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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I'm Michelle Ackley.
My parents both grew up on council estates
and as a family, we understand the difference social housing can make
to people's lives.
Millions of families across the UK are struggling to find affordable housing.
So this is my front room and my bedroom together.
Many are living in temporary or overcrowded conditions,
desperate for somewhere decent to live.
This is our room where we sleep and this is what we've got at the minute.
We can't really call it our home.
But some social housing tenants are abusing the system,
holding on to properties they no longer need.
When somebody applies for housing,
you expect them to live in the property and when they don't,
it does start to take the mickey.
Or even worse,
making a small fortune by illegally subletting them.
He was charging beyond £1,500 a month.
He exploited this completely to his advantage.
So I'm with housing investigators cracking down on tenancy cheats...
-What a waste.
-If you want to commit tenancy fraud,
don't bother coming here.
I need to speak to you, please.
They've seen an opportunity and they think they're not going to get caught.
..and giving them to families in genuine need.
That's how a council house should be.
It should be loved and looked after.
This is Council House Crackdown.
Today, we discover how this woman swindled thousands of pounds from
the public purse by illegally subletting her council property.
So she's had 19 different people living within that property.
Yeah, well our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had some kind of
credit activity there, so it's very suspicious.
Oh, my gosh.
Investigators uncover the truth behind a man who said he
lived in cramped conditions but in fact had a portfolio of not one,
not two, not three, but four houses.
It's very clear. He's made a false statement here and had a perfect
opportunity to say, "Look, hang on.
"I shouldn't be taking this tenancy and depriving someone else."
I mean, the audacity of the person is unbelievable,
to be honest with you.
And in east London,
housing officers finally take back a property that's fallen into complete
disrepair while the tenant was living elsewhere.
It certainly doesn't look like it's been decorated or lived in for a long, long time.
What a waste.
According to research,
nearly 100,000 social housing properties are being unlawfully sublet
and in a time of unprecedented demand, and so many people desperate for somewhere to live,
most agree this constitutes a drain on a precious
resource that we can ill afford.
This two-bedroom flat in Kilburn was one of those properties being
66-year-old fraudster Ingrid Schultz should have been living there
but Brent Council discovered that instead she was making thousands of
pounds by illegally subletting the property.
I've joined Dave Verma, head of the fraud team
that uncovered her deception.
So, Dave, tell me a bit more about this area of London.
So it's very up and coming.
This is north-west six, so it's very sought after.
The house prices are escalating at a rate of knots round here.
Outside London, the average monthly rent is less than £900.
But in the capital it's over 1,500,
so there's an acute demand for affordable social housing.
So let's talk about Ingrid Schultz.
When did she first get a property with Brent Council?
That was in January 2003.
Everything seemed absolutely in order and there were no suspicions
for many years.
But in 2015, 12 years later,
Brent Council received an anonymous tip-off that Ingrid Schultz was no
longer living here.
So off the back of that tip off,
you paid an unannounced visit to this property, is that right?
Yes, the wrong person opened the door.
So there was a lady who opened the door and she seemed to be quite evasive
and was saying that the genuine tenant, Ingrid Schultz, was away.
Friends, family members can, you know, can open doors.
What was it about it that made you think, "Hold on a minute"?
She didn't come across quite right.
She definitely seemed to be hiding something.
Off the back of that, some more detailed intelligence checks were done.
The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act gives council fraud teams
the powers to access someone's bank details, as well as their
credit history, their utility bills, and even their phone records
if they believe a property is being illegally sublet.
Brent Council's fraud team quickly discovered through credit checks
that Ingrid Schultz was linked to a second address,
six miles away in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
So where was she really living?
In Brent or Hammersmith?
What did you do next?
We felt confident to work in partnership with
Hammersmith and Fulham to organise joint visits,
whereby we'd visit simultaneously this address in Brent and also that
one in Hammersmith and Fulham.
A double door knock, basically, isn't it?
That's the bottom line, yeah.
