Britain’s housing crisis is giving scammers the means to con desperate tenants out of their hard-earned cash, it has been revealed.
Tenants living in overcrowded council housing in Tower Hamlets, the capital’s most deprived borough, are being approached by fraudsters claiming to be from the local council.
According to the council, the fraudsters say that if the tenants want to be put on a waiting list to be given a non-overcrowded home, they have to sign up to a new service – which they say costs £29.99.
The notice often comes in the form of a leaflet through the door, featuring Tower Hamlets Council office address, pictures of homes in the borough, and the name “Tower Hamlets Overcrowding Aid”. It directs people to a website.
Tower Hamlets Council says the people selling the scheme in fact have nothing to do with the council; they say the service does not exist and the website is a scam.
The local authority urged local residents to contact the council’s trading standards team and said the people involved would be prosecuted.
The council confirmed it would not request payment for a housing application and said all real council staff would carry identification. It added that the leaflets were using details of addresses for genuine council offices to confuse people into believing the website was real.
“We will be working closely with the police to track down those responsible for this scam,” John Biggs, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets said.
“Not only are these fraudsters seeking to fleece families out of money they cannot afford, they are raising the hopes of families already living in difficult circumstances.
“I urge residents to be vigilant and to warn others in their homes and neighbourhoods about this scam. Anyone who has received one of these scam leaflets should contact the council’s trading standards team.
“The council will do all it can to find those responsible and push for the strongest possible legal action to be taken against them.”
Tower Hamlets is one of many areas of London to face “huge demand for affordable housing” and “severe overcrowding in social housing”, according to the council’s 2013 statement on the matter.
Despite the presence of luxury apartments and Europe’s financial centre Canary Wharf in the borough, startling inequality has left large swathes of the area with a housing shortage and some of the most severe poverty in the country.
As of Wednesday the Tower Hamlets Overcrowding Aid website had been taken offline. It previously said in a “disclaimer” section that Tower Hamlets Overcrowding Aid was a trading department of a registered company called “SIMPLE GAMING LTD.”
Companies House lists the firm as being registered to a named 22-year-old man at an address in Tower Hamlets.