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The Daily Telegraph reports that 160,000 council homes are being illegally sublet. The cost to the taxpayer of placing people in temporary accommodation that could otherwise be housed is £2 billion.

These estimates are according to Experian. They examined social housing tenancy lists to produce their estimate for the national total. It is based on a study of 125,000 properties run by 10 local councils and housing associations to try to detect potential fraud. Frankly I think these estimates are pretty conservative. However the problem is certainly much higher in London. In boroughs like mine market rents are so high that the money that can be made by collecting a market rent and only paying the highly subsidised Council rent is considerable.

Anyone who has been canvassing will have noticed the suspiciously high discrepancy between the names on the Electoral Register and those actually living in social housing. A previous estimate by the Audit Commission in 2007 that only 50,000 Council homes were illegally occupied sounds like a much lower figure than is plausible.

Nick Mothershaw, Experian's director of fraud and identity solutions, said:

"Our initial research suggests that the level of social housing tenancy fraud in Britain could be much higher than previously estimated.

"It also demonstrates how more effective data matching can quickly provide a reliable indication of what could be illegal occupancy and subletting.

"This means investigators can prioritise and deal swiftly with fraudulent cases. Reducing social housing tenancy fraud will significantly reduce the cost of temporary accommodation which we estimate to be at over £2 billion a year."

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