Series following housing fraud investigators. Michelle Ackerley hears how a law student was caught breaking the law by subletting her sought-after council flat.
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I'm Michelle Ackerley.
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 a 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's 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, the university law student
caught breaking the law by subletting
her highly sought after council flat.
It's very ironic indeed that Miss Nurse
had travelled to Bristol to study law when in fact,
everything being conducted down in London was highly irregular.
Captured on camera,
the tenant lying about the size of his family
in order to jump the housing queue
and get a bigger property...
He'd applied stating that he was a single parent with five daughters.
When I checked the footage, it was always the same two children.
..and the telltale signs that give away a tenancy cheat.
These are key pieces of evidence.
You've got bank accounts coming from that address,
you've got a Virgin Media account. They're clearly living there,
-The tenant can't get around that.
Tenancy fraud is a serious matter.
If you're caught and prosecuted,
you'll end up with a criminal record and could face a fine
of up to £50,000, or even go to jail,
which makes it all the more surprising that some of the people
caught trying to cheat the system
are people who, frankly, should know better.
Our first case involves this woman - 26-year-old Kusheema Nurse.
She was studying law in Bristol
while at the same time breaking the law
by illegally subletting her council flat in London.
You would think for anyone studying that kind of subject that they would
know the difference between right and wrong?
That would be our expectation, yes.
The law student's unlawful actions began in April 2011,
shortly after she was allocated this one-bedroom flat in one of the most
densely populated parts of Brent in north London.
The council's fraud manager, Dave Verma,
headed up the team who uncovered the law student's unlawful activities.
Stonebridge is a mixed urban locality.
It's very near central London.
The whole NW10 postcode in London is quite up and coming.
To buy a private dwelling there,
you're looking at about £1 million for a three bed property.
Social housing is in high demand in this part of London,
which made Kusheema Nurse one of the lucky few
to get a council flat here in such a prime location.
We're just turning on to the road now. The road is comprised of these
older terraced type properties,
which are now worth quite a bit of money
and they're very solid in build.
You'd never know that they were social housing, per se.
When Kusheema Nurse first approached Brent Council in 2010,
she was in genuine need of housing
after a breakdown in the relationship with her mother.
Head of Housing Needs, Laurence Coker,
was on the team who considered her application.
So in the first instance,
we referred her through to our mediation service
to try and reconcile the relationship with her mother
to prevent her from becoming homeless.
Unfortunately, that failed, so we continued to do our enquiries,
which included a home visit to the mother's address
to confirm the reasons why the mother was excluding
Miss Nurse from the family home.
The mother wasn't prepared to take her back
and because Miss Nurse was a young vulnerable person,
we accepted that main statutory duty to accommodate her.
She was classified as vulnerable because she was a young woman
with nowhere to live.
Kusheema Nurse was awarded the first floor one bed flat in August 2010.
She now had a roof over her head and for the next few years,
everything seemed in order.
The rent was paid promptly and there were no problems
with the tenancy.
From that time going forward,
the council was very much of the opinion that she was resident there.
There was nothing to indicate she wasn't.
Then three and a half years later in February 2014,
there was a serious fire at the property.
Station manager Pam Oparaocha was among those who attended the scene.
So, as we were coming down the road,
we could see the smoke issuing from the building.
Like thick black smoke,
so we knew it was a developed fire
and probably had been going on for some time.
Kusheema Nurse, the official tenant, wasn't in the property,
but firefighters found another woman
lying unconscious on the living room floor.
They brought her down the stairs and brought her to street level.
Initially, our crews were working on her, trying to revive her.
We thought that she wasn't going to live.
She was lifeless when she came out of the building,
and eventually she started to breathe, she started to come round.
Very lucky to get out.
Very, very lucky.
The woman who was rescued from the fire had been visiting a man
who was apparently was subletting the flat from Kusheema Nurse.
The break-out of this fire is what's led to a lot of the problems
occurring for Miss Nurse.