So you knock on the door of this property
where Ingrid is supposed to be living at the same time as
the property you suspect that she is actually living at.
We can get an immediate snapshot view as to what the reality of the
matters are and we can speak to whoever we find at both properties to get
their view on why they are living where they're living and what the real situation is.
So would they find Ingrid Schultz at her social housing
property in Brent, or at the other flat in Hammersmith?
-What did you find?
-Ingrid Schultz was actually residing,
or appeared to be actually residing,
at the Hammersmith and Fulham address.
The fraud team's double door knock had caught her at the second address,
but she claimed to have a legitimate reason for being there.
When pressed, she was telling us that one reason she was often in
Hammersmith and Fulham was to look after her cats.
She had four cats and she was telling us that they lived there because it
was a ground-floor property.
What did you think when she told you that?
Surely you thought, "The game's up, Ingrid"?
Yeah, it just doesn't hold together,
it's not logical and we knew she was trying to fob us off.
Ingrid Schultz's assertion that her cats had to live in Hammersmith
while she lived six miles away in Brent might have seemed ridiculous,
but the investigators had to treat her claims seriously.
In this instance, she was so adamant that she was actually residing in
Brent that we thought we'd give her the benefit of the doubt and arrange a
visit here to see her in this property.
So a few days later,
the fraud team visited Ingrid Schultz at her social housing flat in Brent,
which she claimed was still her permanent address.
She had created the facade that she was living here,
but it was very strange because she was in the front room with a double bed in the front room.
-So she was saying that she was living in the front room in a double bed.
She said she didn't like the rear of the property for some reason
and that she preferred to be in the front room.
To me, honestly, it sounds quite comical, like,
what was your reaction when she said that?
It made us feel even more suspicious.
What are you thinking that the actual situation is?
It appeared very much to us that this premises had been sublet in its
entirety and that the different rooms had been made into bedrooms
that could be let out.
It was a two-bedroom flat complete with a living room,
so Ingrid Schultz had three rooms she could rent out separately,
all while living in another borough a few miles away.
She seemed to be very industrious in maximising the rental potential from
the social housing we'd awarded her.
Later, the full extent of Ingrid Schultz's deception is revealed.
So she's had 19 different people living within that property?
Yeah, well, our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had
some kind of credit activity there, so it's very suspicious.
Oh, my gosh.
Our next case involves fraudster Kandappillai Jenopan,
who claimed to be living in overcrowded conditions with his family.
After a nine-year wait, he was allocated a council flat.
But what Mr Jenopan didn't mention was that since applying for his council flat,
he'd been busy building up an impressive property portfolio 180
miles north in Scunthorpe.
Where he owned this three-bedroomed detached property,
this two-bed terrace,
this three-bed terraced house...
Oh, and also this three-bedroom detached property.
Very nice, too.
Greenwich, south-east London.
In this highly sought after borough,
there are over 16,000 people waiting to be housed,
while around 250 new applicants join the queue every month.
So it's vital for the council to tackle those tenancy cheats.
Kandappillai Jenopan registered for council housing in the year 2000.
After a nine-year wait, he was finally allocated this one-bed flat.
Surprisingly, after only three years, out of the blue,
he handed in the keys and gave the property back.
After waiting so long, this sudden change of heart aroused suspicions,
so the Royal Borough of Greenwich fraud team ran some financial checks.
And we found fairly instantly that he had links to Scunthorpe area.
We also found that he had business links to Scunthorpe in the fact that
he owned a franchise, or ran a franchise, of petrol garages in that area.
What we had to do was look at Mr Jenopan's original application.
That was a long time ago, in 2000.
And this is what he wrote.
"I have been living with my brother. It's a one-bedroom flat.
"He's got married and I am sleeping visiting hall. It is uncomfortable
"for me and them. Also I am going college. It's affecting my studies
So basically he's saying he's overcrowded.
When he accepted his council property,
Mr Jenopan had to sign a tenancy agreement stating that his situation hadn't changed.
Here's the tenancy here.
