The Border Force has warned immigrants of strict action for subletting a council home or obtaining it fraudulently. The UK Border Agency has made it clear that its officials will coming down hard on those defrauding the authority.'
Councillor Ian Wingfield, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at Southwark council, said: 'We have a current waiting list of around 20,000 people who are desperate for a home.
'It's simply not acceptable to defraud the council, and taxpayers, by subletting a council home or obtaining it fraudulently – it costs the authority thousands of pounds a year, money which could provide vital services and we cannot allow fraudsters to deny the 20,000 people on the waiting list a home.
'We cannot ignore the issue. That's why we'll be coming down hard on those defrauding the authority.'
DI Lindsay Jarvis from the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad said: 'According to Audit Commission figures – on average it costs councils across the UK £54,000 per household per year to house families in non-council accommodation. So this is a major saving for the taxpayer in general and the borough.'
The assertions came after a multi-agency operation led by the UK Border Agency saw five people arrested as part of a crackdown on council home fraud.
The Border Force said: Officers from the UK Border Agency, alongside anti-fraud officers from Southwark council and the Metropolitan Police, visited a number of residential addresses across the London Borough of Southwark on 31 January 2012.
The coordinated operation resulted in three arrests for immigration offences and two arrests for fraud. The operation was launched after a number of pieces of fake documentation identified by Southwark council including counterfeit passports, birth certificates and Home Office letters had been used to support claims for council housing.
Those arrested included Ghanaian male and female aged 37 and 24, a 34-year-old Nigerian male and two foreign nationals, who are entitled to be in the UK but were arrested by police at addresses in Peckham and Walworth on suspicion of fraud.
Alex Jayes, chief immigration officer for the Bexley, Greenwich, Lambeth and Southwark local immigration team, said: 'This operation successfully targeted suspected fraudulent use of council houses by individuals who appear to have used bogus documentation.
'Those arrested by the UK Border Agency are now being questioned and detained for immigration offences, and steps will now be taken to remove them from the country at the earliest opportunity.
'The UK Border Agency is playing its part in tackling this wider problem, working closely with Southwark Council and the Metropolitan Police to identify and take action against those involved.'
Southwark council estimate that this operation alone has saved £648,000 in housing costs, which is equal to £18,000 per year for the average tenant stay of 3 years in temporary accommodation. These are tenants entitled to a council home.