Airbnb and allowing illegal social housing sublets, say English councils

<span>Residents in a London block owned by the housing association Notting Hill Genesis claim that successions of guests arriving at one illegal sublet cause regular disturbances.</span><span>Photograph: Alexey_Fedoren/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Residents in a London block owned by the housing association Notting Hill Genesis claim that successions of guests arriving at one illegal sublet cause regular disturbances.Photograph: Alexey_Fedoren/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Airbnb and have been accused of facilitating fraud by refusing to take action against social housing tenants who illegally sublet properties to holidaymakers.

Local authorities and social housing providers claim the platforms are refusing to cooperate with requests to remove illegally listed holiday lets and, as a result, are depriving homeless families of secure housing.

It is a criminal offence for tenants to rent out council or housing association accommodation.

Tenants are required to notify councils and housing associations if a property is no longer required as a permanent residence, but some are retaining them illegally to earn an income.

One tenant was found to be advertising his housing association property for £4,000 a week, having never lived in it, according to the campaign group the Tenancy Fraud Forum (TFF).

It estimates each fraudulently let home costs taxpayers an average of £42,000 over three years. The fraud can also invalidate buildings insurance and expose neighbours to antisocial behaviour.

“I recently reported an illegal sublet to Airbnb and explained it was a criminal offence, but they refused to remove the listing and told me to talk to the host,” said the housing association lawyer and TFF chair, Katrina Robinson. “Airbnb puts profit before conscience.”

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London spent an estimated £20,000 securing a court order before Airbnb would cooperate with a fraud crackdown on two of its estates in 2022. It said the US lettings giant was still refusing to remove listings that fell foul of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act.

“We have tried to establish a landmark data-sharing pilot with Airbnb to help us uncover reported tenancy fraud,” said a council spokesperson. “Currently this isn’t working as we would have wished and data is not being shared with us. We have 3,000 people on our housing register, and we know that holiday lettings companies have data which will help us tackle cases of tenancy fraud and free up much-needed homes.”

Airbnb’s terms and conditions state that hosts’ personal information may be shared for fraud prevention, but the company insists that privacy laws forbid it from passing details to landlords without a court order. Under the Data Protection Act, personal data can legitimately be shared with relevant authorities for law enforcement.

“Airbnb seems to think the Data Protection Act doesn’t apply to them,” said Stephanie Toghill, housing investigations manager for Islington council.

The north London council has also had to spend thousands of pounds applying for a court order so that the firm would help it identify suspected illegal sublets. “The impact of each case of tenancy fraud is huge on council budgets, which have to fund temporary accommodation for the thousands of people on housing waiting lists.” has also refused to remove illegal listings or share information, according to housing providers who spoke to the Guardian.

Residents in a London block owned by the housing association Notting Hill Genesis claim that successions of guests arriving at one illegal sublet cause regular disturbances and have damaged communal areas.

“We are fearful living here due to the unsavoury people that run the lettings and the multiple guests who arrive day and night,” said one resident, who did not wish to be named. Notting Hill Genesis told the Guardian that said it would not remove the listing without permission from the fraudulent host.

Critics said Airbnb and could prevent property fraud by requesting proof of ownership from hosts. Both companies have so far refused to do so, despite the Accommodation Agencies Act requiring owner consent before a property is advertised. They claim they are not accommodation agents, but the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the Guardian that it expected firms to abide by the applicable terms of the act.

Airbnb said in a statement: “Airbnb requires all hosts to have the relevant permissions to share their homes. Issues are rare and we take appropriate action where concerns are raised.

“Airbnb is also leading our industry in working with governments and authorities to help them access data and enforce the rules, including supporting the UK government’s work on a host register, and working with numerous local councils and the Public Sector Fraud Authority to tackle social housing abuse.” said it had suspended the listing reported by Notting Hill Genesis pending an investigation.

“When a property owner chooses to list with us, they must confirm that they have the right to list their property,” said a spokesperson. “We do have a solid process in place for authorities to report any listings they might have concerns about and are looking into why the complaint by Notting Hill Genesis does not appear to have been escalated through our correct internal channels, which potentially resulted in a delay.”