Episode 4 Council House Crackdown


Episode 4

Series following housing fraud investigators. Michelle Ackerley examines the case of a council tenant who claimed to be living in overcrowded conditions.


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Transcript


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I'm Michelle Ackley.

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My parents both grew up on council estates

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and as a family, we understand the difference social housing can make

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to people's lives.

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Millions of families across the UK are struggling to find affordable housing.

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So this is my front room and my bedroom together.

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Many are living in temporary or overcrowded conditions,

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desperate for somewhere decent to live.

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This is our room where we sleep and this is what we've got at the minute.

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We can't really call it our home.

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But some social housing tenants are abusing the system,

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holding on to properties they no longer need.

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When somebody applies for housing,

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you expect them to live in the property and when they don't,

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it does start to take the mickey.

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Or even worse,

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making a small fortune by illegally subletting them.

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He was charging beyond £1,500 a month.

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He exploited this completely to his advantage.

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So I'm with housing investigators cracking down on tenancy cheats...

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-What a waste.

-If you want to commit tenancy fraud,

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don't bother coming here.

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..reclaiming properties...

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I need to speak to you, please.

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They've seen an opportunity and they think they're not going to get caught.

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..and giving them to families in genuine need.

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That's how a council house should be.

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It should be loved and looked after.

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This is Council House Crackdown.

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Today, we discover how this woman swindled thousands of pounds from

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the public purse by illegally subletting her council property.

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So she's had 19 different people living within that property.

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Yeah, well our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had some kind of

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credit activity there, so it's very suspicious.

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Oh, my gosh.

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Investigators uncover the truth behind a man who said he

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lived in cramped conditions but in fact had a portfolio of not one,

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not two, not three, but four houses.

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It's very clear. He's made a false statement here and had a perfect

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opportunity to say, "Look, hang on.

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"I shouldn't be taking this tenancy and depriving someone else."

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I mean, the audacity of the person is unbelievable,

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to be honest with you.

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And in east London,

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housing officers finally take back a property that's fallen into complete

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disrepair while the tenant was living elsewhere.

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It certainly doesn't look like it's been decorated or lived in for a long, long time.

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What a waste.

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According to research,

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nearly 100,000 social housing properties are being unlawfully sublet

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and in a time of unprecedented demand, and so many people desperate for somewhere to live,

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most agree this constitutes a drain on a precious

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resource that we can ill afford.

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This two-bedroom flat in Kilburn was one of those properties being

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illegally sublet.

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66-year-old fraudster Ingrid Schultz should have been living there

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but Brent Council discovered that instead she was making thousands of

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pounds by illegally subletting the property.

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I've joined Dave Verma, head of the fraud team

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that uncovered her deception.

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So, Dave, tell me a bit more about this area of London.

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So it's very up and coming.

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This is north-west six, so it's very sought after.

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The house prices are escalating at a rate of knots round here.

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Outside London, the average monthly rent is less than £900.

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But in the capital it's over 1,500,

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so there's an acute demand for affordable social housing.

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So let's talk about Ingrid Schultz.

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When did she first get a property with Brent Council?

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That was in January 2003.

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Everything seemed absolutely in order and there were no suspicions

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for many years.

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But in 2015, 12 years later,

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Brent Council received an anonymous tip-off that Ingrid Schultz was no

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longer living here.

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So off the back of that tip off,

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you paid an unannounced visit to this property, is that right?

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Yes, the wrong person opened the door.

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So there was a lady who opened the door and she seemed to be quite evasive

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and was saying that the genuine tenant, Ingrid Schultz, was away.

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Friends, family members can, you know, can open doors.

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What was it about it that made you think, "Hold on a minute"?

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She didn't come across quite right.

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She definitely seemed to be hiding something.

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Off the back of that, some more detailed intelligence checks were done.

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The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act gives council fraud teams

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the powers to access someone's bank details, as well as their

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credit history, their utility bills, and even their phone records

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if they believe a property is being illegally sublet.

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Brent Council's fraud team quickly discovered through credit checks

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that Ingrid Schultz was linked to a second address,

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six miles away in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

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So where was she really living?

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In Brent or Hammersmith?

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What did you do next?

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We felt confident to work in partnership with

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Hammersmith and Fulham to organise joint visits,

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whereby we'd visit simultaneously this address in Brent and also that

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one in Hammersmith and Fulham.

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A double door knock, basically, isn't it?

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That's the bottom line, yeah.

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So you knock on the door of this property

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where Ingrid is supposed to be living at the same time as

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the property you suspect that she is actually living at.

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We can get an immediate snapshot view as to what the reality of the

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matters are and we can speak to whoever we find at both properties to get

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their view on why they are living where they're living and what the real situation is.

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So would they find Ingrid Schultz at her social housing

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property in Brent, or at the other flat in Hammersmith?

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-What did you find?

-Ingrid Schultz was actually residing,

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or appeared to be actually residing,

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at the Hammersmith and Fulham address.

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The fraud team's double door knock had caught her at the second address,

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but she claimed to have a legitimate reason for being there.

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When pressed, she was telling us that one reason she was often in

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Hammersmith and Fulham was to look after her cats.

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She had four cats and she was telling us that they lived there because it

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was a ground-floor property.

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What did you think when she told you that?

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Surely you thought, "The game's up, Ingrid"?

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Yeah, it just doesn't hold together,

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it's not logical and we knew she was trying to fob us off.

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Ingrid Schultz's assertion that her cats had to live in Hammersmith

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while she lived six miles away in Brent might have seemed ridiculous,

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but the investigators had to treat her claims seriously.