This is important because this is a date when on 7th May 2009,
he signed this form to say that he didn't have anywhere else to live
and that he had no changes to his circumstances.
I mean, nine years have elapsed since he put his housing application in,
so people's circumstances do change.
In May 2009, he declared to us that his circumstances were still the same,
that he had no other accommodation to live in,
that he was still living with his relatives in the property in Greenwich,
but we found that wasn't true.
The fraud team knew about his connections
to the Scunthorpe area,
so they decided to contact North Lincolnshire Council to see what
information they held on Mr Jenopan.
Most councils do talk to each other.
We would send, quite routinely, a Data Protection Act inquiry
to another council and they would normally respond
pretty quickly back.
In North Lincolnshire, Hannah Leigh Watson is the fraud investigator who
dealt with the case.
-Hi, nice to meet you.
-Lovely to meet you, I'm Michelle.
-Hi, this way.
Back in July last year,
we were contacted by an investigator at the Royal Greenwich regarding
information we held on Mr Jenopan.
How did you kind of track down the details?
What kind of things do you need to go through in order to build up the evidence?
We checked through all the council records we held, which was using council tax documentation,
and if he had ever claimed any housing benefits or council tax reduction at a point.
We also used our electoral roll,
just to see who was registered where.
So the council tax records showed that Mr Jenopan was in fact living up here,
as well as having the council property down south.
It turned out he had four properties in this authority,
which he was renting out to other people.
Oh, my gosh. So at the time when he was allocated a council property
down in Greenwich, he had four properties up here in Scunthorpe.
-I mean, that is pretty damning, isn't it?
-It is, yes.
It proves that working and sharing information works.
That if we contact each other and help each other out,
we can get to the bottom of these investigations.
People will commit fraud all over the country.
It just proves that eventually they will get caught out.
North Lincolnshire Council records proved beyond doubt that he had amassed
a varied portfolio of properties in the area
and that he was also living in one of them.
I've been in the council 20 years now and in the last few years,
there's so much more sharing with data than there was ever before.
And it's through the sharing of information that you find out more about people.
I mean, in this case,
North Lincolnshire helped us because they were unable to confirm to us
that Mr Jenopan had been living up there.
North Lincolnshire Council had concrete evidence that Mr Jenopan and his wife
had been living in the area since May 2010,
precisely the time he was supposed to be living in his council flat
180 miles away in Greenwich.
Indeed, it wasn't just a record, it was something that he had physically
rung up about himself and they had
a record of that, to say that he was living up there.
Within a year of having his property,
evidence certainly suggested that Mr Jenopan hadn't moved into our address at all.
If he did ever live out our address in Greenwich,
he was only there for a year.
It's very clear he's made a false statement here,
he already owned four houses and had a perfect opportunity to say,
"Look, hang on, I shouldn't be taking this tenancy and depriving someone else,
"I don't want it because I've got four other places to go and live in."
I mean, the audacity of the person is unbelievable,
to be honest with you.
Before accepting a social housing property,
tenants have to tell the council of any change in circumstance that may
affect their housing application, such as getting married,
having children or becoming a property owner.
In this case, the tenant had been lying about his circumstances
and there was more.
There was many names on the address. Don't forget, this is a one-bedroom flat.
You'd only normally expect to see one person registered for council tax there.
But there were several on the credit checks, which was implying that he had rented it out.
Later, the investigators confront the fraudster.
The evidence was conclusive.
I think he realised that.
There was no way he was going to escape a summons from us for a prosecution.
If you're a tenant and you no longer need your social housing property,
you're supposed to notify the council and hand the keys back.
Failure to do so is not only a breach of tenancy,
it's also depriving other individuals and families on the waiting list
who need somewhere to live.
As part of a crackdown on tenancy fraud,
Havering Council in east London recently offered a £500 reward
to anyone providing a tip-off leading to a property being recovered.
In the last 18 months, 35 properties have been reclaimed.
Some have been fraud cases, but others have involved breaches of tenancy.
Our next case involves a two-bedroom council house that was abandoned and
may have been lying empty for years.
