Published: 13:56, 23 May 2019
| Updated: 15:59, 23 May 2019
Tenants across Kent who are illegally cheating others out of a home are being given a chance to change their ways and avoid punishment.
Housing associations and local councils across the county are offering a 'key amnesty' to those who are subletting their home without permission or charging other people to live in the property while they stay elsewhere.
During the amnesty, set to run throughout June, tenants who hand in their keys to allow their property to be offered to someone in need will not face prosecution or legal action of any kind.
Adam Simmonds, chairman of the Kent Tenancy Fraud Forum, said: “If the awareness raised by this campaign prompts someone to tell us they think a neighbour is defrauding the association, 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 June amnesty only applies to tenants who come to us.”
The most basic form of tenancy fraud can be by simply lying about circumstances in order to rent a home one wouldn't otherwise be entitled to, but it is also against the law for a tenant to make a profit from subletting a spare room in the house without the landlord's permission.
Moving out completely and charging another family rent on the property that is registered to them is also illegal and such fraud can result in a jail term of up to two years and fines of up to £50,000.
Mr Simmonds added: “There are also cases where the tenant dies and a relative falsely says they have been living in the house for a number of years, sometimes claiming they were looking after the former owner, in order to be given the tenancy.
"This is a chance to avoid the consequences of being caught, which can be severe, by coming forward voluntarily during the amnesty" - Adam Simmonds
“However it is done, tenancy fraud is a very serious issue. 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.
“This is a chance to avoid the consequences of being caught, which can be severe, by coming forward voluntarily during the amnesty.
"If tenants do that we will not take any further action, but if we are tipped off by someone else, it will be a different story.”
Tenants are urged to get in touch with their housing provider or call in at their local council or housing association offices to hand in their keys with no questions asked.
They will need to include the address of the property so that the home can be re-allocated.
Anyone who believes they might be living in a home that is being sub-let illegally is also urged to get in contact with the association and will be given as much advice and support as possible.
East Kent Housing, Golding Homes, Town and Country, Riverside, Ashford Borough Council, Medway Council, mhs homes, Optivo, Clarion Housing, West Kent Housing, GCHA, Sanctuary Housing, based at Canterbury City Council, Southern Housing Group and Moat are all taking part in the scheme.