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In this instance, she was so adamant that she was actually residing in

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Brent that we thought we'd give her the benefit of the doubt and arrange a

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visit here to see her in this property.

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So a few days later,

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the fraud team visited Ingrid Schultz at her social housing flat in Brent,

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which she claimed was still her permanent address.

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She had created the facade that she was living here,

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but it was very strange because she was in the front room with a double bed in the front room.

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-So she was saying that she was living in the front room in a double bed.

-Yeah.

-Why?

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She said she didn't like the rear of the property for some reason

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and that she preferred to be in the front room.

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To me, honestly, it sounds quite comical, like,

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what was your reaction when she said that?

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It made us feel even more suspicious.

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What are you thinking that the actual situation is?

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It appeared very much to us that this premises had been sublet in its

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entirety and that the different rooms had been made into bedrooms

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that could be let out.

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It was a two-bedroom flat complete with a living room,

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so Ingrid Schultz had three rooms she could rent out separately,

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all while living in another borough a few miles away.

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She seemed to be very industrious in maximising the rental potential from

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the social housing we'd awarded her.

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Later, the full extent of Ingrid Schultz's deception is revealed.

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So she's had 19 different people living within that property?

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Yeah, well, our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had

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some kind of credit activity there, so it's very suspicious.

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Oh, my gosh.

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Our next case involves fraudster Kandappillai Jenopan,

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who claimed to be living in overcrowded conditions with his family.

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After a nine-year wait, he was allocated a council flat.

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But what Mr Jenopan didn't mention was that since applying for his council flat,

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he'd been busy building up an impressive property portfolio 180

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miles north in Scunthorpe.

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Where he owned this three-bedroomed detached property,

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this two-bed terrace,

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this three-bed terraced house...

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Oh, and also this three-bedroom detached property.

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Very nice, too.

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Greenwich, south-east London.

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In this highly sought after borough,

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there are over 16,000 people waiting to be housed,

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while around 250 new applicants join the queue every month.

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So it's vital for the council to tackle those tenancy cheats.

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Kandappillai Jenopan registered for council housing in the year 2000.

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After a nine-year wait, he was finally allocated this one-bed flat.

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Surprisingly, after only three years, out of the blue,

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he handed in the keys and gave the property back.

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After waiting so long, this sudden change of heart aroused suspicions,

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so the Royal Borough of Greenwich fraud team ran some financial checks.

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And we found fairly instantly that he had links to Scunthorpe area.

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We also found that he had business links to Scunthorpe in the fact that

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he owned a franchise, or ran a franchise, of petrol garages in that area.

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What we had to do was look at Mr Jenopan's original application.

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That was a long time ago, in 2000.

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And this is what he wrote.

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"I have been living with my brother. It's a one-bedroom flat.

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"He's got married and I am sleeping visiting hall. It is uncomfortable

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"for me and them. Also I am going college. It's affecting my studies

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"as well."

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So basically he's saying he's overcrowded.

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When he accepted his council property,

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Mr Jenopan had to sign a tenancy agreement stating that his situation hadn't changed.

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Here's the tenancy here.

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This is important because this is a date when on 7th May 2009,

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he signed this form to say that he didn't have anywhere else to live

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and that he had no changes to his circumstances.

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I mean, nine years have elapsed since he put his housing application in,

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so people's circumstances do change.

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In May 2009, he declared to us that his circumstances were still the same,

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that he had no other accommodation to live in,

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that he was still living with his relatives in the property in Greenwich,

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but we found that wasn't true.

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The fraud team knew about his connections

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to the Scunthorpe area,

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so they decided to contact North Lincolnshire Council to see what

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information they held on Mr Jenopan.

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Most councils do talk to each other.

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We would send, quite routinely, a Data Protection Act inquiry

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to another council and they would normally respond

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pretty quickly back.

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In North Lincolnshire, Hannah Leigh Watson is the fraud investigator who

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dealt with the case.

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-Hi, there!

-Hi, nice to meet you.

-Lovely to meet you, I'm Michelle.

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-Hi, this way.

-Thanks.

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Back in July last year,

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we were contacted by an investigator at the Royal Greenwich regarding

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information we held on Mr Jenopan.

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How did you kind of track down the details?

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What kind of things do you need to go through in order to build up the evidence?

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We checked through all the council records we held, which was using council tax documentation,

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and if he had ever claimed any housing benefits or council tax reduction at a point.

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We also used our electoral roll,

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just to see who was registered where.

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So the council tax records showed that Mr Jenopan was in fact living up here,

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as well as having the council property down south.

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It turned out he had four properties in this authority,

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which he was renting out to other people.

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Oh, my gosh. So at the time when he was allocated a council property

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down in Greenwich, he had four properties up here in Scunthorpe.

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-I mean, that is pretty damning, isn't it?

-It is, yes.

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It proves that working and sharing information works.

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That if we contact each other and help each other out,

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we can get to the bottom of these investigations.

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People will commit fraud all over the country.

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It just proves that eventually they will get caught out.

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North Lincolnshire Council records proved beyond doubt that he had amassed

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a varied portfolio of properties in the area

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and that he was also living in one of them.

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I've been in the council 20 years now and in the last few years,

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there's so much more sharing with data than there was ever before.

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And it's through the sharing of information that you find out more about people.

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I mean, in this case,

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North Lincolnshire helped us because they were unable to confirm to us

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that Mr Jenopan had been living up there.

