24 Aug 2022

A London council and Airbnb are working together to try to counter large scale fraud amongst social housing tenants who sub-let via the short lets platform. 

The collaboration will see Airbnb Payments UK share payments data with Kensington and Chelsea council for two estates in the borough 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.

Said Phil Turtle, compliance director with Landlord Licensing & Defence, “Councils are already busy using artificial intelligence which pulls together 20 or so of their own databases from council tax to nuisance complaints and waste collection.  Many are now also starting to pull in external data from EPC and Gas Safety registers. This ‘deal’ to access AirBnB data (which it appears AirBnB have freely given in order to protect their own business) signals a very worrying move by cynical councils to access more and more external data in their relentless drive to prosecute and fine landlords out of existence.”

The order was agreed by Airbnb and Kensington and Chelsea as part of the local authority’s efforts to crackdown on the number of illegally sub-let council-owned properties. Last month four homes were “recovered” by the council, having been identified as illegally sub-let using this form of payments surveillance.

Airbnb spokesman Theo Lomas says: “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.”

And a civil fraud expert advising the council – Andrew Herring of Pinsent Masons law firm – adds: “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.”

Kensington and Chelsea councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, who has responsibility for housing in the borough, comments: “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 sub-letting 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.”

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