Of Sub-Letting and Scams

Back when I lived in Lagos I had an English friend who was married to a Nigerian-born British lady. Because of this, they interacted a lot more with the locals than the rest of us expats. We lived in a compound on a private island in accommodation that by any standards, let alone those of Nigeria, would get called luxury (lest you think we were spoiled, one of the issues that plague developing world cities is that there are generally two types of housing: total shitholes and ludicrously expensive luxury apartments).

My friends got chatting to some Nigerian neighbours and discovered that one of their income streams was sub-letting council properties in London to other Nigerians. They’d gone to the UK, got themselves a council house or flat, rented it out to somebody else, then came back to Lagos. When my friends started getting cross at this, the response of their neighbours was along the lines of:

“Why are you mad at us? Why aren’t you mad at the idiots who put this stupid system in place that allows Nigerians to get council houses and rent them out? Frankly, we can’t believe that they let us do this!”

They had a point. One of the worst aspects of the British welfare system isn’t that so many people game it, but that it does not adequately provide for many of the deserving poor either. Yet we’re always being told it’s a funding issue, rather than an organisational one.

I was reminded of this story when I read somebody on Twitter saying that in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, some poor sod is going to have to work out who was actually living there. I don’t know the mix of private and social housing in the block, but you can be sure that sub-letting of council flats was going on. Although disallowed, the practice is widespread, particularly among immigrant communities. Even identifying the dead might be difficult if the person living in a particular flat wasn’t the person whose name is one the lease. No doubt insurance claims will be affected as well, assuming they even had any.

This in turn reminded me of something else, bringing me back to Nigeria again. On the only occasion I flew from Lagos to Port Harcourt, i.e. an internal flight, I was surprised to find my boarding pass – handed to me by a Nigerian who was assigned to “look after me” – had somebody else’s name on it. Apparently middle-men buy up all the plane tickets the moment they’re issued by the airline and re-sell them at a marked-up price. That this is allowed to go on says everything you need to know about Nigeria, but it’s not just a cost issue. It occurred to me as the plane lurched and weaved its way towards Port Harcourt that if it crashed nobody would have any clue who was on it. There was no record of me being a passenger, some chap with a Yoruba name was supposed to be in my seat. People would assume he’s dead, which I’m sure would open up all sorts of opportunities for additional scams.

I’d not be at all surprised if opportunists seize on the Grenfell Tower tragedy to perpetuate various scams, either.

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18 thoughts on “Of Sub-Letting and Scams

  1. The same thought occurred to me when looking at the TV coverage.

    I lived in London briefly in the 1980s. I knew several people who lived in council flats which they had “inherited” from people who no longer lived there. So long as the rent was paid, the Council(s) never enquired as to who lived there.

  2. Sub-letting (Tenancy Fraud in the jargon of the sector) is an issue, but it’s generally less widespread than it used to be. This is down to a couple of factors: one, the sector started to get tough about it, as a result of pressure from Central government to not just run housing, but to address strategic housing shortage through better allocations policy. Tenancy Fraud became a crime in 2015, which may have helped.
    The second factor is a bit more straightforward. As the economy grew, cities like London offered more economic opportunities, and housing became more scarce. Therefore, whilst the potential payoff of fraud increased, it became less likely as other opportuinities to make cash were easier to come by, and the supply of social homes became more constrained. It is now far harder to get the asset used to commit the fraud, so fewer opportunities present themselves

    I’ve never seen a case of tenancy fraud through subletting- it tends to be people lying on applications to try to get the homes in the first place. We caught many people doing this, but it’s far from the case that tenants who pay are ignored. One side effect of the Government’s programme of investment in 2008-10 (the Decent Homes stuff) was that all properties were renovated- as such, people who shouldn’t have been there were found out and dealt with.

    Also- the busy bodies of the state tend to want to come see you to make sure you are OK, taking care of the property and being all diverse and shit. One of the principal benefits of being a homeowner, IMO, is you don’t get some social worker manqué coming and bothering you every 15 minutes wanting you to declare your sexuality.

  3. It seems like London has changed a lot from when I lived there in the early eighties. Back then lots of folk were charging key money for council flats, squatting was rife, no one paid tax and most were singing on for the dole as well.

  4. I think it’s great to see this convergence between Nigeria and the UK.

    Obviously it would be preferable if the convergence went the other way…

  5. From pictures of the survivors Grenfell House seems to have been a muslim ghetto.
    Maybe they were breaking the ramadan fast and more likely to be awake, but even so…
    Another point. If the block was built in 1974, the local millioaires were unlikely to have bought their houses without noticing it. A bit rich to demand a more pleasant aesthetic at the risk of killing dozens. A bit like buying a house under the Heathrow flight path and then complaining about the noise.