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North Lincolnshire Council had concrete evidence that Mr Jenopan and his wife

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had been living in the area since May 2010,

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precisely the time he was supposed to be living in his council flat

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180 miles away in Greenwich.

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Indeed, it wasn't just a record, it was something that he had physically

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rung up about himself and they had

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a record of that, to say that he was living up there.

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Within a year of having his property,

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evidence certainly suggested that Mr Jenopan hadn't moved into our address at all.

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If he did ever live out our address in Greenwich,

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he was only there for a year.

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It's very clear he's made a false statement here,

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he already owned four houses and had a perfect opportunity to say,

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"Look, hang on, I shouldn't be taking this tenancy and depriving someone else,

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"I don't want it because I've got four other places to go and live in."

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I mean, the audacity of the person is unbelievable,

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to be honest with you.

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Before accepting a social housing property,

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tenants have to tell the council of any change in circumstance that may

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affect their housing application, such as getting married,

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having children or becoming a property owner.

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In this case, the tenant had been lying about his circumstances

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and there was more.

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There was many names on the address. Don't forget, this is a one-bedroom flat.

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You'd only normally expect to see one person registered for council tax there.

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But there were several on the credit checks, which was implying that he had rented it out.

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Later, the investigators confront the fraudster.

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The evidence was conclusive.

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I think he realised that.

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There was no way he was going to escape a summons from us for a prosecution.

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If you're a tenant and you no longer need your social housing property,

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you're supposed to notify the council and hand the keys back.

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Failure to do so is not only a breach of tenancy,

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it's also depriving other individuals and families on the waiting list

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who need somewhere to live.

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As part of a crackdown on tenancy fraud,

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Havering Council in east London recently offered a £500 reward

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to anyone providing a tip-off leading to a property being recovered.

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In the last 18 months, 35 properties have been reclaimed.

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Some have been fraud cases, but others have involved breaches of tenancy.

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Our next case involves a two-bedroom council house that was abandoned and

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may have been lying empty for years.

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It was awful.

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I mean, there was still a broken window at the back that had never been fixed.

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The garden was so overgrown that you really couldn't see into it

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and I think the neighbours were concerned there could be rats.

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Lorraine Van Dam is a housing officer at Havering Council.

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The house is on her patch.

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And according to neighbours,

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the tenant hasn't been seen living at the house for years.

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We got a tip-off from an anonymous letter,

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stating one, that the garden was overgrown and two,

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that this particular person was living with a sibling

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in another local address.

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It states that the gentleman who lives in the address we're going

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to go to has been living with his sibling at one of our other properties,

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one of our other properties, for at least three years.

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He only visits this property a couple of times a week

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to pick up mail.

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The anonymous person said, "I don't think it is right that he has

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"got away with this for three years."

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"It would be the right thing to do to investigate this matter."

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This letter is obviously somebody

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who really cares about this community

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and really sees the unjust of this gentleman

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and the way he's abusing his tenancy.

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You can see the dirt and everything and that's been like that for ages.

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And the boarding there.

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It's annoying because, at the end of the day, if someone was living there,

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there's no reason this property should be in this state.

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Lorraine tried to contact the tenant by letter and by calling round,

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but she couldn't get a response,

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which only reinforced her belief that he was no longer residing at the house.

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This, together with the neglect of the property,

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was a serious breach of his tenancy agreement.

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So she referred the case to Havering Council's fraud team.

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Former police officer Dave Gill took on the case.

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Whilst my main duty is to investigate fraud,

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it's always done with that social aspect in mind

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that this is a property that could and should be being used

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for a family in genuine, real need.

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Dave delved into the two-bedroom property's tenancy history

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and found the man had moved there in the '70s with his mother.

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In 2010, his elderly mother had assigned the tenancy to him.

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This is known as succession.

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One of the fundamental rules of succession is that you must have

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been residing in the property for 12 months.

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As part of his investigation,

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Dave examined the repair history and utility bills of the house.

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He soon discovered that there had been little activity at the property since 2013.

0:17:530:17:58

So we asked this tenant to come in and we put all the evidence that we'd gathered to him.

0:18:010:18:06

It was to give that tenant their opportunity to give us

0:18:060:18:08

an account of what had happened, really,

0:18:080:18:10

to explain their circumstances and why we'd ended up in this situation.

0:18:100:18:13

The tenant came in for questioning.

0:18:130:18:15

When he was talking, it was obvious that he wasn't living there.

0:18:150:18:20

He explained that him and his sibling wanted to live

0:18:200:18:24

somewhere else, outside the borough.

0:18:240:18:28

So I just served him with a Notice to Quit, there and then.

0:18:280:18:30

But he refused to give the property back and today,

0:18:320:18:35

Havering Council plan to evict him.

0:18:350:18:38

The Notice to Quit,

0:18:380:18:40

asking the tenant to vacate the property within 28 days,

0:18:400:18:43

expired around three or four months ago now.

0:18:430:18:46

So today really is it.

0:18:460:18:48

There's no more delays or any other part of the process that we need to

0:18:480:18:52

go through or complete. We will be getting the property back today.

0:18:520:18:55

I received a telephone call yesterday

0:18:550:18:58

saying that he hadn't cleared all his property out.

0:18:580:19:01

So, I said well, do as best you can and what he said,

0:19:010:19:05

he was going to stay there last night to try and move some of the bits.

0:19:050:19:09

At 12 o'clock we shall carry out the eviction and we'll see what's

0:19:090:19:14

left in the property.

0:19:140:19:16

But at the last minute, the eviction is called off.

