Crackdown on illegal rents to begin with an amnesty

Oxford Mail: Debbie Hollingsworth Debbie Hollingsworth

OXFORD tenants who are illegally subletting a city council home will be given two months to confess without fear of prosecution.

Officials at Oxford City Council are planning to hold an amnesty from August to encourage people illegally letting out their council properties to leave their homes without the authority taking them to court.

It costs the city council around £2,000 to take a case through civil court, without the tenant contesting it.

For every person or family being temporarily housed while on the waiting lists, the council spends £18,000 a year.

Since 2011 the city council has claimed 50 homes back from those subletting them, resulting in a saving of £900,000.

Oxford-based charity housing support worker Debbie Hollings-worth said tenants who sublet their properties can make it harder for people looking for housing to find somewhere to live.

She said: “If someone is doing it in the long term then I think that’s pretty bad and they should give up their tenancy because the person they are renting it to might not be in need and might be someone who is able to rent in the private sector.

“They are preventing someone else from accessing housing.

“I have not come across it often though. I know of people who rent out their spare rooms but still live in the property. I would say that some declare it and some don’t.”

But she added that the council should show leniency to people who come forward and let them stay in the home if they need it.

She said: “They should look at the reasons why people are subletting. Not every case is clear-cut.”

The amnesty will run from Friday, August 1 until Wednesday, October 1. Since last year, the subletting of council and social housing without permission has been a criminal offence, carrying a maximum sentence of two years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Rosalie Cook, 73, has lived in council housing off the Banbury Road for 30 years.

She said: “I waited years to get a council home and I was told I didn’t stand a chance unless I had children.

“I think the amnesty is a good idea because when people sublet their homes it isn’t fair on the system. You can’t just let people do what they like with the property.”

She said she wasn’t aware of any subletting in her block of flats.

City council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “The aim of the tenancy fraud amnesty is to raise awareness with the public, not just our tenants and to encourage the reporting of illegal activity.

“It is also to make the public aware that sub-letting of social housing is now a criminal offence and therefore act as a deterrent to those considering subletting and show that the council is taking all possible steps to tackle the problem of the lack of affordable housing in Oxford.”

It is expected that a helpline will be set up for people to contact the council during the amnesty.

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