  6. A bit like buying a house under the Heathrow flight path and then complaining about the noise.

    Thank God that would never happen.

  7. I see that people are saying that the flats were old and shitty and should have been replaced.

    Well, they may have been shitty (tenanted properties often are, especially those with low rents), but old isn’t necessarily a problem. Better room size for one thing: looking at plans online for Grenfell- my old (privately owned) flat would have fitted entirely into the footprint of the lounge and kitchen of one of those units.

  8. “I see that people are saying that the flats were old and shitty and should have been replaced.”

    They were 43 years old.

  9. @Rob and Dearieme

    Yep- slightly older than some folk would like, though. Social housing built post 1970 tends to be generous, and we’ll made, though. The corruption that meant the earlier examples were shoddy had been weeded out (Schedule 1, Housing Act), but they were still built to last aaaages and had generous space allocations.

    That these had just had 9m spent on them, though, means little. I doubt the TMO did a good spec, and I further doubt that they are great negotiators: “We let it through a tender!”

  10. @John Square,

    Public housing is fraud against people who pay privately for their own housing. We create public squalour not for want of public works but by housing people so inadequate that they can’t even arrange their own accommodation, in what should be desirable inner cities. Using money that could otherwise be spent on those public works. What they end up doing, through inadequacy as much as intent, to the areas they live in, should not be surprising.

    Manchester city centre is a case in point, surrounded by a ring a mile or two deep (depending on which direction you travel out of the city) of places that no one would ever want to live.

    In London, we now have a city in which you can only live if you are exceptionally rich or totally destitute. That’s not far off Tim’s description of Lagos.

    Disclaimer: I once spent a year living in an illegally sub-let HA flat. It was much nicer than the properties I rented or owned privately in the same city.

  11. They’d just had 9 million spent on them, hadn’t they?

    Yes, but as I said over at Mr Worstall’s, how much of that £9m went on purchasing certified materials and paying qualified, experienced tradesmen and how much went on kickbacks, admin fees, consultancy, fees, and audits to ensure the all companies involved had diverse management teams and recycled properly?

    “£9m spent on them” probably means £1m of work got done on the actual building.

  12. In London, we now have a city in which you can only live if you are exceptionally rich or totally destitute.

    Indeed, people are beginning to ask questions why a tower block in Kensington in which flats rent for £1625 per month is occupied almost exclusively by immigrants from the poorest parts of the world.

  13. @BiG

    Don’t disagree with any of that. That’s part of the reason I now work in shipping.

    My publicly stated belief that the best thing to do with social housing would be to give it to the tenants, wind up social housing organisations and let the market solve the allocations problem was the other part.

    The genuine thought behind that idea was that we don’t separate people problems from housing problems in the present system.
    Give people the housing as a one off gift, and if they can’t manage it, they’ll cash out soon enough, and someone who can deal with the responsibility will end up with it for a song. The departed tenant will then have to sink or swim.

    We don’t have (much of a) housing problem in the UK, we have a (resource) allocations problem. And markets are the answer to that.

  14. The local housing rate for inner London is £302 per week. Yes you read that correctly, the state will pay someone’s rent up to £302 per week. That is £15,702 per year in benefits to enable someone to live in Kensington And Chelsea, an area I could never afford. This works out as £1308 per month so the £1625 is more than the local housing allowance.

    Makes you wonder who the hell was living there if housing benefit is nearly enough for a private rental in the building. Chances are the rest of the building was rented social housing at the max housing benefit rate.

    @John Square
    One of the powerful tools the housing associations have is the ASBO which enables them to start eviction proceedings to throw the scumbags out, who end up being housed on an emergency basis by the council in short term accommodation.

    We can’t let people starve in the street but there is a point at which paying for the scumbags to stay in the nice areas should be stopped. If you get kicked out more than a couple of times you should be shoved in a sink estate with similarly inclined feral scumbags.

    We have taught people that the world owes them a living regardless of how they behave. And we have subsidised the breeding of people with below average IQs. The result is plain to see.

  15. Andrew: ‘We have taught people that the world owes them a living regardless of how they behave.’

    And we can see the results of this in the angry mob being interviewed, demanding instant gratification of their demands to know where relatives are (with no more concept of the scale of the task at hand than my cat), and looking for someone with deep pockets to ‘be responsible’.

  16. JuliaM,

    See also the quote from the Syria Solidarity Campaign in my latest post.

  17. @Andrew,

    We had an HA in Manchester that bought houses in semi-nice areas for their scumbag tenants and stuck them in there. Because it was away from their main developments, and other tenants who knew who the scumbag’s landlord was without having to do a land search, the problem tenants were no longer their problem!

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