It was awful.
I mean, there was still a broken window at the back that had never been fixed.
The garden was so overgrown that you really couldn't see into it
and I think the neighbours were concerned there could be rats.
Lorraine Van Dam is a housing officer at Havering Council.
The house is on her patch.
And according to neighbours,
the tenant hasn't been seen living at the house for years.
We got a tip-off from an anonymous letter,
stating one, that the garden was overgrown and two,
that this particular person was living with a sibling
in another local address.
It states that the gentleman who lives in the address we're going
to go to has been living with his sibling at one of our other properties,
one of our other properties, for at least three years.
He only visits this property a couple of times a week
to pick up mail.
The anonymous person said, "I don't think it is right that he has
"got away with this for three years."
"It would be the right thing to do to investigate this matter."
This letter is obviously somebody
who really cares about this community
and really sees the unjust of this gentleman
and the way he's abusing his tenancy.
You can see the dirt and everything and that's been like that for ages.
And the boarding there.
It's annoying because, at the end of the day, if someone was living there,
there's no reason this property should be in this state.
Lorraine tried to contact the tenant by letter and by calling round,
but she couldn't get a response,
which only reinforced her belief that he was no longer residing at the house.
This, together with the neglect of the property,
was a serious breach of his tenancy agreement.
So she referred the case to Havering Council's fraud team.
Former police officer Dave Gill took on the case.
Whilst my main duty is to investigate fraud,
it's always done with that social aspect in mind
that this is a property that could and should be being used
for a family in genuine, real need.
Dave delved into the two-bedroom property's tenancy history
and found the man had moved there in the '70s with his mother.
In 2010, his elderly mother had assigned the tenancy to him.
This is known as succession.
One of the fundamental rules of succession is that you must have
been residing in the property for 12 months.
As part of his investigation,
Dave examined the repair history and utility bills of the house.
He soon discovered that there had been little activity at the property since 2013.
So we asked this tenant to come in and we put all the evidence that we'd gathered to him.
It was to give that tenant their opportunity to give us
an account of what had happened, really,
to explain their circumstances and why we'd ended up in this situation.
The tenant came in for questioning.
When he was talking, it was obvious that he wasn't living there.
He explained that him and his sibling wanted to live
somewhere else, outside the borough.
So I just served him with a Notice to Quit, there and then.
But he refused to give the property back and today,
Havering Council plan to evict him.
The Notice to Quit,
asking the tenant to vacate the property within 28 days,
expired around three or four months ago now.
So today really is it.
There's no more delays or any other part of the process that we need to
go through or complete. We will be getting the property back today.
I received a telephone call yesterday
saying that he hadn't cleared all his property out.
So, I said well, do as best you can and what he said,
he was going to stay there last night to try and move some of the bits.
At 12 o'clock we shall carry out the eviction and we'll see what's
left in the property.
But at the last minute, the eviction is called off.
The tenant relents and hands in the keys.
He's decided to relinquish the tenancy.
It was initially an eviction but then the tenant has now given the keys
back to us, so the property is back in our possession.
So now, for the first time in years,
the council can have access to this valuable social housing.
But there's a problem.
He's taken the Yale lock, I think.
I don't think I've been given that.
He hasn't given back all the keys.
The only thing I could see is if we could have access to the back
because I've got a back door key.
Lorraine doesn't give up that easily.
She heads round the back to try and gain entry through the rear garden.
But she can't believe the site that greets her.
I don't think we're going to get access, somehow.
The state of the back garden is...
It's in a disgusting state.
The garden is so overgrown that the back door is completely inaccessible.
I'm just going to take pictures.
It's obvious I'm not going to get into the property today from
the back garden, so we're going to have to try and arrange access another day.
But, as you can see, this is unbelievable.
Later, Lorraine finally gets inside the house and is shocked by what she finds.
Wow. One very unloved house, I think.
Back in Brent, we heard how the council's fraud team had become suspicious
that Ingrid Shultz was actually living in Hammersmith whilst illegally
subletting her social housing flat.
