Council joins forces with Airbnb to tackle social housing tenancy fraud

Published: Monday 22 August 2022

In a major victory against social housing tenancy fraud, Kensington and Chelsea Council has worked with Airbnb to unlock critical information that can be used in future legal action or criminal proceedings against alleged fraudsters.  

The collaboration will see Airbnb Payments UK share payments data with the Council for two estates in North Kensington to help crack down on illegal short-term lets.

The data sharing, which will take place under a court order due to GDPR requirements, will provide the Council with payment evidence of social housing properties identified as being potentially listed as holiday and short-term lets. This will allow the Council to take enforcement steps having obtained the evidence.

The order was agreed by Airbnb and Kensington and Chelsea as part of the Council’s efforts to crackdown on the number of illegally sublet Council-owned properties, as the Council aims to free up homes for individuals and families on the housing waiting list. 

Cllr Kim-Taylor Smith, Lead Member for Housing, said:

“There is a huge demand for social housing in our borough and it’s simply not fair that people in genuine need are being denied a place to call home because others are illegally subletting their Council properties to make money.

“Tenancy fraud is not a victimless crime. It costs the public purse an average of £42,000 a year for each home and this welcome collaboration with Airbnb will help us to clamp down on it in our borough.

“Please, if you have any information about tenancy fraud being committed in Kensington and Chelsea, get in touch.”

The order, a first for Kensington and Chelsea, currently applies to two estates in North Kensington, but Airbnb and the Council are working together to stamp out illegal subletting activity in social housing across the borough. 

Theo Lomas, Head of Government Relations for Northern Europe at Airbnb, said:

“Hosting in subsidised or social housing in the UK is illegal and has no place on Airbnb and we want to work with councils to remove social housing. However the current situation is complex and costly, and requires a court order to avoid breaking GDPR rules. This is yet another example of the need for the UK to update its rules and introduce a single registration system, so authorities have the information they need to tackle bad actors and return housing to those in need.”

Civil fraud expert, Andrew Herring of Pinsent Masons, who advised the Council, said:

“Thanks to Kensington and Chelsea Council’s fresh thinking in regards to tackling tenancy fraud, we’ve been able to apply civil fraud court procedures in a new and innovative way - supporting data-led public sector efforts to investigate and combat fraud and setting a precedent for others to follow.”

Earlier this month, through similar checks with tenants, four homes were recovered by the Council – one of which was being illegally sublet for several years. 

If you know of, or suspect, anyone committing tenancy fraud in Kensington and Chelsea, you can contact the Council’s Housing Investigations Team on 020 7605 6401 or email [email protected].