The association is one of 14 members of the Kent Tenancy Fraud Forum that are promising not to take legal action against tenants who are committing fraud if they return their keys during June.
“Tenancy fraud occurs when a local authority or housing association home is occupied by someone who is not legally entitled to be there, has obtained use of the property fraudulently or leaves the property empty while living elsewhere,” explained forum chairman Adam Simmonds.
During June’s month-long amnesty, tenants who hand in their keys so that their property can be offered to someone who really needs it will not face prosecution or legal action of any kind.
But as Genette Pinwill, West Kent’s Head of Tenancy Services pointed out, the amnesty has a sting in its tail. “If the awareness raised by this campaign prompts someone to tell us they think a neighbour is cheating the system, we will investigate in the normal way.
“If that investigation finds someone is committing tenancy fraud, we won’t hesitate to take action, and that will usually involve prosecution. The amnesty only applies to tenants who come to us.”
There are several ways in which tenants can defraud their local authority or housing association landlord, and the penalties can be severe, with a jail term of up to two years and fines of up to £50,000 possible.
“However it is done, tenancy fraud is a very serious issue,” said Genette. “It restricts the amount of housing available for those with a genuine need and it is a drain on the public purse because the authorities have to provide people still on the list with temporary accommodation.
“The Kent Tenancy Fraud Forum, which is part of Kent Housing Group, is determined to tackle the problem, and the key amnesty is one way in which we are going about it. This gives tenants the chance to avoid the consequences of being caught. If we are tipped off by someone else, those consequences could be severe.”
The campaign is being supported by a co-ordinated awareness campaign that is bringing together all 14 associations and council housing departments involved.