The lovely, smiling Grant Shapps, Housing Minister, who clearly in no way whatsoever wants to distract attention from the recent kerfuffle over his alleged misleading of Parliament through dodgy use of statistics (hereafter Shapptistics), has announced the Government’s support for a private member’s Bill.
The purpose of this Bill? Why, it is to criminalise sub-letting of social housing!
Mr Harrington’s Bill would:
create a new criminal offence of subletting; and
allow for proceeds of subletting to be reimbursed to the social landlord in whose stock the fraud was committed
Nobody here would disagree that sub-letting of social housing is a significant problem, and one that needs to be addressed by action by the social landlords. But we can but wonder at the actual point of Mr Harrington’s Bill.
Why? Because unlawful subletting is already a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006. Exhibit A – a successful prosecution by Camden LBC in November 2011. Exhibit B – a successful prosecution by City of Westminster in March 2012.
And the Audit Commission notes Councils successfully pursuing the sub-letters for the proceeds of the sub-let as unjust enrichment – case study 1 [link is to PDF]
The DCLG press release frankly seems a bit confused. It starts off by saying:
if caught these cheats face little more than losing their tenancy.
Which is, we must sadly point out, not actually true, but then quotes Grant Shapps as saying:
“I am delighted that Richard Harrington’s Bill will make this fraud a criminal offence so that the perpetrators don’t just lose their tenancy but feel the full force of the law. And by introducing this effective deterrent against subletting, we can free up thousands of homes for those who genuinely need them.
Grant, dear boy, if it is a fraud it is already a criminal offence (which indeed it actually already is) so doesn’t need to be made a criminal offence (again).
Grant Shapps has shown a distinct keenness to make civil offences into criminal ones (trespass to residential buildings) and to make civil proceedings into an arm of retribution for crime (evicting ‘rioters’ wherever the offence happened), but this is a first even for him, to support a bill to make a criminal offence into a criminal offence.
One can only presume he wants unlawful sub-letting to be really, really criminal, twice as criminal as just being criminal. And who amongst us would argue that this is not a sensible use of Ministerial, departmental and legislative time?