Housing Fraud: The Hidden Scandal Spotlight


Housing Fraud: The Hidden Scandal

Enda McClafferty investigates the scams which are denying the homeless a home and costing the taxpayer millions every year.


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Transcript


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'Tonight, we investigate the housing scams

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'that are denying the homeless a place to live

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'and costing us millions of pounds.'

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How much benefit were you being paid for this empty house?

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It was about £300 a month.

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'We reveal that thousands of houses lie empty across Northern Ireland

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'as families struggle to get a roof over their head.'

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I just can't cope any more -

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the amount of stress that we're under as a family...

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'It's a fraud that's been around for decades

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'but officially didn't exist.'

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Might it be that the Housing Executive

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hasn't addressed this in the past

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because they might not have liked what they found?

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I don't accept that.

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'But we've found an insider who says if the fraud was tackled,

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'it would go a long way to solving the housing shortage.'

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I don't think there's a housing crisis.

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If the Housing Executive would follow up their empty homes,

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people that aren't living in them, and on housing benefit fraud,

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I think the housing crisis would go.

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Experts are claiming that we are in a housing crisis,

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that there are not enough social houses for families.

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We currently have about 40,000 people on our waiting lists.

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-REPORTER:

-Longer waiting lists and more homeless.

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A housing crisis in the making.

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So we do have a housing crisis.

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It's accumulated over a number of years

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and it will take a number of years to fix it.

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'They're trying to fix it by building new houses.

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'Last year, £200 million of public money

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'was spent building estates like this one in Londonderry.'

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So, what, this is a three-bedroom house?

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This is a typical three-bedroom house.

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'The demand for homes like these is huge,

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'but we're told we're only building half of what we need every year

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'simply to keep the waiting list as it is.'

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'But is the only solution to build more and more houses?'

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We've discovered that there could be enough homes out there already

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to house thousands of families.

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But they can't get them

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because they're being occupied by fraudsters.

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Tenancy fraud is the biggest council scam in England and Wales,

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costing £1.8 billion every year.

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But yet nobody in Northern Ireland has even looked for it...until now.

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Tenancy fraud wasn't coming up on the agendas of board meetings

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at the Housing Executive or in housing associations.

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No cases were being reported to me,

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yet we knew from England and Wales that there was a huge problem.

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It's the Auditor General's job

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to make sure the taxpayer isn't taken for a ride.

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'He was convinced the fraud was happening here, too.

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'So he took the figures for England and Wales

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'and came up with some startling conclusions

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'about the scale of the fraud here.'

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2,500 properties locally are illegally occupied.

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That's equivalent to £200 million of housing stock.

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The Auditor General says his estimate

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of illegally occupied properties is conservative,

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so the figure for the money being wasted

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could climb to over 200 million.

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For over a decade, Darran Keenan,

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his partner, Sharon, and their three children

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have been battling for a place to call home.

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They are one of 40,000 households queuing up for a permanent home.

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-We've moved 13 times in...

-The last 12 years.

-Yeah.

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Families in the private rented sector

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frequently have to take short-term lets.

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In fact, a third of them move on in less than a year.

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We moved into properties

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and I've literally just finished decorating.

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The wallpaper wasn't even dry and we've had to move out.

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It is so stressful. You can't even...

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I just feel physically sick whenever I have to move again.

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There's a bungalow in Portstewart for...550.

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And they'll soon be moving for a 14th time

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as the landlord told them three months ago

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they'll have to move out of their rented home in Castlerock.

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We've been looking for a house since we were told at Christmas,

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but there's just nothing, nothing the size we need.

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Sharon developed fibromyalgia,

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a condition that causes pain all over her body

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and means that she is unable to work.

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The couple have two boys - Ethan, aged 12 and Keith, eight -

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and one girl, Kayleigh, aged six.

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What's the worst thing about moving you hate?

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Moving schools and not having any friends

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because I can't have any friends because I make friends

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and then I just end up leaving them and going away.

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I've been in begging.

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I've been round farmhouses,

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begging farmers to let me live in their old abandoned houses,

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just to have a home for my family.

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I never thought this is where we'd end up 12 years ago,

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still in the same position, still private renting

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and moving from house to house.

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Families who play by the rules

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are being denied a home by those who cheat the system.

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The biggest scandal

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is when the fraudsters don't even use the homes they steal.

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Dole drops are the classic example.