It appeared very much to us that this premises had been sublet in its
entirety and that the different rooms had been made into bedrooms that could be let out.
But when questioned, Ingrid Schultz denied everything.
She was telling us that one reason she was often in Hammersmith and Fulham
was to look after her cat.
Dave Verma and his counter-fraud team have recovered 60 properties in
the last 12 months.
I'm not sure people realise that we have professional teams of
investigators who are very highly trained,
who are not going to be fobbed off,
who are going to be very tenacious and try to get
to the bottom of things and try and do the right thing for the public purse.
And that's exactly what they did.
Utilising the law to forensically examine the financial activities at
Ingrid Schultz's flat.
So in order to confirm your suspicions of Ingrid Schultz,
-you obviously needed that solid body of evidence.
This first piece of paperwork here shows, indeed, that Ingrid Schultz
is at the property and she's got various credit going on there,
various activity, as we'd expect.
However, on the second page...
This is quite surprising.
This shows no less than 19 different people having some sort of credit
activity at the property.
So she's had 19 different people living within that property.
Yeah, well, our suspicion at that point was 19 people have had some
kind of credit activity there. So it's very suspicious.
Oh, my gosh. And then if you couple that with her bank account details,
what did that help to confirm?
Well, when we used our powers under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act
to actually get her bank statements in,
these very quickly indicated that there was a problem.
Because right here on the first page we've got the word rent,
paid in, and then an amount.
It's incredibly clear.
Pretty clear. Moving through the bank statement,
that kind of activity is replicated on various pages.
-So here we have the word rent and again, 520...
-And here, Kilburn rent, which is clearly our property.
It's very specific, isn't it?
And then again, 520.
With two bedrooms and a mattress in the living room,
Ingrid Schultz could have been renting out all three rooms.
At £520 per room per month,
she could have been taking in over £1,500 a month.
And how much was she paying the council?
On average, that was £150 per week.
That means a potential profit of over £900 a month from illegally
subletting her Brent flat.
So she was making a tidy profit from this, wasn't she?
She was, because at any given time,
she was renting between two and sometimes three rooms in the property.
That is amazing.
And when you're grabbing all this evidence together and clearly this
is a property that could go to someone in genuine need, what are you thinking?
Well, someone's making a profit.
A very good one at that.
The bank statements also revealed exactly how she was running her sublet scam.
From the bank statements, we got a very good clue and that led us to a
prominent website where people advertise rooms.
So she was advertising your council property for private rent.
-Let's have a look at the information.
-So, what's this one?
-Gorgeous double room, flat-share in Brondesbury.
And here we have £145 per week.
It's telling us it's 5-10 minutes' walk from Brondesbury station.
The availability is now, minimum term three months,
maximum term none.
So it would look to anybody as if it was a genuine room offer.
This woman was just coining in money, wasn't she?
Well, there's a significant opportunity to make illegal profit, yes.
And she really cashed it in.
Ingrid Schultz pleaded guilty to subletting her social housing property in
Kilburn and making an unlawful profit of over £10,000.
On the 16th of February 2017, she appeared for sentencing.
And Dave Verma was at court to witness the outcome.
So, we take this very seriously at Brent Council and we spend quite
considerable resources to investigate these matters and bring
the perpetrators to justice.
The maximum penalty for this offence is a two-year jail sentence or a hefty fine.
I've been working in criminal investigations for some 25 years now.
It always pleases me when justice is served.
The judge deliberated over the amount of profit she made and he came to a decision.
And Ingrid Schultz has just been sentenced to 12 months,
suspended for two years, which I think's a very good result,
bearing in mind all the circumstances of the case.
She'll also have to pay back over £10,000 in unlawful profit and
£5,000 in costs.
It is days like this that makes our job as fraud investigators well
worthwhile. Many, many hours go into investigating cases like this,
preparing evidence bundles, presenting them at court,
being cross-examined and, yes,
it's moments like this that make it all worthwhile when we can hopefully
send out a very strong message that we take this seriously and are here
for the community to eradicate housing fraud.