0:19:280:19:32

The tenant relents and hands in the keys.

0:19:330:19:35

He's decided to relinquish the tenancy.

0:19:350:19:37

It was initially an eviction but then the tenant has now given the keys

0:19:370:19:43

back to us, so the property is back in our possession.

0:19:430:19:47

So now, for the first time in years,

0:19:480:19:51

the council can have access to this valuable social housing.

0:19:510:19:54

But there's a problem.

0:19:540:19:57

He's taken the Yale lock, I think.

0:19:570:19:59

I don't think I've been given that.

0:19:590:20:01

He hasn't given back all the keys.

0:20:010:20:03

The only thing I could see is if we could have access to the back

0:20:030:20:08

because I've got a back door key.

0:20:080:20:10

Lorraine doesn't give up that easily.

0:20:100:20:12

She heads round the back to try and gain entry through the rear garden.

0:20:120:20:15

But she can't believe the site that greets her.

0:20:170:20:20

I don't think we're going to get access, somehow.

0:20:200:20:24

The state of the back garden is...

0:20:300:20:31

Well, indescribable.

0:20:310:20:33

It's in a disgusting state.

0:20:330:20:35

The garden is so overgrown that the back door is completely inaccessible.

0:20:350:20:40

I'm just going to take pictures.

0:20:400:20:42

CAMERA CLICKS

0:20:420:20:44

It's obvious I'm not going to get into the property today from

0:20:490:20:52

the back garden, so we're going to have to try and arrange access another day.

0:20:520:20:56

But, as you can see, this is unbelievable.

0:20:560:20:58

Later, Lorraine finally gets inside the house and is shocked by what she finds.

0:21:030:21:08

Wow. One very unloved house, I think.

0:21:080:21:11

Back in Brent, we heard how the council's fraud team had become suspicious

0:21:200:21:24

that Ingrid Shultz was actually living in Hammersmith whilst illegally

0:21:240:21:28

subletting her social housing flat.

0:21:280:21:31

It appeared very much to us that this premises had been sublet in its

0:21:310:21:34

entirety and that the different rooms had been made into bedrooms that could be let out.

0:21:340:21:41

But when questioned, Ingrid Schultz denied everything.

0:21:410:21:44

She was telling us that one reason she was often in Hammersmith and Fulham

0:21:440:21:49

was to look after her cat.

0:21:490:21:51

Dave Verma and his counter-fraud team have recovered 60 properties in

0:21:510:21:54

the last 12 months.

0:21:540:21:56

I'm not sure people realise that we have professional teams of

0:21:560:21:59

investigators who are very highly trained,

0:21:590:22:02

who are not going to be fobbed off,

0:22:020:22:04

who are going to be very tenacious and try to get

0:22:040:22:08

to the bottom of things and try and do the right thing for the public purse.

0:22:080:22:12

And that's exactly what they did.

0:22:130:22:15

Utilising the law to forensically examine the financial activities at

0:22:150:22:19

Ingrid Schultz's flat.

0:22:190:22:21

So in order to confirm your suspicions of Ingrid Schultz,

0:22:210:22:25

-you obviously needed that solid body of evidence.

-Sure.

0:22:250:22:29

This first piece of paperwork here shows, indeed, that Ingrid Schultz

0:22:290:22:33

is at the property and she's got various credit going on there,

0:22:330:22:36

various activity, as we'd expect.

0:22:360:22:38

However, on the second page...

0:22:380:22:41

This is quite surprising.

0:22:430:22:45

This shows no less than 19 different people having some sort of credit

0:22:450:22:50

activity at the property.

0:22:500:22:52

-19?

-Yes.

0:22:520:22:53

So she's had 19 different people living within that property.

0:22:530:22:57

Yeah, well, our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had some

0:22:570:23:01

kind of credit activity there. So it's very suspicious.

0:23:010:23:03

Oh, my gosh. And then if you couple that with her bank account details,

0:23:030:23:09

what did that help to confirm?

0:23:090:23:11

Well, when we used our powers under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act

0:23:110:23:15

to actually get her bank statements in,

0:23:150:23:17

these very quickly indicated that there was a problem.

0:23:170:23:20

Because right here on the first page we've got the word rent,

0:23:200:23:23

paid in, and then an amount.

0:23:230:23:26

It's incredibly clear.

0:23:260:23:27

Pretty clear. Moving through the bank statement,

0:23:270:23:30

that kind of activity is replicated on various pages.

0:23:300:23:34

-Yeah.

-So here we have the word rent and again, 520...

0:23:340:23:38

-Yeah.

-And here, Kilburn rent, which is clearly our property.

0:23:380:23:41

It's very specific, isn't it?

0:23:410:23:44

And then again, 520.

0:23:440:23:45

With two bedrooms and a mattress in the living room,

0:23:470:23:49

Ingrid Schultz could have been renting out all three rooms.

0:23:490:23:53

At £520 per room per month,

0:23:530:23:56

she could have been taking in over £1,500 a month.

0:23:560:24:01

And how much was she paying the council?

0:24:010:24:04

On average, that was £150 per week.

0:24:040:24:07

That means a potential profit of over £900 a month from illegally

0:24:070:24:11

subletting her Brent flat.

0:24:110:24:13

So she was making a tidy profit from this, wasn't she?

0:24:140:24:17

She was, because at any given time,

0:24:170:24:19

she was renting between two and sometimes three rooms in the property.

0:24:190:24:23

That is amazing.

0:24:230:24:24

And when you're grabbing all this evidence together and clearly this

0:24:240:24:29

is a property that could go to someone in genuine need, what are you thinking?