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They use the address to access and cheat the benefit system.

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This fraud has been around for decades,

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but yet it has never been recorded by the Housing Executive

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and they do have a duty to report all fraud to the auditor.

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When I was going through my inbox last year,

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I didn't have a single case of tenancy fraud reported to me.

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So as far as the official figures went, tenancy fraud didn't exist?

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Yes.

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-That's astonishing, isn't it?

-It is quite astonishing.

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So, with no proper records, how can we begin to uncover

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the true scale of what has been going on?

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We needed to talk to someone who has front-line experience

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of dealing with housing scams.

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In Derry, we found a man who used to have reports of suspected fraud

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in his inbox nearly every day.

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In the district I worked in, I managed 3,000 properties.

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The maintenance officers used to come back to me

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and they used to say, "Kevin...

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"..there's nobody in these houses. What will we do?"

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'Kevin Barrett spent 30 years

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'working as a maintenance manager for the Housing Executive.

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'He was unfairly dismissed

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'as a result of matters not related to this issue

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'and received a substantial settlement.

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'This is the first time he has spoken on camera

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'about the scale of the fraud he witnessed.'

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You could see the properties that were not being properly lived in.

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You know, you could see that the windows weren't...

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There was condensation on the windows.

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There were net curtains that were never opened,

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post in the letter box, gardens that weren't kept.

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While the social sector has been losing homes because of fraud,

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private landlords have been cashing in on the housing shortage.

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They've been busy filling up their homes

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with those families on the waiting list,

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and all at a massive cost to the taxpayer.

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The rent is paid from the public purse

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through housing benefit.

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In England, 25% of private rented homes

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are paid for by the taxpayer.

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But in Northern Ireland, that figure is more than double.

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Here, 60% of all private rented properties

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is paid for with housing benefit.

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It has fuelled the private rented sector

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and it's certainly fuelled it in the last 10-15 years.

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Paddy Gray is a professor of housing at the University of Ulster.

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He says many private landlords

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couldn't survive without housing benefit.

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Many landlords would've said they relied

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on housing benefit payments because, at the end of the day,

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housing benefit is paid directly to the landlord

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as guaranteed income, and it's steady income.

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So what does propping up 60% of the private rental sector cost us?

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Spotlight has discovered £250 million of public money

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is going into the pockets of private landlords every year.

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What are we getting for that £250 million?

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The vast majority of private rented accommodation is fit for purpose,

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but some tenants are ashamed of where they live.

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Hello, how are you?

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'Jean Kennedy and her partner and six children

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'have been renting this house in Belfast for the last four years.'

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-A bit of an accident here?

-No - that was like that when we moved in.

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'As the four-bedroom house is in an expensive area,

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'the landlord is getting £600 a month in housing benefit.

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'While her partner took the kids to school,

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'Jean showed me what they were getting for the money.'

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What is happening up here?

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When the weather gets really bad outside

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and we get the really heavy rain,

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that all drips down and it all comes down here

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and goes into this bucket.

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When is the last time you emptied that?

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Probably just two days ago.

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Have you told the landlord? Has he seen this for himself?

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Yes, he's seen this.

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He said he'd come out and fix it, but, as of yet, nothing.

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He doesn't seem bothered by it,

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to my knowledge.

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He doesn't seem to do anything about it.

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He'll say he'll come out and fix it, but nothing ever seems to happen.

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'There's been steady progress

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'on improving housing conditions here.

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'But despite that, the last Housing Executive Survey

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'found that, for the first time in over 40 years,

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'there's been a rise in unfit dwellings

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'in both the public and private sector.'

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I don't think I've ever seen damp quite like this.

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-It really is a serious problem, and in such a small room.

-Yes.

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I try and clean it, but it just comes back again

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so it's pointless.

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Have you reported this, too?

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This is something the owners are aware of?

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Yes, uh-huh. They've seen the state of it.

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And they're happy for their tenants to survive like this?

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They must be, because they haven't bothered to fix it.

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'The damp's partly because the boiler's broken

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'and the family say they've been without heat for years.'

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'Two of Jean's daughters share this single bed in the front room

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'and the three boys sleep on a sofa and two mattresses next door.'

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-Is there a draft coming through there?

-Yes, it is very cold.

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I also think the mice come through there.

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Well, you can see the holes.

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The holes are big enough for mice to come through.

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If you look behind...

