forefront of tackling the issue to pay for dedicated investigation teams and tenancy audits to root out fraud.

A nationwide advice team for town halls will also be set up at the Chartered Institute of Housing and efforts made to reduce the cost to authorities of using credit reference agencies.

Housing minister Grant Shapps said: "Tenancy fraud costs this country billions of pounds, but it's not just the money that's wasted.

"The housing waiting list has doubled and tenancy fraud means that tens of thousands of people who could otherwise be housed are losing out because of cheats.

"We cannot afford to ignore this problem."

The Chartered Institute of Housing also issued a new guide on tackling housing tenancy fraud with the National Fraud Authority today.

Michael O'Higgins, chairman of local government spending watchdog the Audit Commission which uncovered the scale of the problem, welcomed the money.

He said its National Fraud Initiative data matching exercise had helped recover £15 million of properties in the last year.

It would be developed and handed on when the Commission is scrapped under the Government's plans to slash the number of quangos, he said.