Earlier, we heard how Mr Jenopan was supposed to be living in a one-bed
council flat in Greenwich, when in reality,
he'd built up a small property empire 180 miles north in Scunthorpe.
Mr Jenopan owned four houses in total.
He lived in one with his family and the other three properties he rented out.
After months of analysis, Greenwich council's fraud team,
including investigator Karen Evans, had built up their case.
They headed north and called Mr Jenopan in for a formal interview
at North Lincolnshire Council offices.
It's not necessarily an arrestable offence that has been committed,
so it's not like a police interview under caution.
You know, you invite somebody in for interview,
they have no obligation to attend or not.
So you try as best you can to get them in for interview and that's
exactly what we did.
Mr Jenopan did attend the interview and Karen was able to
put the fraud team's findings to him.
After showing him the evidence that we had, all the land registries,
all of the, erm, or some of the mortgage applications,
proof of him registering himself as liable for council tax at those
proof of him renting them out to various tenants over the years,
the evidence was conclusive.
I think he realised that.
Mr Jenopan admitted owning four properties, but claimed he was renting them out
and not actually living in any of them.
Mr Jenopan's quite a successful businessman, from what we know.
He has numerous franchises in Scunthorpe.
And he was employing people that he would put into his houses
in Scunthorpe and occasionally popping back to London.
That was his story.
I think he was playing on the naivete side of things but I think he most
probably was aware that if he was to stick to that story, that he didn't
realise he should tell us about the property ownership, that if
he maintained that he lived at the property with us, that maybe the case would go away.
But that clearly wasn't the case.
Our evidence we had on this case was overwhelming and there was no way he
was going to escape a summons from us for a prosecution.
The evidence provided by North Lincolnshire Council was all the proof that
Nigel and the team needed.
Ultimately, he had deprived someone in genuine need for a period of
three years of a very nice flat in the Greenwich area.
A nice one-bedroomed that someone else could have had.
It was just a no-brainer really that there was no other way than a
prosecution for Mr Jenopan.
In October 2016, Mr Jenopan pleaded guilty to two offences
under the Fraud Act.
The matter was passed to Crown Court for sentencing.
To admit his guilt at court proved our case that he had been living in
Scunthorpe almost the whole period of time.
Two months later, Mr Jenopan received a 20-month prison sentence,
suspended for two years,
120 hours of community service and he was ordered to compensate the
council for their financial losses.
A total of more than £29,000.
How that's worked out is for the three years that Mr Jenopan
deprived us of the use of our property,
we've had to house somebody else in a one-bedroom property
at a temporary accommodation cost,
so we calculate the amount of money that he's defrauded from us
in that respect and cost us and the judge awarded us £29,000.
He told him that by Christmas, only a month's time,
he had to pay £10,000 to us.
And then the remainder's being paid now by £650 per month.
I mean, to see somebody be ordered to pay back money to us is great
satisfaction from the council's point of view.
Not only can we then use that money back for the homeless people in the
borough, and maybe to rehouse people in temporary accommodation to offset
some of our very high costs that we pay, but the good thing is,
it would be a real lesson to Mr Jenopan.
A two-year suspended sentence for some people would be, well,
I got away with it.
But to actually have to pay £29,000, to me, isn't getting away with it.
That's a lot of money that anybody would have to find.
And I'm sure that hurt him.
Mr Jenopan's one-bedroom council flat has now been re-let.
But across the UK, the housing crisis is continuing to bite.
I'd be very upset if I knew that people were lying to get ahead on
the property ladder. It's not fair.
You know, I think we all should have a fair chance
at accessing these things.
And when people are taking it away from others, it's not right.
I'm not on social housing myself but I know people that
are and I know how hard it is to get social housing.
I know there's people been on the list for about five, six years,
who are still waiting now.
And it doesn't look like it's showing any signs of kind of easing up or anything like that at all.
If you've not got that stress and you know you've got your housing,
the house, I think, is probably the most important thing in your life.