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Look at the stuff that's lying behind it.

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You have bits of wall that's fallen off.

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Is that a bit of masonry off the wall?

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It really is a bit of a nightmare.

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-It is. Are your boys happy to sleep in a room like this?

-No.

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They ask me all the time can they bring friends back

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and I say, "No, you can't."

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Because of the shame of it all?

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SHE SOBS

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That's OK. Take a minute.

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This is costing £600 every month

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for the privilege of you and your family living in these conditions.

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Uh-huh.

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-£600 for this?

-Yeah - it's not worth it.

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We spend £250 million housing people like Jean and her family

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in private accommodation because the authorities say

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they can't find a permanent home for them.

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But is that really the case?

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There are lots of empty Housing Executive properties

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which could become homes.

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And one reason we know that

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is that we've spent an afternoon with this man.

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His job is to travel around Northern Ireland

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checking if houses are occupied.

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He works for the electricity company, Budget Energy.

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Empty homes on their patch cost them money.

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It takes the same amount of resources to administrate

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a house spending £5 a month

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as opposed to a house using normal usage.

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So it's a very expensive prospect for us

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to have a lot of houses that are empty

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as part of our customer base.

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Today, he's working in Belfast.

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Because he does a sensitive job, he asked us to protect his identity.

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And within an hour we came across our first empty property.

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It wasn't long before we found another one.

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And, like the other property,

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there's been little or no electricity used.

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'We came across three empty Housing Executive properties

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'in the space of a few hours.

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'We don't know why they were empty,

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'but two of them were registered as having tenants.

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'So why couldn't they be used

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'to house families on the waiting list?

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'And how many more could there be out there?'

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You've been doing this job for about three weeks.

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How many vacant, empty properties have you come across?

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About 170 - 160, 170.

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-In the space of three weeks?

-Yeah.

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I was actually quite shocked.

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He discovered 170 empty homes

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which looks like it's the tip of the iceberg.

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While electricity companies have this information,

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what's extraordinary is the Housing Executive don't.

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What's more amazing is that they're not even allowed

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to ask the electricity companies for these details.

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Utility providers are now private companies.

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So our ability to formally exchange

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data-sharing provisions has changed.

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Is it not as simple as picking up the telephone

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and contacting them, saying, "Give us the list"?

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Legally, it's not that simple.

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What you're looking to do is share private information

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about one individual with another.

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So, that list of 170 empty properties

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will remain beyond the reach of the Housing Executive

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and all the while the real victims of tenancy fraud,

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those families on the waiting list, are left in limbo.

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Jean desperately wants to be rehoused.

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She feels like she's slipped through the system as, officially,

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her family aren't even on the waiting list.

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An environmental officer inspected her home last year

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due to concerns over rubbish and mice infestation.

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We wanted to get an expert opinion on the damp and mould,

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so we brought in our own environmental officer.

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There's a lot of blackness in here, a lot of damp in here.

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What's caused that?

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Those, to me, are indicative of a condensation problem

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and potential microbial growth - moulds, fungi -

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growing as a result of damp conditions on those surfaces.

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But it's the children's room that is the most concerning.

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If it were me, I would be worried if I had children sleeping in here.

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There are World Health Organisation guidelines

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which highlight microbial pollution -

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microbial pollution simply means indoor air

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that's polluted with bacteria, fungi or moulds -

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can be detrimental to people's health.

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And we see evidence of that here?

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There certainly, at a stage, has been microbial pollution in here.

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'We did ask Jean's acting landlord about the state of the house.

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'He says the family never asked to get the heating fixed

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'and, now that he knows, he will sort the boiler out.

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'He also claims that many of the problems in the house

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'were caused by the family and their lifestyle.'

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For Darran and his family in Castlerock,

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the thought of having to move a 14th time is too much.

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We're crying out for a home.

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We desperately want a home for us and our kids,

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to grow up in and be happy in.

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The family are facing homelessness.

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As another departure deadline looms, the strain is starting to show.

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-TEARFULLY:

-I just can't cope any more.

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The amount of stress that we're under as a family,

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deep down, I'm hurting inside.

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-SOBBING:

-Sorry.

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It's just going to take one more thing

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to finally put me over the edge

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because it is getting like that.

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It's just...where the system doesn't pick up,

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then somebody picks up, you know?

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And it's left to...

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I have to try to smooth things over and make things right, and I can't.