0:24:290:24:34

Well, someone's making a profit.

0:24:350:24:36

A very good one at that.

0:24:360:24:38

The bank statements also revealed exactly how she was running her sublet scam.

0:24:380:24:43

From the bank statements, we got a very good clue and that led us to a

0:24:450:24:48

prominent website where people advertise rooms.

0:24:480:24:52

So she was advertising your council property for private rent.

0:24:520:24:56

-Yeah.

-Let's have a look at the information.

0:24:560:24:59

-So, what's this one?

-Gorgeous double room, flat-share in Brondesbury.

0:24:590:25:03

And here we have £145 per week.

0:25:030:25:06

It's telling us it's 5-10 minutes' walk from Brondesbury station.

0:25:060:25:09

The availability is now, minimum term three months,

0:25:090:25:13

maximum term none.

0:25:130:25:14

So it would look to anybody as if it was a genuine room offer.

0:25:140:25:20

This woman was just coining in money, wasn't she?

0:25:200:25:22

Well, there's a significant opportunity to make illegal profit, yes.

0:25:220:25:26

And she really cashed it in.

0:25:260:25:28

Yeah.

0:25:280:25:30

Ingrid Schultz pleaded guilty to subletting her social housing property in

0:25:300:25:33

Kilburn and making an unlawful profit of over £10,000.

0:25:330:25:38

On the 16th of February 2017, she appeared for sentencing.

0:25:380:25:42

And Dave Verma was at court to witness the outcome.

0:25:420:25:45

So, we take this very seriously at Brent Council and we spend quite

0:25:460:25:50

considerable resources to investigate these matters and bring

0:25:500:25:53

the perpetrators to justice.

0:25:530:25:55

The maximum penalty for this offence is a two-year jail sentence or a hefty fine.

0:25:550:26:02

I've been working in criminal investigations for some 25 years now.

0:26:020:26:06

It always pleases me when justice is served.

0:26:060:26:10

The judge deliberated over the amount of profit she made and he came to a decision.

0:26:100:26:15

And Ingrid Schultz has just been sentenced to 12 months,

0:26:150:26:18

suspended for two years, which I think's a very good result,

0:26:180:26:21

bearing in mind all the circumstances of the case.

0:26:210:26:23

She'll also have to pay back over £10,000 in unlawful profit and

0:26:230:26:27

£5,000 in costs.

0:26:270:26:30

It is days like this that makes our job as fraud investigators well

0:26:300:26:33

worthwhile. Many, many hours go into investigating cases like this,

0:26:330:26:38

preparing evidence bundles, presenting them at court,

0:26:380:26:41

being cross-examined and, yes,

0:26:410:26:43

it's moments like this that make it all worthwhile when we can hopefully

0:26:430:26:46

send out a very strong message that we take this seriously and are here

0:26:460:26:50

for the community to eradicate housing fraud.

0:26:500:26:53

Earlier, we heard how Mr Jenopan was supposed to be living in a one-bed

0:27:020:27:06

council flat in Greenwich, when in reality,

0:27:060:27:09

he'd built up a small property empire 180 miles north in Scunthorpe.

0:27:090:27:13

Mr Jenopan owned four houses in total.

0:27:160:27:18

He lived in one with his family and the other three properties he rented out.

0:27:180:27:22

After months of analysis, Greenwich council's fraud team,

0:27:220:27:25

including investigator Karen Evans, had built up their case.

0:27:250:27:29

They headed north and called Mr Jenopan in for a formal interview

0:27:290:27:32

at North Lincolnshire Council offices.

0:27:320:27:35

It's not necessarily an arrestable offence that has been committed,

0:27:350:27:40

so it's not like a police interview under caution.

0:27:400:27:43

You know, you invite somebody in for interview,

0:27:430:27:45

they have no obligation to attend or not.

0:27:450:27:47

So you try as best you can to get them in for interview and that's

0:27:470:27:51

exactly what we did.

0:27:510:27:52

Mr Jenopan did attend the interview and Karen was able to

0:27:520:27:55

put the fraud team's findings to him.

0:27:550:27:57

After showing him the evidence that we had, all the land registries,

0:27:580:28:01

all of the, erm, or some of the mortgage applications,

0:28:010:28:05

proof of him registering himself as liable for council tax at those

0:28:050:28:10

properties sometimes,

0:28:100:28:11

proof of him renting them out to various tenants over the years,

0:28:110:28:16

the evidence was conclusive.

0:28:160:28:17

I think he realised that.

0:28:170:28:19

Mr Jenopan admitted owning four properties, but claimed he was renting them out

0:28:190:28:24

and not actually living in any of them.

0:28:240:28:26

Mr Jenopan's quite a successful businessman, from what we know.

0:28:260:28:30

He has numerous franchises in Scunthorpe.

0:28:300:28:33

And he was employing people that he would put into his houses

0:28:330:28:37

in Scunthorpe and occasionally popping back to London.

0:28:370:28:42

That was his story.

0:28:420:28:44

I think he was playing on the naivete side of things but I think he most

0:28:440:28:47

probably was aware that if he was to stick to that story, that he didn't

0:28:470:28:50

realise he should tell us about the property ownership, that if

0:28:500:28:53

he maintained that he lived at the property with us, that maybe the case would go away.

0:28:530:28:57

But that clearly wasn't the case.

0:28:570:28:59

Our evidence we had on this case was overwhelming and there was no way he

0:28:590:29:02

was going to escape a summons from us for a prosecution.