It was after the fire that Miss Nurse attended the property
with some of her friends and was very keen
for the subtenant to move out very quickly.
The subtenant felt aggrieved at being asked to leave,
so decided to go to Brent Council and make a shock confession.
Surprisingly, a gentleman turned up at our buildings here,
claiming that he was a subtenant
and that he wanted to blow the whistle
on the fact that he was the subtenant
and give us a statement accordingly.
Investigators were alarmed by what he had to say about
Kusheema Nurse's three and a half year tenancy.
The subtenant was very clear in what he told us about Miss Nurse.
Firstly, that she was not living at the property and that soon after
being awarded the property by Brent,
she'd actually moved to Bristol to do a degree in law.
If what the man had told investigators was true,
Kusheema Nurse was guilty of tenancy fraud.
Later - Brent Council uncover the shocking truth
about Kusheema Nurse's double life.
She was spending her money here.
There was a multitude of transactions showing her regularly
spending money here, but more so, she was working here.
Social housing tenancy fraud costs UK taxpayers £1.7 billion a year,
but the human cost is even greater,
which is why housing investigators are determined not to let
unscrupulous tenants get away with subletting their properties.
Our next case involves a multiple sublet,
which is only brought to an end
when neighbours tip off housing investigators.
We were grateful that there were three or four neighbours
who came out and gave statements,
but it just shows that the neighbours are a community
and wanted the flat to go to someone who should have it.
This is Sandwell in the West Midlands.
A clamp-down on housing fraud here is estimated to have saved
the local council £38.4 million over the past two years.
One property under investigation in 2014
was this one-bedroom flat in West Bromwich.
It had been allocated to a single female back in November 2013
after she approached the council claiming to be homeless.
But just a few weeks into the tenancy,
Sandwell housing officer Jo Green
was sent round to the flat following a tip-off.
Suspicions had been raised by neighbours in terms of who was
occupying the property.
Neighbours reported that instead of the lone female tenant,
several Eastern European men appeared to be living in the flat.
Sandwell Council immediately began an investigation.
I was asked by a member of the fraud team
to carry out a visit to the property. Nothing that would
make the tenant wary of why we were going there because again,
that would ruin any investigation work that had taken place
prior to us visiting the property.
As a housing officer,
Jo's job is to oversee rent payments and ensure council properties are
being maintained to a good standard by carrying out regular inspections.
For fraud investigators, she's also their eyes and ears on the ground.
I'm very much so a silent observer and investigator.
Basically amassing evidence...
..you know, so we can take action against the tenant.
Jo is trained to look out for telltale signs of subletting,
and it didn't take her long to become suspicious.
On entering the property, we noticed that there was quite a large
collection of male footwear of various descriptions.
There was a mattress
leaning against the living room wall
and there was a lot of Polish cookbooks as well in the kitchen.
The tenant did not speak Polish as far as Jo was aware,
and the footwear in the hallway was definitely not hers.
What happened next did little to allay suspicions.
Shortly after we got into our car,
we observed the tenant locking up the property.
So it was obvious that she'd only
been there for us to carry out the visit
and that she wasn't living there full-time.
Back at Sandwell's Council offices,
investigator Lee O'Malley was meanwhile using powers
under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act
to access the woman's financial records.
So your next job was obviously to get some solid, hard evidence.
How did you go about taking it further?
One of the first things we done was
-get a credit check in respect of our tenant.
A credit check provides details of any accounts that have been
registered to an address.
It looks at things like bill payments,
credit card activity and bank statements,
which all give an indication of exactly who's living at a property.
It's immediately linked a man to the woman's flat,
even though she said she was living alone.
This shows that he'd got a bank account at the address,
which was taken out on the 7th May 2014.
She'd been living at the address by herself from November 2013.
Right, and you can see it as clear as day there.
Mr, you know.
-Yeah, that's right.
-He's a male.
It was possible that someone had moved in with the tenant,
but a second man was actually paying for the TV and broadband.
This shows that he opened up a Virgin Media account
on the 6th of March 2014.
