THE Waterside posted by far the worst level of social housing fraud in the west in 2011/12, according to a survey by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).
Thirty-seven per cent of all social homes abandoned by tenants in the west were in the Waterside.
Forty-one per cent of all such social homes recovered in the west were on the Eastbank.
A recent audit of social housing fraud across the whole of Northern Ireland suggested the vast majority of abandonments related to registered tenants living elsewhere.
The NIAO report states: “The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and local Housing Associations recovered over 360 properties in 2011-12 as a result of reactive housing management work.
“This represents 0.3 per cent of the total social housing stock in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of these recoveries relate to the non-occupation of the property as the registered tenant was living elsewhere.”
In the Waterside 26 homes were abandoned and 17 recovered; compared with Waterloo Place (11 abandoned; seven recovered); Collon Terrace (eight abandoned; three recovered); Limavady (six abandoned; zero recovered); and Strabane (eight abandoned; five recovered).
The NIAO said one form of social housing fraud was when people abandoned a property and lived elsewhere: “either leaving the property empty or selling the key to someone else for a one-off payment, for example where a tenant leaves their own property to move in with a new partner.”
Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), said: “Public funded housing occupied by individuals not entitled to be there is illegal, immoral and unacceptable.
“Such fraudulent activity deprives those families most in need of a decent home.
“It also creates additional cost for the taxpayer in providing additional new build and temporary accommodation.”
There are around 40,000 families on the Common Waiting List at any one time with around 20,000 each year being assessed as in housing stress i.e. to be in the most need, for reasons of health, intimidation, insecurity of tenure and housing conditions.
Of these, around 3,000 families are placed into temporary accommodation. In 2012 the annual cost of this was in excess of £10 million.
Mr Donnelly added: “Tackling tenancy fraud in a proactive manner and bringing existing social housing units back into use is a cost effective way of addressing a significant housing shortfall in Northern Ireland.”
The report recommends that the Department for Social Development, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Housing Associations adopt and apply the best practice that has been developed in Great Britain to tackle this type of fraud.