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Despite what you might think, when it comes to getting a house,

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the homeless are not always top of the list.

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Houses here are allocated on a points system.

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The amount of points you get depends on your circumstances.

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If you have to share a bath or a shower,

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well, that's worth five points.

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And if the house you're in is showing serious signs of disrepair,

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like this, for example...

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Well, that only gets you ten points.

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And if you really want to rack up the points,

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you need to be like our family in Castlerock.

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They're about to be made homeless

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and for that, they get an extra 70 points.

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But even that won't guarantee them a home.

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But the biggest mover in the points system,

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the one thing which can catapult you right to the top of the queue,

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leapfrogging even the homeless,

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is intimidation.

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That gets you 200 points

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and we found several examples of that here in Derry.

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When alleged threats are made,

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the Housing Executive try to make sure they are not being conned.

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But the stakes are so high,

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they can't afford to make the wrong call.

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When you get into a situation

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where someone presents as being intimidated -

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they've had a bullet through the post

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or graffiti sprayed on the walls -

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to them, the threat is real and it's live.

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You've got to balance the risk with that family

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about doing nothing and then suffer the consequences.

0:18:530:18:56

So we are on the cautious side.

0:18:560:18:58

Almost 1,800 people have been given a new home here

0:18:580:19:01

over the past five years because of intimidation.

0:19:010:19:05

It's on the increase, and last year alone

0:19:050:19:08

some 411 people were rehoused.

0:19:080:19:11

And we know that many of those threats

0:19:140:19:16

have been made by dissident republican paramilitaries.

0:19:160:19:19

But we've found out that two dissidents in Derry

0:19:190:19:23

have been given brand-new homes

0:19:230:19:25

after claiming they themselves were intimidated.

0:19:250:19:28

Normally, those under threat go to the police.

0:19:280:19:31

But not in these cases.

0:19:310:19:32

Instead, Rosemount Resource Centre helped verify the threats.

0:19:320:19:36

It's run by this man, Thomas McCourt.

0:19:360:19:38

The individual concerned

0:19:400:19:41

had been stabbed in his own bed, had been shot

0:19:410:19:44

by an individual with a pellet gun.

0:19:440:19:47

The other individual had been accused of being involved

0:19:470:19:50

in a particular incident locally.

0:19:500:19:52

We did our best to find out was there a serious paramilitary threat

0:19:520:19:55

and we couldn't ascertain that there was,

0:19:550:19:58

but there certainly was...

0:19:580:19:59

He was certainly in a considerable amount trouble.

0:19:590:20:01

Who's making these threats against dissident republicans?

0:20:010:20:04

Because the only paramilitaries operating in this city

0:20:040:20:07

ARE dissident republicans.

0:20:070:20:08

We can't ascertain the threats.

0:20:080:20:10

I have yet to find a threat to a dissident republican

0:20:100:20:13

which has been authenticated from a dissident republican organisation.

0:20:130:20:17

Some of those who say they're under threat,

0:20:170:20:19

they haven't moved that far away - they haven't left the city,

0:20:190:20:22

they've gone to neighbouring estates.

0:20:220:20:24

Surely if they feel under threat, they would move much further.

0:20:240:20:26

It's not up to me to dictate where people move or don't move.

0:20:260:20:30

But some believe this system is wide open to abuse.

0:20:310:20:34

You can imagine law-abiding, hard-pressed,

0:20:360:20:38

top-of-the-waiting-list applicants saying,

0:20:380:20:42

"Why should I go through all the normal protocols

0:20:420:20:45

"that are open to everyone else

0:20:450:20:47

"and a small number of people can bypass all this?"

0:20:470:20:50

"And if they fabricate an intimidation case,

0:20:500:20:53

"they can be allocated a property I should have."

0:20:530:20:55

I can understand the outrage and anger

0:20:550:20:57

that would exist among people like that.

0:20:570:20:59

What should we do? Go back to 1969, where you start saying

0:20:590:21:03

that we will assess people's politics before we help them?

0:21:030:21:05

Some people might say this is a handy scam to get a house.

0:21:050:21:08

Somebody knows you, comes to you, says they're being threatened.

0:21:080:21:11

-Lo and behold, they get a house.

-No. It's not a scam.

0:21:110:21:14

I'm not saying there mightn't be people out there

0:21:140:21:16

who may think, "This is a good idea, it might get me a house."