0:29:020:29:05

The evidence provided by North Lincolnshire Council was all the proof that

0:29:060:29:10

Nigel and the team needed.

0:29:100:29:11

Ultimately, he had deprived someone in genuine need for a period of

0:29:110:29:15

three years of a very nice flat in the Greenwich area.

0:29:150:29:18

A nice one-bedroomed that someone else could have had.

0:29:180:29:21

It was just a no-brainer really that there was no other way than a

0:29:210:29:24

prosecution for Mr Jenopan.

0:29:240:29:26

In October 2016, Mr Jenopan pleaded guilty to two offences

0:29:260:29:30

under the Fraud Act.

0:29:300:29:32

The matter was passed to Crown Court for sentencing.

0:29:320:29:34

To admit his guilt at court proved our case that he had been living in

0:29:340:29:37

Scunthorpe almost the whole period of time.

0:29:370:29:40

Two months later, Mr Jenopan received a 20-month prison sentence,

0:29:400:29:44

suspended for two years,

0:29:440:29:46

120 hours of community service and he was ordered to compensate the

0:29:460:29:50

council for their financial losses.

0:29:500:29:52

A total of more than £29,000.

0:29:520:29:55

How that's worked out is for the three years that Mr Jenopan

0:29:570:30:01

deprived us of the use of our property,

0:30:010:30:03

we've had to house somebody else in a one-bedroom property

0:30:030:30:06

at a temporary accommodation cost,

0:30:060:30:08

so we calculate the amount of money that he's defrauded from us

0:30:080:30:12

in that respect and cost us and the judge awarded us £29,000.

0:30:120:30:17

He told him that by Christmas, only a month's time,

0:30:170:30:19

he had to pay £10,000 to us.

0:30:190:30:22

And then the remainder's being paid now by £650 per month.

0:30:220:30:25

I mean, to see somebody be ordered to pay back money to us is great

0:30:250:30:28

satisfaction from the council's point of view.

0:30:280:30:30

Not only can we then use that money back for the homeless people in the

0:30:300:30:33

borough, and maybe to rehouse people in temporary accommodation to offset

0:30:330:30:36

some of our very high costs that we pay, but the good thing is,

0:30:360:30:40

it would be a real lesson to Mr Jenopan.

0:30:400:30:42

A two-year suspended sentence for some people would be, well,

0:30:420:30:45

I got away with it.

0:30:450:30:47

But to actually have to pay £29,000, to me, isn't getting away with it.

0:30:470:30:51

That's a lot of money that anybody would have to find.

0:30:510:30:53

And I'm sure that hurt him.

0:30:530:30:54

Mr Jenopan's one-bedroom council flat has now been re-let.

0:30:570:31:01

But across the UK, the housing crisis is continuing to bite.

0:31:010:31:05

I'd be very upset if I knew that people were lying to get ahead on

0:31:070:31:11

the property ladder. It's not fair.

0:31:110:31:14

You know, I think we all should have a fair chance

0:31:140:31:16

at accessing these things.

0:31:160:31:18

And when people are taking it away from others, it's not right.

0:31:180:31:22

I'm not on social housing myself but I know people that

0:31:220:31:24

are and I know how hard it is to get social housing.

0:31:240:31:28

I know there's people been on the list for about five, six years,

0:31:280:31:30

who are still waiting now.

0:31:300:31:32

And it doesn't look like it's showing any signs of kind of easing up or anything like that at all.

0:31:320:31:37

If you've not got that stress and you know you've got your housing,

0:31:370:31:41

the house, I think, is probably the most important thing in your life.

0:31:410:31:45

If you've got a house, you've got a home, and I think the home is the thing.

0:31:450:31:49

You've got a house, you've got a home.

0:31:490:31:51

Earlier, Havering Council were investigating an anonymous tip-off that one

0:31:580:32:02

of their two-bedroom social housing properties had been abandoned and

0:32:020:32:06

fallen into disrepair.

0:32:060:32:07

It was initially an eviction but then the tenant has now given the keys back to us.

0:32:080:32:15

So the property is back in our possession.

0:32:150:32:18

Now, Lorraine is finally hoping to gain access to the property.

0:32:180:32:21

The tenant moved out years ago but hadn't told anyone.

0:32:210:32:24

A serious breach of his tenancy.

0:32:240:32:26

We're expecting to see what condition the property's in.

0:32:260:32:30

Because we have to do a quick turnaround so it can be re-let.

0:32:300:32:35

Although, having said that, it doesn't look like the property's been...

0:32:350:32:41

Had any of the decent works installed, so it will need a new kitchen,

0:32:410:32:46

new bathroom, before we can let it out to a tenant.

0:32:460:32:49

With the average waiting time for social housing property in Havering

0:32:490:32:53

being well over two years,

0:32:530:32:55

housing officer Lorraine is keen to get the property back into use as

0:32:550:32:58

quickly as possible.

0:32:580:33:00

Looking at the front garden, there's been no work done there for quite some time.

0:33:000:33:06

When someone moves into a social housing property,

0:33:070:33:10

they become responsible for maintaining all parts of the home,

0:33:100:33:13

including both front and back gardens.

0:33:130:33:16

Wow.

0:33:270:33:28

The floors and carpets are coated in layers of dust, grease and grime.

0:33:310:33:36

Certainly doesn't look like it's been decorated or lived in for years.

0:33:380:33:42

Tenants must keep their social housing in a decent state.

0:33:460:33:49

Failure to do so is a further breach of tenancy.