VOICEOVER: Further checks revealed he also had a bank account
VOICEOVER: registered at the woman's flat.
I mean, these are key pieces of evidence.
You've got bank accounts coming from that address,
you've got a Virgin Media account.
-They're clearly living there, aren't they?
-Exactly. The tenant can't get around that.
She's not making any payments for the Virgin,
like the internet and the telly herself.
It's in a totally different person's name.
-You can't explain that away, can you?
-No, you can't.
So far, Lee had found solid evidence
of at least two men living at the flat.
And then we done checks into the actual tenant,
which actually showed she had no credit at the property
where she should be living and all of her credit, well, bank accounts,
were actually at the family home, her mum and dad's.
Oh, so that's where she was living?
That's where, yeah, she was living there, yeah.
And while the woman was unlawfully subletting her flat,
she was effectively getting it for free.
She was claiming between £60 to £80 a week,
which is the average price that the council normally charge tenants
for the rent, but that was being covered by the housing benefit
that she was claiming, based on a single person.
-So, basically, she wasn't really paying anything?
With the evidence stacking up,
investigators were determined to
reclaim the flat and re-let it to someone in genuine need.
Later, Lee discovers more damning evidence.
There's a big space on the living room floor.
There was a double mattress up against the wall.
If there are a few people living in a one-bedroom flat,
you're going to need somewhere to sleep.
Emma Reynolds MP grew up in a council house in Wolverhampton.
These days, she represents
the Wolverhampton North East constituency,
where the housing crisis is hitting people hard.
Week in, week out
in my constituency surgeries, people come to see me
because they want a council property
and they're getting very frustrated
because they've registered to be on the waiting list
and it may have been months,
it may have been years and there are just simply not enough council homes
for the people that need and want them in Wolverhampton.
So, you know, there are heartbreaking stories.
And here, as in many cities across the UK,
the properties most in demand are family homes.
In Wolverhampton there are nearly 9,000 individuals and families
on the waiting list. Deciding who's
at the top of that list is a difficult task,
made all the more difficult by
dishonest tenants trying to cheat their way
to the top of the queue.
In this next case,
a Wolverhampton tenant tries to jump the queue
by pretending he had five children living with him
in an overcrowded two-bed flat.
I established that there was the applicant
and an adult female and I only ever saw two children.
It was always the same two children and I didn't see any others that
appeared to be part of his family.
In 2013, suspicions were aroused at Wolverhampton Homes
when they received an application from one of their existing tenants.
Counter fraud manager Elaine Morgan was called in to investigate.
We received an application from a single male applicant who had listed
that he'd got five young children living in the household.
The man wanted to upgrade from a two-bedroom flat
to a three-bedroom house.
Sympathetic to this family's seemingly desperate situation,
the council immediately considered his application.
The applicant was given higher priority on the waiting list.
His band was a band one priority and that was given
because based on the information that he provided,
he was short of one bedroom and he was living in a property
with no private access to a garden.
Band one is reserved for applicants
who are deemed to have an urgent need to move.
As a father living with five children in overcrowded conditions,
he appeared to fit all the criteria and in December 2013,
the family were offered one of the council's larger properties.
The property was a three-bedroom house
in the Castlecroft area of Wolverhampton -
a very sought-after area, very popular area.
People who have lived in this area want to stay in the area.
Three bed houses hardly ever become available,
so to be fast-tracked to a house in Castlecroft
made him one of the lucky few. But before handing over the keys,
investigators decided to check out his story.
The point of allocation,
that's when we look at the information they've provided.
We check to see that they can provide all the documents
they are asked to provide, that their household circumstances
are still the same and that they are eligible for that property.
It was under that close scrutiny that Elaine became suspicious
of the tenant's claim - that he was bringing up five young children
on his own.
We were concerned at the ages of the children.
The youngest one at that time was listed as being seven months old
and the next one up was only a few months older.
So there weren't...
It wasn't possible they could be from the same mother.
