Key amnesty a success in Gravesend as illegal tenants give up properties without penalty

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 July 2019

An overgrown garden can be a sign of an unoccupied home. Picture: Paul Hewitt

An overgrown garden can be a sign of an unoccupied home. Picture: Paul Hewitt

A so-called key amnesty where tenants can walk away from a property they are illegally using is already paying dividends in Gravesend.

Concerned neighbours have been able to ensure a number of empty homes will soon be let to families that need them, thanks to the success of the Kent-wide key amnesty backed by West Kent housing association.

It was part of a joint campaign by 14 housing associations and local council landlords across the county aimed at encouraging tenants committing tenancy fraud to give their keys back without risking prosecution or legal action, but only if they did so during June.

West Kent was one of the associations that had keys returned by tenants who were breaking the rules but also welcomed the increasing awareness the campaign raised amongst neighbours.

A number of people who were alerted to the real cost of fraud - the lack of homes for genuine people - came forward to report homes that appeared to have been left empty.

In one case, the neighbours of a property in Gravesend called to say that the tenant only appeared every two months to pick up her post and the garden was overgrown.

When investigators discovered she was living in Essex with her boyfriend and had abandoned the property, they issued her with a Notice to Quit.

Felicity Dunmall, housing service nanager for Gravesend Churches Housing Association, another taking part in the amnesty, said: "The neighbour told us that they hadn't wanted to interfere in the past but then saw the publicity around the campaign and realised that their neighbour was committing fraud.

"They told me what really made up their mind had been remembering how desperate they had been to find a home of their own and how long they had waited for it. Once they realised there was a family out there that could be living in this empty home, they got in touch."

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Other partners in the campaign run by the Kent Tenancy Fraud Forum, part of the Kent Housing Group, also received keys back, either from tenants taking advantage of the amnesty or following tip-offs from members of the public.

West Kent's head of tenancy services Genette Pinwill said: "The key amnesty was primarily designed to raise awareness of the costs of tenancy fraud and the risk of getting caught, and it did that very well.

"The fact that it also persuaded a number of tenants to give back their keys and walk away knowing they were safe from legal action was a real bonus."

Forum chairman Adam Simmonds added: "We raised a lot of awareness about what tenancy fraud is and about how important it is that our homes are occupied by people who deserve them.

"Abandoning a property to go and live with a partner but keeping it as a 'bolt hole' simply isn't fair, particularly when the rent is being paid through Housing Benefit."

Tenants who defraud landlords face severe penalties including a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to £50,000.

Genette added: "The most basic form of fraud is simply lying about your circumstances in order to rent a home you wouldn't otherwise be entitled to."

Subletting for profit without asking the landlord's permission or to move out completely and charge another family or families rent on the home registered to them, is illegal.

"There are also cases where the tenant dies and a relative falsely claims to have been living in the house for a number of years, often claiming they were looking after the former owner, in order to be given the tenancy," Genette went on.

"However it is done, tenancy fraud is a 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."

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