The sub-letting of Derry’s in demand social housing properties by benefit scammers is morally as well as legally wrong,a Derry City Councillor has warned.
SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack raised concerns over the issue with Housing Executive representatives after they outlined the social housing situation locally at this week’s meeting of Derry City Council’s Regional Services Committee.
There are currently over 3,000 families and single person applicants on the housing waiting list in Derry,
During the meeting, the Housing Executive (HE) warned that they are now staking out homes in the Derry area after a flurry of letters from people over potential rental fraud.
The stakeout surveillance work was confirmed by the HE Area Manager West, Avril McAllister.
Ms McAllister said that a steady flow of letters were now arriving- many of them anonymous- giving tip-offs about people allocated homes, but suspected of not living there or even sub-letting the property to someone else in a benefits scam.
Ms McAllister said that HE staff, upon receiving such information, begin a process of investigation.
“We stake out the house,” she said. “We check electricity usage and we also speak to the tenant.
“We are trying to encourage people to report to us.”
Speaking on the issue, Colr. Cusack said: “Given the staggering figures of those on the waiting list and in housing crisis it is totally unacceptable for anyone to take advantage of those desperately in need by depriving them of a home by either living elsewhere or sub letting an Executive property.
“This is not only fraud it is morally wrong and I welcome a more proactive approach by the NIHE to combat this issue.”
Speaking after it emerged that 40% of Derry is now living in fuel poverty, Colr. Cusack added:
“Given the climate in this region we are heavily dependant on the need for home heating. This in conjunction with the level of deprivation here makes for a very worrying statistic of 40% of households in fuel poverty.
“In light of this I would like to highlight the Oil Club scheme currently in operation by the NIHE and Bryson which might help individuals and businesses by clubbing together to purchase oil in bulk and therefore get a reduced rate. I would welcome more publicity on this scheme by the NIHE.”