0:33:490:33:52

The back garden is so overgrown and it certainly hasn't been cut back for years.

0:33:540:33:59

I really don't want to open the door.

0:33:590:34:01

I fear what might run in the house.

0:34:010:34:03

It smells damp, it smells stale.

0:34:060:34:08

Very, very untidy.

0:34:100:34:12

Well, dirty.

0:34:120:34:14

Have a look at the kitchen.

0:34:170:34:19

It's certainly of a very, very old standard.

0:34:190:34:22

It certainly hasn't had a new kitchen since probably when the property was built.

0:34:220:34:29

We're going to be charged quite a bit to get this cleared.

0:34:300:34:33

Lifting all the carpets.

0:34:360:34:37

The whole house has got to be decorated.

0:34:390:34:42

It's vital that the council get this property into a fit state as quickly

0:34:440:34:49

as possible so a new family can move in.

0:34:490:34:51

Right, I'm entering one of the two bedrooms, which...

0:34:590:35:03

..as you can see, it hasn't been lived in for quite some time.

0:35:050:35:10

The decoration is ancient.

0:35:100:35:13

Bus pass there dated 4th December 1989.

0:35:130:35:17

It's just so unused and so...

0:35:170:35:20

What a waste.

0:35:200:35:21

Under the terms of his tenancy,

0:35:260:35:27

this tenant should have notified the council if he was going to be away

0:35:270:35:31

from his property for over 28 days.

0:35:310:35:34

Failure to do so is unauthorised abandonment.

0:35:340:35:37

The property is going to take a long time, longer than normal, to turn around.

0:35:380:35:43

To get this habitable.

0:35:440:35:46

Here is the bathroom.

0:35:470:35:48

Once again, it shows that it hasn't been used for quite some time.

0:35:490:35:56

As you can see by the...

0:35:560:36:00

..cleanliness of the bath.

0:36:010:36:03

That obviously hasn't been used for quite a while.

0:36:030:36:07

The fact that he wasn't living in it is irrelevant.

0:36:110:36:14

The decoration, he should have still maintained decoration while he was still living in the

0:36:140:36:20

property, as he claims he's been out of the property for a couple of years.

0:36:200:36:25

I'm sorry, this is evidence that he's been out of the property for many more years.

0:36:250:36:32

One very unloved house, I think.

0:36:340:36:38

Can't believe what a waste.

0:36:420:36:44

What a waste this is.

0:36:450:36:48

Due to the level of neglect, it will take many weeks

0:36:480:36:51

and many thousands of pounds to get this property

0:36:510:36:54

back to a liveable state and rented out to a family who genuinely need it.

0:36:540:36:58

Since 2014 in the East End of London,

0:37:070:37:10

Tower Hamlets Council has successfully recovered 28 properties as a result

0:37:100:37:14

of fraud-related investigations.

0:37:140:37:16

Are you going to go back on the slide?

0:37:190:37:21

Amy Sictorness and her daughter Lucia were on the social housing waiting list

0:37:210:37:26

for three years and applied for more than 200 properties before finally

0:37:260:37:31

getting a two-bedroom flat.

0:37:310:37:33

KNOCKING

0:37:330:37:35

-Nearly there.

-Yeah.

0:37:370:37:40

Hi, Amy, nice to meet you.

0:37:400:37:42

-This is Lucia.

-Hi, Lucia.

0:37:420:37:44

-Say hello.

-Hi.

0:37:440:37:47

So, what have we got here then?

0:37:470:37:48

So, this is my two-bedroom flat.

0:37:480:37:50

In here, this is the living room.

0:37:500:37:52

It's nice and bright and big, isn't it?

0:37:520:37:54

It is a really nice size.

0:37:540:37:56

So, tell me about your situation before you moved into this property.

0:37:560:37:59

-Where were you living?

-I was just living over the road with my mum in

0:37:590:38:02

another two-bedroom flat, my mum and my twin sister.

0:38:020:38:05

And, obviously, me and my twin, we shared a room.

0:38:050:38:07

Amy desperately needed a place of her own,

0:38:070:38:10

but she had no choice but to wait.

0:38:100:38:13

Just one room, you've got the baby's cot in there, obviously,

0:38:150:38:19

mine and my sister's bed, all the baby's stuff.

0:38:190:38:22

It's funny, because one little person just takes up so much room.

0:38:220:38:25

It's mad. It's very overcrowded and I think it must have been very stressful for my sister as well.

0:38:250:38:29

A privately rented two-bedroom flat in this area can cost over £2,200

0:38:300:38:35

per month, well beyond Amy's price range.

0:38:350:38:38

Reluctantly, she turned to the council for help.

0:38:380:38:41

I went down to the council and put my name on their housing list.

0:38:420:38:46

And I was bidding for about three, four years.

0:38:460:38:51

Three or four years?

0:38:510:38:52

Yeah, I bid on over 200 places before I got to view this one.

0:38:520:38:57

Did you lose heart at any point?

0:38:570:38:59

I did get to view some properties and that,

0:38:590:39:00

but obviously people was always in front of me.

0:39:000:39:03

And obviously they accepted it.

0:39:030:39:05

And every time I'd feel gutted.

0:39:050:39:06

I'd be the third person that gets refusal on it

0:39:060:39:09

and I'd get to go and view the property and you just stand there

0:39:090:39:11

thinking, "Please don't accept it, please don't accept it,

0:39:110:39:14

"so I can have it." And then I'd walk home, I'd ring my mum and I'd cry.

0:39:140:39:17

I'd be like, "I didn't get it again."