0:21:160:21:19

Look, you know, we're not naive enough

0:21:190:21:22

to believe nobody would do a thing like that.

0:21:220:21:24

But if you're asking is it some sort of scam,

0:21:240:21:26

as in an organised process which is recognisable,

0:21:260:21:30

which is used to get people housing, it's not.

0:21:300:21:32

Who does and doesn't get houses will always be an emotive issue,

0:21:350:21:39

especially when we're told there is such a shortage.

0:21:390:21:42

But there are those who see houses

0:21:420:21:45

simply as a way of conning the system

0:21:450:21:47

and making huge sums of money.

0:21:470:21:49

We've come across a scam

0:21:520:21:53

where loyalist paramilitaries are conspiring with rogue landlords

0:21:530:21:57

to cash in on the benefits system.

0:21:570:21:59

It's a guaranteed monthly income

0:21:590:22:01

with little chance of getting caught.

0:22:010:22:03

We found one landlord who told us how easy it is to scam the system.

0:22:030:22:08

He's concerned for his safety and so he asked us to protect his identity.

0:22:080:22:12

He bought a buy-to-let investment property

0:22:120:22:15

in the Village area of Belfast.

0:22:150:22:17

He was immediately on the radar of the paramilitaries

0:22:170:22:20

who controlled that patch.

0:22:200:22:22

Shortly after I was renting it out,

0:22:220:22:24

I was approached by someone I knew locally.

0:22:240:22:27

They told me that once a month, it would be better

0:22:270:22:29

if I would drop some money into a local pub, which I did.

0:22:290:22:32

-How much are we talking about?

-£40 a month.

0:22:320:22:35

What was that money for?

0:22:350:22:36

It was never really clearly stated by them,

0:22:360:22:39

but I think it was quite obvious by the approach that was made

0:22:390:22:41

that, if I didn't pay it, I wouldn't have felt that

0:22:410:22:44

the property would've been secure, or the people in it.

0:22:440:22:47

As a former police fraud investigator,

0:22:480:22:51

Alan McQuillan knows all too well our man had little choice.

0:22:510:22:55

In all these communities, you have people who will come along

0:22:550:22:58

and sidle up and demand that people do things.

0:22:580:23:01

And people get very frightened of that.

0:23:010:23:04

The landlord rented his property out to a housing benefit claimant.

0:23:060:23:09

But, even though the rent was being paid,

0:23:090:23:12

there didn't seem to be any sign of anyone living in his house.

0:23:120:23:15

I ask some questions, locally, as to what was going on.

0:23:180:23:21

It became clear this gentleman

0:23:210:23:23

was actually residing with his partner and child.

0:23:230:23:26

I was made aware that she was claiming single parent benefit

0:23:260:23:29

and housing benefit, as well.

0:23:290:23:31

To that extent, my property sat - in my mind, anyway -

0:23:310:23:33

for two years with no-one living in it,

0:23:330:23:36

but the state was paying me.

0:23:360:23:37

How much are we talking about?

0:23:370:23:38

How much benefit were you being paid for this empty house?

0:23:380:23:42

Em...it was about £300 a month. In and around that number.

0:23:420:23:46

But it was certainly enough to cover the mortgage.

0:23:460:23:49

'We've worked out that the landlord was paid £7,000

0:23:500:23:54

'from the public purse in housing benefit for an empty house.

0:23:540:23:57

'The landlord was getting his money.

0:23:590:24:01

'The paramilitaries were getting their money.'

0:24:010:24:03

'The only problem was it was all illegal.'

0:24:050:24:08

So, you, essentially, were cheating the system.

0:24:080:24:11

Did you not feel guilty about it?

0:24:110:24:13

Did you ever think, "This is wrong, I shouldn't be doing it"?

0:24:130:24:15

Try owning a house in the Village area and rent it

0:24:150:24:18

and not pay these guys - that would be a challenge.

0:24:180:24:20

The £40 a month the landlord was paying

0:24:210:24:24

may not seem significant.

0:24:240:24:26

But if a paramilitary organisation can get enough landlords to pay,

0:24:260:24:30

then, suddenly, it's worthwhile.

0:24:300:24:32

Stealing benefits in those areas, there is a large volume of it.