A man bringing up two babies from separate mothers,
along with three other children, sounded very unusual.
Because there wasn't any mention of an adult female,
we were a bit concerned and curious more than anything to begin with
that there might be something not quite right with the application.
Wolverhampton Homes decided to investigate further.
The tenant had not yet been given the keys to his new house,
so was still living in a two-bedroom flat in a tower block.
The block had a control key fob entry system.
Each time a tenant entered or left the building,
an image was captured on CCTV.
It was using this system that Louise Humphries
started to check on the tenant's living arrangements.
As we get a bit nearer to the door,
you can see there's a camera on the right-hand side,
which in the CCTV control room,
it will be showing that I'm walking towards the block.
This is my door entry fob, so I'll use that to enter into the block.
As you can see, the camera will pick me up now.
The images are stored and can be
used in investigations like this one.
As I enter into the block,
there's another camera up here that will show me on the CCTV.
There are also cameras here that are showing me.
Control room supervisor Ian Rawlings
and his team often help investigators
with gathering evidence.
We work very closely with other teams within Wolverhampton Homes,
in particular the lettings team and the fraud team.
If they believe they've got some issues,
they'll guide us in the direction of
where they might want some footage recorded.
In recent years,
Wolverhampton Homes has spent over £1 million updating their CCTV
and key fob system.
This particular system is really useful for the fraud team
because we can monitor who are coming and going into the properties.
Any reports of housing tenancy fraud that we have where somebody's living
in one of our blocks that has CCTV footage,
we will always use that as a tool to investigate.
Later - the tenant tries to turn the tables on housing investigators.
He accused us of manipulating evidence.
He accused us of not displaying evidence and not exhibiting evidence
that showed other children.
He said that we had deliberately withheld evidence
and he wanted to go to the High Court.
Earlier, we met Kusheema Nurse,
who'd been allocated a one-bedroom property in London by Brent Council
when she declared herself homeless in 2010.
From that time going forward, the council was very much of the opinion
that she was resident there.
There was nothing to indicate she wasn't,
and the rental payments came in as expected.
It wasn't until the spring of 2014 when following a serious fire
at the property, council investigators were told
Kusheema Nurse hadn't been living there for some time.
The subtenant was very clear in what he told us about Miss Nurse.
Firstly, that she was not living at the property
and that, soon after being awarded the property by Brent,
she'd actually moved to Bristol to do a degree in law.
So you've got a student here, studying law, pretty intense degree,
you would think if anyone studying that kind of subject,
that they would know the difference between right and wrong?
Well, that would be our expectation, yes.
Counter fraud manager Dave Verma immediately began an investigation.
He was able to access bank statements
showing Kusheema Nurse's spending habits.
I'm sure that's extremely useful for a case like this.
What did you discover from looking at those statements?
She was spending her money here.
There was a multitude of transactions
showing her regularly spending money here,
but more so, she was working here.
We discovered she was very much living her life here in Bristol.
Back at Brent Council offices,
Dave showed me the evidence he'd compiled.
So we're seeing all kinds of payments being made in Bristol.
And secondly, it shows salary payments
for a nightclub in Bristol...
..and also that she has various transactions
showing that she is living in Bristol.
Brent Council contacted the nightclub
to confirm she'd been working there.
This is a letter that we obtained from her employer in Bristol.
This is from a nightclub
and this confirms her employment, that it started in June 2010
and that they hold an address for her on file, which is in Bristol.
This showed she'd been working in Bristol for more than 18 months
at the same time that she had her council tenancy in London.
From piecing all this together,
it's pretty clear that she's not living in London and that, you know,
a job working in a nightclub, it's late nights.
Well, clearly. That was confirmed to us by her employers
that she was often finishing in the early hours.
It's not easy to be coming back and forth to London
if you're working in a nightclub late at night.
Well, it's completely implausible.
With a university degree in law going on at the same time,
-it would be implausible.
-It just doesn't make sense, does it?
No, not at all.
