Pinsent Masons advises Kensington and Chelsea Council to join forces with Airbnb and tackle social housing tenancy fraud

22 Aug 2022 | 04:29 pm | 2 min. read

Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons has advised the Kensington and Chelsea Council in a major victory against social housing tenancy fraud, working 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. These court orders, commonly called Norwich Pharmacal Orders, are used by civil fraud experts at Pinsent Masons to help obtain key evidence and unlock investigations. This will enable the Council to take enforcement steps having obtained the evidence.

The order was agreed by Kensington and Chelsea and Airbnb 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. Short-term lets in subsidised or social housing in the UK are illegal, and difficult to police without collaborative data sharing between platforms and Councils.

Partner and civil fraud expert Andrew Herring led the Pinsent Masons team which included Jessica Meisel and Sandra Banga. Pinsent Masons instructed John Randall QC and Ali Tabari of St Philips Chambers on the case.

Commenting on the case, Andrew Herring 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.”

Cllr Kim-Taylor Smith, Lead Member for Housing at Kensington and Chelsea Council, 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.”

Amanda Cupples, General Manager 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.”

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

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