0:24:330:24:37

It's relatively easy to do, it's relatively low-risk,

0:24:370:24:40

and if you are caught

0:24:400:24:42

the amount of penalty you'll get from the courts

0:24:420:24:45

for an organised benefit fraud

0:24:450:24:46

is probably significantly less than you will,

0:24:460:24:49

for example, people trafficking, prostitution or robbery.

0:24:490:24:52

So, on all fronts, it is seen as a low-risk crime.

0:24:520:24:56

But the situation for our landlord was about to dramatically change.

0:25:000:25:05

When his fake tenant moved out,

0:25:050:25:06

the paramilitaries came round with a new proposal.

0:25:060:25:09

I was approached by people

0:25:120:25:14

that I believe I was paying the protection money to.

0:25:140:25:17

They told be the person I would be renting the house to

0:25:170:25:21

wouldn't be living in it and that they would be subletting it.

0:25:210:25:24

And was I happy with that?

0:25:250:25:27

The paramilitaries were now after more than just protection money.

0:25:290:25:33

The landlord's rent would still be paid

0:25:330:25:34

through the housing benefit scam.

0:25:340:25:36

But now the paramilitaries

0:25:360:25:38

wanted to sub-let his home for cash and take the money.

0:25:380:25:42

I became very nervous and said I wasn't willing to do that.

0:25:420:25:45

The problem is I felt I was being sucked into something

0:25:450:25:48

I really didn't want to be sucked into.

0:25:480:25:50

I therefore made a decision to sell the property.

0:25:500:25:52

'This is the first time he's come clean

0:25:530:25:56

'about his dealings with paramilitaries.'

0:25:560:25:58

To some extent, I want to report this.

0:25:580:26:01

Who do I report it to?

0:26:010:26:02

Reporting fraud presents huge challenges

0:26:040:26:06

in Northern Ireland.

0:26:060:26:08

But it is still incredible

0:26:080:26:09

that there has never been one reported case

0:26:090:26:12

of tenancy fraud here.

0:26:120:26:14

It just was completely under the radar.

0:26:140:26:16

There was no proper strategy

0:26:160:26:18

for actually dealing with tenancy fraud.

0:26:180:26:22

One of the recommendations in our report

0:26:220:26:24

will require housing associations and the Housing Executive

0:26:240:26:29

to prepare dedicated counter-fraud strategies for tenancy fraud.

0:26:290:26:34

After 40 years in existence,

0:26:350:26:37

the Housing Executive has only now published

0:26:370:26:40

its first ever dedicated tenancy fraud strategy.

0:26:400:26:44

-Tenancy fraud.

-Yes.

0:26:440:26:45

-Is it really a priority for the Housing Executive?

-Absolutely.

0:26:450:26:49

We place huge store in our approaches in terms of

0:26:490:26:51

making sure that people who are living in our properties

0:26:510:26:54

are the people who are supposed to be living in them.

0:26:540:26:56

That's all very well but, looking at the recent Auditor's report

0:26:560:26:59

into tenancy fraud in Northern Ireland,

0:26:590:27:01

it is pretty clear to him that the Executive

0:27:010:27:03

isn't really treating this as seriously as it should.

0:27:030:27:06

For instance, the strategy you're devising now

0:27:060:27:09

is only a recent thing.

0:27:090:27:10

Given that this is the biggest fraud across the water in social housing,

0:27:100:27:14

it seems that you are only now sitting up and taking notice.

0:27:140:27:17

We were producing our own strategy at the time of that report.

0:27:170:27:20

That's not to say there aren't things we should do.

0:27:200:27:22

As a result of both the Audit Office report

0:27:220:27:24

and our own investigations into best practice,

0:27:240:27:26

we're introducing things like photographic evidence.

0:27:260:27:29

We'll do random visits in the first year of tenancy

0:27:290:27:31

to determine those people are there that should be there.

0:27:310:27:34

The housing associations,

0:27:350:27:37

who are the other big landlords in the social sector,

0:27:370:27:39

have also put plans in place to deal with fraudsters.

0:27:390:27:43

The sorts of things members are doing include tenancy audits,

0:27:430:27:47

making sure that the people occupying properties

0:27:470:27:49

are the rightful tenants,

0:27:490:27:51

also doing follow-up visits perhaps four or six weeks into the tenancy

0:27:510:27:54

to ensure that the tenant is actually occupying

0:27:540:27:57

and using the property as they should.

0:27:570:28:00

The Housing Executive has had some success in reclaiming empty homes.