Investigators were convinced that whilst studying law
and working in Bristol,
Kusheema Nurse couldn't have been using her flat in Brent
as her main place of residence.
It transpired to the team here that it was very ironic indeed
that Miss Nurse had travelled to Bristol to study law when in fact
everything being conducted down in London was highly regular.
At the start of 2014,
Brent had over 3,000 households living in temporary accommodation,
while the number of homeless people in the borough had risen five-fold
in the previous three years.
With such a dire need of social housing in the borough,
it was imperative for Brent Council
to reclaim their flat from Kusheema Nurse.
She was called in for an interview under caution.
At the interview, Miss Nurse decided to give
what we call a no comment interview.
This means that questions were asked of her,
but her standard response was no comment.
Her demeanour at the start of the interview was somewhat confident
and she seemed very happy to give a no comment interview.
However as the interview progressed,
it appeared that she was becoming more and more nervous
as she was learning the amount of evidence
that had been gained about her.
Yet even now, Kusheema Nurse still wasn't admitting anything.
In my personal opinion, someone who is studying law,
one would hope that one would know the legal system and that the weight
of evidence was definitely stacked against her in this instance.
In August 2016, Kusheema Nurse appeared before Harrow Crown Court.
Miss Nurse decided to go with a not guilty plea,
where she gave explanations that the subtenant was just a person
decorating for her,
that she was actually resident at the flat in London
whilst undertaking her degree.
She didn't divert from that at all.
She was very, very stalwart that that was the case.
The judge didn't believe her claims
that she was commuting between London and Bristol
and found Kusheema Nurse guilty of offences
under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act of 2013
and the Fraud Act of 2006.
She was sentenced to 130 hours' community service,
deferred for three months so she could complete her exams.
When we first questioned her about all this,
that was her opportunity to come clean, hand the keys back,
sign a tenancy termination form
and throw herself at the mercy of the process.
Later - despite the guilty verdict,
the fight goes on to get the property back.
And that's causing us some frustration
because we've got deserving people on our waiting lists
who we very much would like
to get into this property in particular.
Across the UK, local councils are coming up
with innovative ways of getting people off the waiting list
and into some decent, affordable accommodation.
In Lewisham, south-east London,
there's been an 89% increase in the number of people
registered as homeless and living in temporary accommodation.
In Lewisham, it's a real struggle. So every single day,
we're seeing more families come to the council because they've been
made homeless, and that's because landlords are increasing rents.
Rents in Lewisham have doubled in the last decade.
It's meant over 1,700 households
are in temporary accommodation in the borough -
an experience Lewisham councillor Damien Egan knows all too well.
I went through homelessness when I was growing up
and it's something you never forget. For our families today,
they can be homeless for over a year, that's not uncommon,
and the impact on those families is huge.
Many of these families are forced to live
in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in other parts of the capital.
But recently, Lewisham has found a novel way
of alleviating the problem -
the UK's first pop-up social housing village.
Co-designed by architect Andrew Partridge,
it's enabled the council to almost instantly create 24 new flats
for homeless families by using these prefabricated modular components.
What's so good about pop-ups is that they can happen very quickly
and respond very quickly.
For them, it was a quick response to their immediate problem of families
in temporary private accommodation.
The overall scheme was around £5 million,
but the scheme pays for itself in less than ten years
because we get rents from the properties but, also,
we're not paying for the emergency bed and breakfasts and hostels.
Each home comes in two pieces.
One's the living area and the second provides the bedrooms.
They're made of timber stud panels.
So, walls, floors, ceilings,
put together in the factory and then fully finished.
All the power in, lights ready to go, toilets flushing, everything.
Armand Moulet is a bilingual customer advisor
at St Pancras International station.
For him, this pop-up social housing has been a godsend.
The average cost for a two-bedroom flat in London is £1,700 a month,
so Armand and his two daughters could not afford to live and work
in the capital if not for social housing.
When we looked at the market,
what was affordable for what we needed was not affordable for us,
based on my wages and things like that.