If you've got a house, you've got a home, and I think the home is the thing.
You've got a house, you've got a home.
Earlier, Havering Council were investigating an anonymous tip-off that one
of their two-bedroom social housing properties had been abandoned and
fallen into disrepair.
It was initially an eviction but then the tenant has now given the keys back to us.
So the property is back in our possession.
Now, Lorraine is finally hoping to gain access to the property.
The tenant moved out years ago but hadn't told anyone.
A serious breach of his tenancy.
We're expecting to see what condition the property's in.
Because we have to do a quick turnaround so it can be re-let.
Although, having said that, it doesn't look like the property's been...
Had any of the decent works installed, so it will need a new kitchen,
new bathroom, before we can let it out to a tenant.
With the average waiting time for social housing property in Havering
being well over two years,
housing officer Lorraine is keen to get the property back into use as
quickly as possible.
Looking at the front garden, there's been no work done there for quite some time.
When someone moves into a social housing property,
they become responsible for maintaining all parts of the home,
including both front and back gardens.
The floors and carpets are coated in layers of dust, grease and grime.
Certainly doesn't look like it's been decorated or lived in for years.
Tenants must keep their social housing in a decent state.
Failure to do so is a further breach of tenancy.
The back garden is so overgrown and it certainly hasn't been cut back for years.
I really don't want to open the door.
I fear what might run in the house.
It smells damp, it smells stale.
Very, very untidy.
Have a look at the kitchen.
It's certainly of a very, very old standard.
It certainly hasn't had a new kitchen since probably when the property was built.
We're going to be charged quite a bit to get this cleared.
Lifting all the carpets.
The whole house has got to be decorated.
It's vital that the council get this property into a fit state as quickly
as possible so a new family can move in.
Right, I'm entering one of the two bedrooms, which...
..as you can see, it hasn't been lived in for quite some time.
The decoration is ancient.
Bus pass there dated 4th December 1989.
It's just so unused and so...
What a waste.
Under the terms of his tenancy,
this tenant should have notified the council if he was going to be away
from his property for over 28 days.
Failure to do so is unauthorised abandonment.
The property is going to take a long time, longer than normal, to turn around.
To get this habitable.
Here is the bathroom.
Once again, it shows that it hasn't been used for quite some time.
As you can see by the...
..cleanliness of the bath.
That obviously hasn't been used for quite a while.
The fact that he wasn't living in it is irrelevant.
The decoration, he should have still maintained decoration while he was still living in the
property, as he claims he's been out of the property for a couple of years.
I'm sorry, this is evidence that he's been out of the property for many more years.
One very unloved house, I think.
Can't believe what a waste.
What a waste this is.
Due to the level of neglect, it will take many weeks
and many thousands of pounds to get this property
back to a liveable state and rented out to a family who genuinely need it.
Since 2014 in the East End of London,
Tower Hamlets Council has successfully recovered 28 properties as a result
of fraud-related investigations.
Are you going to go back on the slide?
Amy Sictorness and her daughter Lucia were on the social housing waiting list
for three years and applied for more than 200 properties before finally
getting a two-bedroom flat.
Hi, Amy, nice to meet you.
-This is Lucia.
So, what have we got here then?
So, this is my two-bedroom flat.
In here, this is the living room.
It's nice and bright and big, isn't it?
It is a really nice size.
So, tell me about your situation before you moved into this property.
-Where were you living?
-I was just living over the road with my mum in
another two-bedroom flat, my mum and my twin sister.
And, obviously, me and my twin, we shared a room.
Amy desperately needed a place of her own,
but she had no choice but to wait.
Just one room, you've got the baby's cot in there, obviously,
mine and my sister's bed, all the baby's stuff.
It's funny, because one little person just takes up so much room.
It's mad. It's very overcrowded and I think it must have been very stressful for my sister as well.
A privately rented two-bedroom flat in this area can cost over £2,200
per month, well beyond Amy's price range.
Reluctantly, she turned to the council for help.
