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Oliver Colvile MP: There needs to be a robust, cohesive and transparent campaign to ensure that abuses of the housing system are eradicated

ColvileOliver Colvile is the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. His article is the fourth in a seven part series of articles by Conservative MPs, each discussing the Coalition's policies to get more people into good homes.

The demand for social housing in England outstrips the supply.  In an effort to stop the abuse of local authority and housing association properties, which costs the English tax payer up to £5 billion a year, the Government has announced a number of initiatives as part of its National Housing strategy for England. It aims to increase the supply of social housing and make sure that it is available to those really in need.

The Government estimates that there are at least 50,000 unlawfully occupied social homes in England.  In December 2010, the Department of Communities and Local Government announced £19 million of grant funding to help local authorities to help recover unlawfully occupied properties.

Whilst the Government is committed to protecting the rights of social housing tenants, Ministers want to tackle the small minority who abuse their social housing – especially those households with high incomes - that continue to occupy subsidised housing and commit fraud.

A recent Dragon’s Den contestant who has made millions of pounds since his idea was launched continues to live in his state-subsidised house. Another example is of a property tycoon with a chain of restaurants and a supermarket who continues to live in social housing paying just £135 per week. 

Indeed the former Labour MP and crook who robbed the Mirror pensioners of their retirement, Robert Maxwell, continued to live in Oxford City Council’s Headington Hall despite being a multi-millionaire.

In 2007, one of Ken Livingstone’s aides was earning in excess of £100,000 and living in state-subsidised social housing which was worth nearly £750,000.  RMT Union boss, Bob Crow, despite earning £145,000 a year, lives in social housing. To add insult, the RMT commented that ‘Bob Crow makes no apology for living in social housing’.

The sheer volume of cases like these stress that there needs to be a robust, cohesive and transparent campaign to ensure that abuses of the housing system are eradicated. 

That is why the Government feels that a minority of tenants, who have been allowed to occupy subsidised housing yet already own a home, are depriving those who have a desperate need for these properties.

I believe that this is morally unjust and is reducing the municipal housing stock available to those on the housing list.

The National Fraud Authority estimates that up to ‘50,000 homes may be unlawfully sublet’, which is costing the taxpayer nearly £1 billion each year.

The Government is therefore proposing to raise the rent for those households which have an income of over £100,000.  They have evidence which suggests that there are as many as 6,000 such households in England.

This rent increase for these tenants will be used to help fund new affordable homes.

In my Plymouth Sutton & Devonport constituency, which has some of the most deprived communities in the whole of England, over 12,000 people are on the housing list seeking council or Registered Social Landlord accommodation.

That is why I fully support the Government’s initiative  - which will probably require primary legislation - to help free up the supply for those who have a real need of social, affordable and council housing.


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