Flanders is cracking down on social housing fraud after finding evidence that some families utilising the Belgian benefits actually own homes abroad.
Social housing is intended for low income families who would otherwise be unable to afford a place to live, but last summer, 25 families were forced to vacate their social housing because they were discovered to own houses, flats, or land in other countries, according to HLN.
Around €400,000 in fines was paid by the offenders, who were found to have assets in Turkey, Poland, Georgia, Morocco, and even the Dominican Republic.
Flemish Minister of Housing Matthias Diependaele has authorised investigators from five specialised agencies to look into whether there are more people defrauding the system. If a family owns any kind of housing, not only in Belgium but also abroad, they are not entitled to social housing here.
“Social landlords throughout Flanders can start an investigation into tenants who they suspect of owning property abroad, and therefore are not entitled to social housing,” Minister Diependaele said, allocating that the region is budgeting €5 million for this purpose.
Data on ownership abroad is not always available or is not exchanged with Belgium, but now the country has an agreement for investigations involving 41 countries. Private detective agencies in Belgium and the Netherlands will be looking into tenants suspected of fraud at the request of landlords involved in social housing.
The Flemish government will refund 75% of the costs of a landlord’s investigation, and 100% if the investigation uncovers fraud.
The active tracking of people committing fraud is already proving useful. In Antwerp alone, €590,000 in illegal social housing discounts were found, and so far 10% has been paid back.
“The main objective is of course to free up as much housing as possible for the benefit of people who are entitled to it,” said Diependaele.
“There are 150,000 people on the waiting list with an average lead time of two to three years. Of course, this will not solve the problem of the waiting lists, but it would be a shame not to tackle this when there are so many people waiting for social housing.”