The government has put forward a plan to make it a criminal offence for council house tenants to sub-let them.

There is also a proposal to make the wealthier council house tenant, those on £100,000 a year or more, to pay the market rate for their rents.

Making the wealthier pay more will prove an attractive proposal, but there may be a better way of addressing the sub-letting ‘scandal’ initially that keeps it as much as possible out of the hands of the police and the courts.

Grant Schapps, the housing minister, said "For too long this country has turned a blind eye on the multi-billion pound problem of housing tenancy fraud and abuse. This year the coalition is determined to end that scandal. Why should someone on a six-figure income enjoy a fantastically subsidised council rent, whilst those in real need languish on the waiting list? And why is it so easy to get away with sub-letting your council house at market rent and simply pocketing up to £1,000 a week at taxpayers' expense?"

At present it is not an offence to sub-let a council house. So it may come as a surprise to many that some council houses are lived in by relatively wealthy people and that they can pay a very low rent for it and, some tenants can if they wish, sublet it out at a higher rate and pocket the difference.

It is estimated that there are 6,000 social housing tenants who earn more than £100,000 a year as well as 160,000 tenants who sub-let their homes.

The Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, Maria Eagle, who is also the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport said that this pronouncement was just a fig-leaf for the recent fall in housing starts and what was needed was the building of more social housing, something she said that Grant Schapps was not doing.

The government’s reasoning for making it a criminal offence with a fine or prison sentence penalty is that the current rules are too weak. Otherwise a tenant profiting from this practice could take the money until they were found out when they would just hand the keys back.

Overall these seem like good moves and they favour the poor over the rich.

But one thing has not been made clear. What of those people who sub-let from another that now live in those council houses and are paying the market rate for living in that house. Are they to be given notice too? They can obviously pay for a private rental so should on the face of it be forced out? What sort of tenancy agreement do they have in place and how enforceable is it?

But maybe a bit of occupier policing could be the answer to this before involving the constabulary. Send a monthly letter to every council house for the next few months backed up by a TV campaign offering any council house occupier who has sub-let the property from another an immediate 25% reduction in rent and security of tenure for a year if they phone in.

That way the sub-letting tenant wins, the council coffers win and the original tenant rightly loses out. After all, what tenant would turn an offer like that down? No need for police and no need for court actions etc.

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