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Second property and school catchment: fraudolent?

(56 Posts)
thelmafitzgerald Sun 14-Aug-16 16:59:23

Please don't flame me, I am just trying to understand how the school catchment system works in the UK as I am from a European country where the system is completely different!

This is the scenario:

Family with small DC owns two properties, a 2 bedroom flat that is where the family currently lives and a one bedroom flat that is technically empty (not rented out).

2 bed flat is in a deprived area with really bad schools, while the one bed flat is in a really nice affluent area with outstanding schools.

Would it be fraudolent or illegal according to the UK system and law if the family moved into the one bed flat for a while before and after the DC started school in order to secure a place in outstanding school in affluent area? Let's say if the family actually lived in the one bed property for 6 months?

So essentially my question is: can a second property lawfully be used in terms of school catchment?

Many thanks!

BodsAuntieFlo Sun 14-Aug-16 17:09:35

I don't know about fraudulent or illegal but it certainly isn't honest is it?

monkeywithacowface Sun 14-Aug-16 17:16:39

Yes it would be fraudulent and if found out you risk you child's offer of a place being withdrawn.

monkeywithacowface Sun 14-Aug-16 17:17:46

Why don't you just sell both the properties and buy one decent one in the area you want your child to go to school?

llhj Sun 14-Aug-16 17:17:57

No it's not fraudulent and I would do it.

MrsHulk Sun 14-Aug-16 17:20:15

You need to check the criteria for your local area - the details will be on your council's website.

In a lot of areas, the council will check to see whether you own more than one property. If you do, they will decide which is your real home.

It will partly depend on how long you've lived in each home, where your mail goes, where you are registered to vote, etc etc. They may also look at plausibility - ie does a family of five really live in this tiny studio flat? Some councils even hire private detectives to check where people are going home to at night.

So it's not a straightforward answer. A lot of people do play the system that way, moving temporarily to the right area, but you have to be careful to make the move for long enough and to genuinely move.

It would certainly be seen as cheating/immoral by a lot of people and may not make you any friends at the school gates.

LIZS Sun 14-Aug-16 17:21:45

You need to check the LA rules for residency when the application is made, the place awarded and when starting school (home visit fir example). You would probably need to demonstrate that the 1 bed is actually your home during this period - council tax, child benefit, electoral roll etc- and not your "other" address. They may ask how long you have lived there. If the school is very popular look out for other prospective parents willing to raise it with LA. Not sure it is worth the hassle, why not just move and sell both.

llhj Sun 14-Aug-16 17:22:59

In reality very few councils do any of the above. They are on their knees financially and could no more afford a private detective than the man in the moon. Some very highly sought after schools may do a bit of sniffing but in reality for primary places, very little is done.

llhj Sun 14-Aug-16 17:24:13

Just move in asap and move all documentation etc. How do all these prospective parents know who's applying and the number of bedrooms etc.

MrsHulk Sun 14-Aug-16 17:26:38

Obviously it varies between councils and schools - I think OP is asking whether it would be fraudulent/illegal to move like this. The point she needs to understand is that lots of people move for school places but councils are wise to this, and she needs to genuinely move (in accordance with local criteria) for it to work.

Councils can and do withdraw places if the child gets in using a fake address, and they do actively look for problems and take reports from other parents who may be suspicious of a family's claimed address.

monkeywithacowface Sun 14-Aug-16 17:28:36

For DS's school we had to send copies of rental or mortgage agreement and length of residency, child benefit letter and council tax. If the school suspect fraud they certainly do investigate round these parts

Floggingmolly Sun 14-Aug-16 17:32:49

llhj, I don't know where you live, or if that genuinely is the case round your way; but it's most certainly not universal and it's terrible advice.
All oversubscribed schools have some checking mechanism in place, and if it's not oversubscribed there's no issue with admissions anyway.
Op, if you're in London don't even dream of doing this. It just won't work.

Benedikte2 Sun 14-Aug-16 17:43:33

If the 2 bedroom property was rented out for say a year then you could legitimately say your home was the one bed place -- but could you live there crowded like that?
Schools do get people to check up where there's doubt eg visiting in the evening or following kids home after school. Case in Sothampton they did that -/ looked at utilities bills as well etcI suppose you could split the family and you and DP live in different homes with different DC. If you have more than 2 DC then reasonable to suppose you were both fully occupying a home

thelmafitzgerald Sun 14-Aug-16 17:47:05

flogging I am in London, 2 bed flat is in Newham council and one bed flat is in Westminster council, if that is of any relevance.

StandoutMop Sun 14-Aug-16 17:54:57

I know someone who moved into rented, renting out their family home about 1 mile away, to get into a v over subscribed secondary. They plan to move back once DC starts at the school in the autumn.

This is fine according to our council (not London) as they were really living there when applying and starting at school. Moving subsequently, even back to their own property, is apparently fine as council can't differentiate between moved for "genuine" reasons vs moved for a school place.