My big worry was to end up on the street with no place to go
with the child, the children, and be homeless.
The family were previously housed in cramped temporary accommodation
in Woolwich, East London.
We spent about, what, over a year over there.
On a daily basis, a stressful time.
And even, I couldn't sleep at night sometimes.
I was waking up around one, two o'clock in the morning.
But then, in August 2016,
Armand and his two daughters were allocated a flat
in the new pop-up development.
It was more than they ever dreamed of.
The house was, er, looking very bigger.
I say, "Wow!"
The living room, combined with the open-plan kitchen,
is, I will say, one of our favourite rooms
because we spend more time here.
We watch the TV all together, we have our meal, we cook here.
And, yeah, we spend time, precious time, I will say.
From here to my college is just 30 minutes.
It's better than before because before,
I was taking one and a half hours.
Yeah, sometimes, I sleep.
I'm grateful because I've been lucky enough
to receive the support at the right time.
Armand is among the many thousand public service workers
who could not afford to live in London were it not for social housing
and yet are important to the economy of the capital city.
Anything that we can do to reduce the number of homeless families
on our waiting list is a good thing,
and that's why we're looking at more schemes like this
that we can replicate across our borough.
In five years, this pop-up social housing will be dismantled
and moved to another brownfield site in Lewisham.
The current site will be used
for a more permanent retail and housing development.
Housing officers are responsible for the day-to-day running
of council estates and, as such,
they are the eyes and ears of tenancy fraud investigators.
Many of them are trained to spot telltale signs
that a property's being unlawfully sublet, like...
Earlier, we heard how housing officer Jo Green
became suspicious during a supposedly routine inspection
of a one-bedroom flat in Sandwell in the West Midlands.
When there's more things there,
male toiletries in the bathroom and you're expecting to see only,
you know, toiletries for a female lone occupant,
it does raise your suspicions
and it's pointing to something more untoward
going on at the property.
Backed up by credit checks
that showed at least two men living at the property,
investigator Lee O'Malley made an appointment
to visit the tenant at the flat, where she was supposed to be living.
We knocked on the door, there was no answer.
Erm, luckily, we'd taken the tenant's phone number out with us.
We give her a call, obviously told her who we were.
Erm, she was a bit worried about what the...
-I bet she was.
-..what the visit was about.
She was there within about 15 minutes.
So obviously, she was quite close to the area, wherever she was.
She seemed nervous which, obviously, if you're doing something wrong,
-you would feel a bit nervous.
Lee saw first-hand the evidence
that had concerned housing officer Jo Green.
We walked in. On the right-hand side, there was a cupboard.
So we opened the cupboard, there was welding gear in there.
Erm, there was male shoes, work clothes.
You'd look at the tenant and you would think,
"You wouldn't be using that yourself."
You're walking into that property, you're seeing male shoes,
welding shoes, equipment that just
doesn't fit with the original tenant.
Yeah. She stated that it was her friend's.
OK. And I'm sure you're thinking, at this point, "A likely story."
Yeah. Erm... Obviously, alarm bells start ringing with us.
We've heard it all before.
Lee suspected this one-bedroom flat
had been converted into an HMO - a house of multiple occupancy -
a common way of maximising rental payments.
There was a big space on the living room floor
and there was a double mattress up against the wall.
The space was big enough for the mattress to be laid down.
If there are a few people living in
a one-bedroom flat, you're going to need somewhere to sleep.
-That's a classic sign of subletting, isn't it?
-It is, yeah.
Using that space in the living room for someone's bedroom,
for someone to sleep in.
Exactly. Each person, I'm guessing, would have been paying our tenant,
-erm, some rent.
-Yeah. When she's not actually paying anything at all.
That's right. She was getting her rent covered by the housing benefit.
In the kitchen, Lee found evidence
to suggest that the unofficial occupants
were in fact East European.
There was a lot of Polish cookery books, Polish ingredients.
Your tenant isn't Polish.
