Compensation Orders – an introduction

We have reported on a number of social housing fraud convictions in this blog, and along with unlawful profit and costs orders the court may consider making a compensation order . For example, a £45,000 compensation order was made in a sub-letting case reported in the Islington Gazette (and here) in April 2018.

In the same month,  a former housing officer was ordered to pay £20,000 to his erstwhile employers, after receiving a 3-year sentence in 2016 “after admitting fraud offences relating to social housing applications and job references”.

When it comes to profits from a housing fraud, if a person is convicted of an offence under either sections 1 or 2 of the Prevention of Social Fraud Act 2013 the court must decide whether to make an unlawful profit order. An unlawful profit order can be made instead of or in addition to an order under the court’s sentencing powers (see section 4(1) and (2) of the 2013 Act).

If a court decides not to make an unlawful profit order, section 4(4) of the 2013 Act states that it must give reasons for that decision when passing sentence.  

As for questions of loss and compensation orders, the criminal court must consider this in any case where personal injury, loss or damage has resulted from the offence, and the court must also (as with the unlawful profit order) give reasons if it decides not to order compensation.

And so section 130 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 provides:

“(1) A court by or before which a person is convicted of an offence, instead of or in addition to dealing with him in any other way, may, on application or otherwise, make an order (in this Act referred to as a “compensation order”) requiring him—
(a) to pay compensation for any personal injury, loss or damage resulting from that offence or any other offence which is taken into consideration by the court in determining sentence; or
(b) to make payments for funeral expenses or bereavement in respect of a death resulting from any such offence, other than a death due to an accident arising out of the presence of a motor vehicle on a road;
but this is subject to the following provisions of this section and to section 131 below.”

There are some salient points to remember about such orders:

1. They are ordered by the criminal courts following a conviction, and in a housing fraud case may be made, for example, where the local authority ‘victim’ has been put to the expense of putting a household in temporary  accommodation because the defendant has wrongly been allocated housing due to their misrepresentation.

2. No upper limit applies to those aged 18 or over (see s. 131 of the 2000 Act, which limits the amount to no more than £5000) though the amount of loss to the victim, such as the social landlord, is the matter being compensated. Continue reading “Compensation Orders – an introduction”

Allocation conviction under section 171 of the Housing Act 1996

On 12 February 2018 South Oxfordshire District Council reported on a successful prosecution of a tenant under section 171 of the Housing Act 1996:

171.— False statements and withholding information.

(1) A person commits an offence if, in connection with the exercise by a local housing authority of their functions under this Part—

(a) he knowingly or recklessly makes a statement which is false in a material particular, or

(b) he knowingly withholds information which the authority have reasonably required him to give in connection with the exercise of those functions.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

The tenant had failed to disclose, when applying to go on the Council’s housing register, that she in fact owned a property (which she was letting out).  She had been living in the allocated property for a number of years by the time of the conviction, and the authority had been alerted to the situation by means of an anonymous tip-off.

This was the first conviction for housing fraud by the Council and appears to have relied on the effective follow-on investigative work of not only themselves and the landlord (SOHA Housing), but also Oxford City Council’s Investigation Team.

As well as the £1530 financial orders handed out to the tenant by the Magistrates’ Court in Oxford the tenant apparently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, now faces possession proceedings, presumably under Ground 17 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988:

Ground 17

The tenant is the person, or one of the persons, to whom the tenancy was granted and the landlord was induced to grant the tenancy by a false statement made knowingly or recklessly by—

(a) the tenant, or

(b) a person acting at the tenant’s instigation.

 

where the real issue will no doubt be not, following the conviction, be whether Ground 5 is satisfied but rather whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances to make a possession order.
The usual authorities of Shrewsbury & Atcham BC v Evans (1997) 30 HLR 123, CA and Lewisham LBC v Akinsola and Adeyemi (2000) 32 HLR 414, CA will no doubt be considered by the court, and though a possession order is by nature of the ground being discretionary no means guaranteed – see for example Southwark LBC v Erekin [2003] EWHC 1765 – it is also worth noting the recent remarks of Mr Justice Turner in Poplar Housing & Regeneration Community Association Ltd v Begum [2017] EWHC 2040 (QB); [2017] HLR 42 (a sub-letting of part/only or principal home/drug activity possession case):
“40…I would stress that it is not compassionate to allow profiteering fraudsters indefinitely to continue to occupy premises and thereby exclude from such accommodation more needy and deserving families.”