0:28:030:28:08

This Housing Officer is about to serve notice

0:28:080:28:10

on one of the 800 homes that's been recovered in the last five years.

0:28:100:28:14

But if they found 800 houses without actively looking for them,

0:28:160:28:20

how many more empty homes could be out there?

0:28:200:28:23

The Auditor General believes at least 2,500 homes

0:28:230:28:27

are being taken up by fraudsters.

0:28:270:28:29

That's around 2% of the total social housing stock.

0:28:290:28:32

But, according to the former maintenance manager, Kevin Barrett,

0:28:320:28:35

who spent most of his life working for the Housing Executive,

0:28:350:28:38

that's just the tip of the iceberg.

0:28:380:28:40

I would have thought at least 15%-20% of the properties

0:28:400:28:44

were either dole drops

0:28:440:28:46

or weren't being properly lived in as a family home.

0:28:460:28:49

That's pretty shocking.

0:28:490:28:51

It is, but I mean,

0:28:510:28:53

you become immune to it when you live with it.

0:28:530:28:55

It becomes normal.

0:28:550:28:56

So, if Kevin Barrett's figures were to be correct,

0:28:580:29:02

then as many as 18,000 homes could be occupied by fraudsters.

0:29:020:29:07

That would be enough to drastically cut the waiting list.

0:29:070:29:10

I don't think there's a housing crisis.

0:29:110:29:14

If the Housing Executive would follow up empty homes,

0:29:140:29:16

people that aren't living in them and housing benefit fraud,

0:29:160:29:20

I think the housing crisis would go.

0:29:200:29:22

This is the view of one former Housing Executive manager.

0:29:230:29:28

But a current manager has told us

0:29:280:29:30

that tenancy fraud is a major problem.

0:29:300:29:32

But the Housing Executive completely disputes these figures.

0:29:350:29:38

They say...

0:29:380:29:39

But the fact is there is no evidence of tenancy fraud

0:29:470:29:51

anywhere in Northern Ireland

0:29:510:29:52

because the Housing Executive didn't record it.

0:29:520:29:55

We don't know if Kevin Barrett's figures are accurate,

0:29:550:29:58

but he did spend almost 30 years on the ground

0:29:580:30:01

working for the Housing Executive, inspecting thousands of properties.

0:30:010:30:06

One thing we do know is that we came across a man

0:30:060:30:09

who found 170 empty houses, including Housing Executive homes,

0:30:090:30:13

in the space of just three weeks.

0:30:130:30:16

Might it be the Housing Executive

0:30:160:30:18

hasn't properly addressed this in the past

0:30:180:30:20

because they might not have liked what they found?

0:30:200:30:22

Don't accept that. I wouldn't accept that at all.

0:30:220:30:24

The Housing Executive has never shirked its responsibility.

0:30:240:30:27

We've always been at the forefront of trying to do the right thing.

0:30:270:30:30

But why didn't you do it ten years ago?

0:30:300:30:32

When looking in hindsight, with 20/20 vision,

0:30:320:30:35

you know you should do things earlier.

0:30:350:30:37

The point I'd make is, yes,

0:30:370:30:38

we should've done things sharper ten years ago.

0:30:380:30:41

We're doing it now.

0:30:410:30:42

That's empty - somebody used it all.

0:30:460:30:49

There's some in that.

0:30:490:30:50

I would love to see myself in a nice house with heating,

0:30:500:30:54

for the kids to be running about, happy,

0:30:540:30:56

and have somewhere to play and do things

0:30:560:30:58

and not having to live in these conditions.

0:30:580:31:01

Jean and her family

0:31:020:31:04

are now considering returning to Scotland.

0:31:040:31:06

Last week, Darran was informed by the Housing Executive

0:31:080:31:11

that, as he failed to tell them in time

0:31:110:31:13

he still wanted one of their homes,

0:31:130:31:15

he and his family have been removed from the waiting list.

0:31:150:31:19

If we have to move out of this area, they'll have to move school

0:31:190:31:22

and everything will be up in the air again.

0:31:220:31:26

As the families face an uncertain future,

0:31:270:31:30

the housing authorities prepare

0:31:300:31:31

to implement their new anti-tenancy fraud strategies.

0:31:310:31:35

But putting down a good plan on paper is one thing.

0:31:350:31:38

Actually knocking on doors

0:31:380:31:40

and asking the difficult questions is another.

0:31:400:31:43

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