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Ilegal subletting in Luton

Illegal subletting: council house in Luton rented for one year


April 23, 2024

Yet another case highlights the issue of property fraud, now rampant in England and Wales.


A Luton man has admitted to illegally subletting his council-assigned house in Houghton Regis.


The fraud went on for a year, involving unsuspecting tenants till an anonymous tip-off was made.


Remarkably, the city of Luton is common ground for sensational cases of property fraud, as it witnessed first-hand one of the most notorious cases of property fraud: the ill-famed Luton clergyman fraud, the rather  unfortunate victim: Reverend Mike Hall.


We have covered this story here, in case you needed an update.

However, new developments are still ongoing (click here for the latest news).



The Council House Subletting


Ben Varle, aged 47, residing on Barn Owl Road in Luton, was initially allocated a council house on Sycamore Road, Houghton Regis, by Central Bedfordshire Council.


However, rather than occupying the property himself, Varle chose to live elsewhere and illicitly rent out the house to unsuspecting tenants. This fraudulent arrangement continued for approximately 12 months, where Varle collected rent directly from his tenants.


The illicit activity was brought to light following an anonymous tip: as soon as local authorities started to look into this scheme, the truth rapidly emerged.  


Varle was indeed not living in the council property as required by his agreement. Instead, he was residing in his Luton home, collecting illegitimate profits from subletting his Houghton Regis home.


The case was brought before Luton Magistrates' Court where, on March 5, Varle pled guilty to charges under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act.

His sentencing, on April 3, resulted in an 18-month community order consisting of 120 hours of unpaid work. Additionally, Varle was ordered to pay £744 towards legal costs and a victim surcharge of £114, as reported by Luton Today.

Subletting Frauds and Property Fraud


This story is one of many countless other cases taking place across England and Wales in the last few months. This story further underscores the prevalent issue of property fraud, particularly the illegal subletting of properties

Subletting without permission undermines the trust placed in tenants and impacts the financial well-being of landlords, exposing them to considerable financial risks. 

In this case, involving a council house, it even robbed genuine applicants of the opportunity to access safe and affordable housing. 

Cllr Steven Watkins, an executive member for business, housing, and public assets from Central Bedfordshire Council, stated that “subletting council properties is a betrayal of trust, and every illegal sublet deprives a family in genuine need of secure housing."

The council has thus expressed a firm stance against all fraudulent activities. Illegal subletting of a council house is particularly shameful, as victims are unaware tenants, who may find themselves without a home when the fraud is uncovered. 

The wider community has also been seen to take a toll as this kind of fraud strains occur when there is already limited housing resources in the United Kingdom.


However, property fraud is an illegal activity that can take several forms, ranging from subletting, as in the case of Mr. Varle, to more sophisticated scams involving address hijacking or fraudulent property transactions

The implications of these crimes can be severe, leading to significant financial losses for homeowners and landlords alike

While online tools offer more and more methods for fraudsters to carry out their schemes, property fraud is better contrasted with proactivity and vigilance on the part of homeowners and landlords. 


While Companies House is trying to implement more rigorous checks to identify address hijacking, property fraud still represents the most widespread and the most threatening type of fraud in the UK housing market. 

The crackdown on address hijacking is certainly part of broader efforts to address property fraud, leveraging both technology and awareness, yet much remains to be done. 

In the case of Ben Varle, this subletting fraud was rapidly recognised, reported and punished

However, the fight against property fraud is a daily struggle, involving  landlords, homeowners, and institutions to fight back against property fraud.