0:39:170:39:19

For Amy's mum Julie, it was also crucial that her daughter

0:39:190:39:22

and granddaughter were able to live close by.

0:39:220:39:25

How would you have felt if, you know,

0:39:250:39:27

Amy had been given a property or offered a property that wasn't so close to you?

0:39:270:39:32

That, actually, would have upset me because, you know,

0:39:320:39:35

we've always been close

0:39:350:39:37

and from when Lucia was born, they was living with me,

0:39:370:39:40

so I've got to see her first, you know, steps kind of thing,

0:39:400:39:44

and then for her to have sort of moved out,

0:39:440:39:46

I would have been concerned about her because, you know,

0:39:460:39:49

I'm on hand if anything happens.

0:39:490:39:52

You know, I'm always sort of, I can be, you know,

0:39:520:39:54

I can be there in five minutes kind of thing.

0:39:540:39:56

If she was living out of the borough with no family, you know,

0:39:560:39:59

what would she do?

0:39:590:40:01

What would she do being on her own?

0:40:010:40:02

But in November 2015, Tower Hamlets Council held an amnesty to encourage tenancy cheats to hand

0:40:040:40:10

back keys without consequence or risk of court action.

0:40:100:40:13

They got back properties worth £13 million.

0:40:130:40:17

Amy's was one of the first flats they recovered.

0:40:170:40:20

I couldn't have been happier, especially just when it said a two-bedroom as well.

0:40:220:40:26

I thought all my Christmases had come at once.

0:40:260:40:28

The fact that I did get it just shows me that there is hope

0:40:280:40:31

because there's a lot of people that's in the same situation that I was

0:40:310:40:34

and obviously losing hope and that sort of thing is horrible, so,

0:40:340:40:38

just fingers crossed they carry on with what they're doing and other

0:40:380:40:41

people do get offered properties like this as well.

0:40:410:40:44

When Amy got the letter for this property, how did you feel?

0:40:440:40:48

Could not believe it. Really excited.

0:40:480:40:51

Really, you know, never wanted her to leave home kind of thing,

0:40:510:40:55

but so excited that she had got her own home and the fact that it was so close.

0:40:550:41:00

We already knew this estate because my sister had lived at the block at the end,

0:41:000:41:04

my great nan had lived on this estate when it first opened, so, you know, five minutes from me.

0:41:040:41:09

It was really exciting that she was getting her own home and, sort of,

0:41:090:41:13

starting off on her own kind of thing, you know,

0:41:130:41:15

creating her own sort of new little life with her little family.

0:41:150:41:20

Amy's family have been in the area for generations

0:41:200:41:23

and bringing up a young child, it's important for her to have a support

0:41:230:41:26

network close by. But this isn't always possible.

0:41:260:41:30

The number of homeless families being relocated outside London has

0:41:300:41:34

increased fivefold in the last decade.

0:41:340:41:36

And now you've got your own place,

0:41:370:41:40

what difference has this place made to your life?

0:41:400:41:44

Well, obviously, it's just over the road from my mum,

0:41:440:41:46

I've got a lot of support, it's just over the road from my mum's sister.

0:41:460:41:49

I've always grown up in Bethnal Green.

0:41:490:41:50

My mum, even like my nan and my grandad,

0:41:500:41:52

their nans and grandads, we've all been born and bred in Bethnal Green.

0:41:520:41:56

So, it's all we know, so if I would have had to have moved out,

0:41:560:41:59

I would have been lost.

0:41:590:42:01

So, that's why this area, in terms of finding a suitable council property,

0:42:010:42:05

-is so important to you?

-Yeah, definitely.

0:42:050:42:07

Even when Lucia goes to nursery, my mum will be able to help

0:42:070:42:11

because obviously then I'll go back to work.

0:42:110:42:13

And talking about work, obviously that's important to you, isn't it?

0:42:130:42:15

You've got a really strong work ethic and it's important to you to show your daughter that as well.

0:42:150:42:20

Yeah, definitely. I've always worked, I like working. I can't sit at home all day bored,

0:42:200:42:24

do you know what I mean? I worked right up until three weeks before I

0:42:240:42:27

had Lucia. So once Lucia's two, she'll go to nursery and I'll definitely get

0:42:270:42:30

myself back into work.

0:42:300:42:32

And is something that when you got this property, you were thinking,

0:42:320:42:34

"Yes, now this gives me a base in order to kind of carry on

0:42:340:42:37

"with my future and, you know, think about those type of things?"

0:42:370:42:40

Yeah, definitely. When obviously, like, I started a family sort of thing,

0:42:400:42:43

you do think about, obviously, once she grows up, she goes to school,

0:42:430:42:46

you go out to work in the morning and that sort of thing, like,

0:42:460:42:48

how am I going to do all that happily from one room in my mum's?

0:42:480:42:51

Do you know what I mean? It's nice to have your own house.

0:42:510:42:55

It's all about growing up in a way, ain't it?

0:42:550:42:57

With her family supporting her,

0:42:590:43:01

Amy's looking to return to work as soon as possible.

0:43:010:43:03

Amy's story shows how social housing can have a real, positive impact,

0:43:060:43:11

not just on individuals, but on entire families.

0:43:110:43:14

And it's stories like this that motivate housing investigators

0:43:140:43:18

as they continue in their fight to crack down on tenancy fraud.

0:43:180:43:22

Michelle Ackerley examines the case of a council tenant who claimed to be living in overcrowded conditions when in fact he was a property owner with a secret portfolio of four properties.