-So, why is all this stuff in the kitchen?
She told Lee that a friend
was teaching her how to cook Polish recipes.
It's almost laughable, isn't it?
It is, yeah. To be honest,
we probably did laugh at that point
when she started coming out with the excuses.
How do you keep your cool in those situations?
You just have to let them talk.
Obviously, people talk and they trip themselves up.
Lee spotted another single mattress on the bedroom floor.
If there's one person living at an address,
that's a double mattress that you've got in the living room,
you got a single mattress in the bedroom, plus a double bed.
-What's going on?
What was her excuse for that?
Her excuse for that was that was for when her nephew comes and stays.
The web of lies continues.
And not only was there men's clothing in the wardrobe,
Lee also discovered men's toiletries in the bathroom.
There were three male razors
and then there were two male deodorants,
and she said they were her own.
-She said they were hers?
She's getting progressively more nervous, surely, at this time.
You know, cos as you said,
it's hard for her to keep up with her own lies and the evidence
is all around her. It's stacking up, isn't it?
Exactly, yeah. If it was me and I was in their position,
you'd feel really embarrassed, wouldn't you?
If you're saying that you live there by yourself,
but then we're looking and finding all these belongings,
she's saying that all this Polish stuff's her friend's
but there's more Polish stuff there than anything else,
you'd start feeling a bit embarrassed.
A number of the neighbours backed all this evidence up, didn't they,
by giving statements?
Yeah, that's right. We were grateful
that there were three or four neighbours who came out,
Quite unusual that you get neighbours do that
because some people have got a fear of repercussions from the tenant.
But to this day, since I've been doing this job,
I've never, never seen any repercussions.
But it just shows that the neighbours are a community
and wanted the flat to go to someone who should have it.
In July 2015 at a civil court hearing,
Sandwell Council was granted possession of the property
on the grounds that it was being unlawfully sublet.
There was myself, one of my colleagues, a housing officer,
we all gave evidence.
But the judge looked at all the evidence
and before he made a decision,
the tenant conceded the property and handed it back to the Council.
The tenant was ordered to pay £2,500 in rent arrears,
and to repay £1,600 in housing benefit overpayments.
Thanks to the efforts of counter-fraud manager Oliver Knight
and his team, the flat has since been allocated
to someone on Sandwell Council's housing list.
Does it ever cease to amaze you guys just how brazen
some people can be to hang onto properties like this
and not give them back to the system?
You've got evidence stacking up against you.
Why they'd hold on to it and not just hand it over...
There's a lot of greed in it as well. The subletting people get used
to having the money from the sort of tenants
and living the lifestyle of using that money.
So, there's a lot of greed.
I mean, Sandwell's got 7,000 people on the waiting list
trying to get properties,
so any property that we can get back on the market
and get those people rehoused is obviously very, very important,
so this one included.
antifraud investigations by the Council
saved taxpayers an estimated £1.2 million in 2015.
Wolverhampton Homes lettings manager Pauline Evans
says robust checks are carried out
on every application for social housing
before the keys are handed over.
At the end of the day,
we want to ensure that whoever gets that property,
their circumstances is as on the application.
A lot of people do play it correctly.
They're very honest, they're very upfront,
so it is wrong when somebody
fraudulently tries to obtain social housing.
Earlier, we learned how an application for a larger property
from one of Wolverhampton Homes' existing tenants aroused suspicions.
He claimed to have five children
living with him in an overcrowded flat.
I questioned it because there wasn't an adult female
as part of the family, according to his application.
And because there was two children who weren't even yet one years old,
it did make us a little bit suspicious
as to what the situation was and what was going on.
The man had been provisionally offered
an upgrade to a three-bedroomed house.
But with doubts over the number of children living with him,
Wolverhampton Homes first had to be sure he was entitled to it.
Using a CCTV system linked to the entrance of the men's council block,
fraud officer Louise Humphries closely monitored
the family's movements in and out of the building.
I would have to physically trawl for hours,
looking at people coming and going out of the block,
and then just getting a still image of who the person was.