I went down to the council and put my name on their housing list.
And I was bidding for about three, four years.
Three or four years?
Yeah, I bid on over 200 places before I got to view this one.
Did you lose heart at any point?
I did get to view some properties and that,
but obviously people was always in front of me.
And obviously they accepted it.
And every time I'd feel gutted.
I'd be the third person that gets refusal on it
and I'd get to go and view the property and you just stand there
thinking, "Please don't accept it, please don't accept it,
"so I can have it." And then I'd walk home, I'd ring my mum and I'd cry.
I'd be like, "I didn't get it again."
For Amy's mum Julie, it was also crucial that her daughter
and granddaughter were able to live close by.
How would you have felt if, you know,
Amy had been given a property or offered a property that wasn't so close to you?
That, actually, would have upset me because, you know,
we've always been close
and from when Lucia was born, they was living with me,
so I've got to see her first, you know, steps kind of thing,
and then for her to have sort of moved out,
I would have been concerned about her because, you know,
I'm on hand if anything happens.
You know, I'm always sort of, I can be, you know,
I can be there in five minutes kind of thing.
If she was living out of the borough with no family, you know,
what would she do?
What would she do being on her own?
But in November 2015, Tower Hamlets Council held an amnesty to encourage tenancy cheats to hand
back keys without consequence or risk of court action.
They got back properties worth £13 million.
Amy's was one of the first flats they recovered.
I couldn't have been happier, especially just when it said a two-bedroom as well.
I thought all my Christmases had come at once.
The fact that I did get it just shows me that there is hope
because there's a lot of people that's in the same situation that I was
and obviously losing hope and that sort of thing is horrible, so,
just fingers crossed they carry on with what they're doing and other
people do get offered properties like this as well.
When Amy got the letter for this property, how did you feel?
Could not believe it. Really excited.
Really, you know, never wanted her to leave home kind of thing,
but so excited that she had got her own home and the fact that it was so close.
We already knew this estate because my sister had lived at the block at the end,
my great nan had lived on this estate when it first opened, so, you know, five minutes from me.
It was really exciting that she was getting her own home and, sort of,
starting off on her own kind of thing, you know,
creating her own sort of new little life with her little family.
Amy's family have been in the area for generations
and bringing up a young child, it's important for her to have a support
network close by. But this isn't always possible.
The number of homeless families being relocated outside London has
increased fivefold in the last decade.
And now you've got your own place,
what difference has this place made to your life?
Well, obviously, it's just over the road from my mum,
I've got a lot of support, it's just over the road from my mum's sister.
I've always grown up in Bethnal Green.
My mum, even like my nan and my grandad,
their nans and grandads, we've all been born and bred in Bethnal Green.
So, it's all we know, so if I would have had to have moved out,
I would have been lost.
So, that's why this area, in terms of finding a suitable council property,
-is so important to you?
Even when Lucia goes to nursery, my mum will be able to help
because obviously then I'll go back to work.
And talking about work, obviously that's important to you, isn't it?
You've got a really strong work ethic and it's important to you to show your daughter that as well.
Yeah, definitely. I've always worked, I like working. I can't sit at home all day bored,
do you know what I mean? I worked right up until three weeks before I
had Lucia. So once Lucia's two, she'll go to nursery and I'll definitely get
myself back into work.
And is something that when you got this property, you were thinking,
"Yes, now this gives me a base in order to kind of carry on
"with my future and, you know, think about those type of things?"
Yeah, definitely. When obviously, like, I started a family sort of thing,
you do think about, obviously, once she grows up, she goes to school,
you go out to work in the morning and that sort of thing, like,
how am I going to do all that happily from one room in my mum's?
Do you know what I mean? It's nice to have your own house.
It's all about growing up in a way, ain't it?
With her family supporting her,
Amy's looking to return to work as soon as possible.
Amy's story shows how social housing can have a real, positive impact,
not just on individuals, but on entire families.
And it's stories like this that motivate housing investigators
as they continue in their fight to crack down on tenancy fraud.
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.