As she scanned the CCTV, Louise found no evidence
that the tenant had five children living with him.
I established that there was the applicant
and an adult female and only ever saw two children.
It was always the same two children,
and I didn't see any others that appeared to be part of his family.
With three of the children apparently missing,
Wolverhampton Homes call their tenant in
to explain the family's living arrangements.
He was adamant and he explained that four of the children
live with him permanently, full time,
that they didn't have any contact with their mother,
and that the oldest child lived with her mother during the week,
but spent weekends and school holidays with him.
So, we went back and we double checked all of the CCTV footage
and we continued to check that for another couple of weeks.
During this further check by Wolverhampton Homes,
there was still no sign of the three missing children.
The lettings team then approached the applicant
and said we were no longer going to be able
to offer him this three-bedroom house.
He wasn't happy at all.
He asked if he could appeal the decision,
and the appeal panel was assembled.
The panel, after hearing all of the evidence
and considering the information,
they upheld the decision to withdraw the property.
As far as the Council was concerned, this was the end of the matter.
The applicant decided otherwise.
He accused us of manipulating evidence.
He accused us of...
..not displaying evidence
and not exhibiting evidence that showed other children.
The tenant applied for a judicial review of the case.
It was initially turned down, but on appeal,
he was granted permission
to take Wolverhampton Homes to the High Court.
Although we were disappointed and surprised,
we were confident that the evidence
that we'd gathered was accurate and it would stand up under scrutiny,
so we weren't too worried in that respect.
The tenant was granted access to all the information Wolverhampton Homes
had gathered during their investigation into his application
for a larger property.
Anything that we held in our systems,
he was allowed to have a copy of.
After hearing evidence from both sides,
the judge ruled in favour of Wolverhampton Homes
and ordered the tenant to pay £6,000 in costs.
We were very pleased that the court did find in our favour.
Obviously, it's never nice to have to go to court,
especially when you've got somebody accusing you
of lots of different things that you haven't done.
And when you're just doing the job that you're paid to do,
to have somebody who we know has told lies on an application
and has been given every opportunity to correct the information,
chose not to do so but instead to stand by their story
that they'd originally given and then take the Council to court,
what we can't afford to do is to allow people
who've not told the truth on applications to gain a property
which they wouldn't otherwise be entitled to.
And that in itself sends out
A - the wrong signal to the genuine people,
and it's not fair on the majority of people who are telling the truth,
who aren't telling lies on applications.
You can lie your way into being rehoused, I guess, which is, again,
highly immoral because there are people
who are homeless who really do need emergency housing.
Certainly in my area,
Wolverhampton Homes takes this issue very seriously
and has been very successful in clamping down.
Back in the London Borough of Brent,
law student Kusheema Nurse had been caught subletting her council flat
and convicted of offences under the Fraud Act
and the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act.
If you're studying the law, it would indicate to me
that you're someone who should be of a certain standing, really.
I think it's particularly upsetting
because I'm aware of the waiting list in London
and it's a prolific waiting list of very deserving cases.
Especially in Brent,
where we're having to sometimes place people outside of the borough,
so I think it's a very abhorrent crime.
But incredibly, despite the guilty verdict,
the Council was still facing
a lengthy legal battle to get the property back.
We believe very much that the tenant
has been using delaying tactics throughout in this
and that possession hearings have been delayed unnecessarily
and that's causing us some frustration
because we've got deserving people on our waiting lists,
who we very much would like to get into this property in particular,
so we are very hopeful our legal teams are going to get onto this
and to get us the result that we very much want.
For Brent Council,
and for those next in line on the Council's waiting list,
reclaiming the property
and finally closing this case can't come soon enough.
Housing investigators across the UK are cracking down on tenancy fraud.
They're determined to stop the cheats
and ensure that our precious social housing stock
is in the hands of those most in need.
Michelle Ackerley hears how a law student was caught breaking the law by subletting her highly sought-after council flat.