So it might work in some places. In London maybe not - and how manageable would school run be once you moved back?

tiggytape Sun 14-Aug-16 17:58:59

In reality very few councils do any of the above. They are on their knees financially and could no more afford a private detective than the man in the moon. Some very highly sought after schools may do a bit of sniffing but in reality for primary places, very little is done.

Nonsense. They don't need private detectives in most cases to catch people out. They simply screen out the likely offenders very cheaply and spend time investigating them (and since most people don't cheat there's relatively few suspicious applications to take further). It saves money to weed out cheaters as quickly as possible because fraud leads to successful appeals which are expensive to administer and uphold.

Perhaps 5+ years ago some councils didn't bother with checks but even then this was only because some areas didn't have a shortage of places so didn't see so much attempted cheating. Now the vast majority of councils are well aware of the issue and are much more proactive.

It doesn't cost much to screen out likely offenders - a council tax check for example will show who paid what on which property and for how long. Checks with Child Benefits, nursery and the GP will show which address the parents declared for their child. Other more expensive checks such as home visits are only used on a handful of suspect cases

Having 2 properties makes your application more suspicious automatically. This is especially the case if you apply from the 1 bed flat which is less suitable for a family than your other property and especially the case when records show you haven't lived in that 1 bedroom flat over the preceding years.

If you genuinely move into the one bedroom flat some councils may allow you to use that address but most will only count it as a valid address if you sell the two bedroom flat (or otherwise "dispose" of it as the councils term it).

The council have the ultimate say in which address they deem valid.
The penalty for a fraudulent application is losing your place. It is possible to lose the place even after your child has started school (they literally remove your place and tell you your child cannot return).

Admission authorities don't bother prosecuting or trying to prove fraud beyond reasonable doubt anymore. If they feel you have flipped addresses to gain an advantage, the onus is on you to prove innocence not the other way round. If they suspect you, they can penalise you by taking away your place and if you're unhappy, you have to go to appeal and prove you did not cheat. For this reason, it is worth checking the LA rules about how they treat second homes and sticking to those rules when you apply.

PotteringAlong Sun 14-Aug-16 18:03:16

You need to apply from your main permanent residence. If you can afford to have an empty flat in Westminster you can probably afford to properly move to an area with better schools.

irvineoneohone Sun 14-Aug-16 18:04:12

I am foreign and I don't really understand UK school system fully, but if you are able to read some thread on MN, you should be able to determine this would hold some uncertainty.
Why would you want to risk it with your child's education? One unhappy parent could trigger full investigation, may end up in losing place?

babajuice Sun 14-Aug-16 18:09:48

Depending on how much time you've got before applying for schools, could you maybe move from Newham to an area with a better school?
Then keep the Westminster flat and perhaps rent it out to cover any additional costs that the move might entail?

tiggytape Sun 14-Aug-16 18:15:32

Westminster rules last year (you'd need to check again for this year when their updated booklet comes out):

If you own or rent more than one property you
should state this on your form. You will also need
to provide proof of residence and occupancy for
the address at which your child lives most of the
time and is considered as the main family home.

If you move into a second property for a
temporary period purely for the purpose of trying
to be nearer to a school, we will use your normal,
permanent residence for the purpose of
processing the application.

They also seem pretty hot on getting people to report fraud if suspected:

Westminster City Council takes very seriously
any attempt to obtain a school place by fraud.
All cases are fully investigated and the use of
internal and external agencies has improved
detection rates.
If you know someone who intends to or has
used a false address to get a school place,
you can report this confidentially to the
Admissions Team on
020 7745 6433
or email
You do not need to give your name but please*
provide as much information as possible so
that we can investigate the matter fully.
If we find a school place was obtained using
a false address we will withdraw the offer, even
after the child has started school, and re-offer
to a child who was entitled to the place.
If it is decided not to remove the offer,
normally when the child has been on roll
for more than one term, any future sibling
link will not apply.

This means that if someone in Westminster has a friend who doesn't get a place and finds out you're commuting in from further away everyday, they could report you and you'd lose your place. If they report you later than one term after your child starts (eg if they find out your address at some point in the first year and suspect it was an address you had all along perhaps by something your child says), you would not be allowed to send future children to the same school as your first.

It really is safer to follow their admissions rules and if you really want a particular school, sell the 2 bed and move into the 1 bed properly or sell them both and buy a home in the right location

meditrina Sun 14-Aug-16 18:37:37

The pan-London system automatically checks across all boroughs, and if you have been paying council tax for both properties it is highly likely to flag an investigation.

If you want to be sure of securing a school place from the 1-bed flat you will need to move in to it completely, and sell the other property. If you have not disposed of it, there is every chance it will be counted as the actual family home.

BoomBoomsCousin Sun 14-Aug-16 18:48:43

If you are actually going to live in the one bedroom flat as your main home it isn't fraudulent to apply for a school space from that address. But you need to actually move there and treat it as your main residence - pay council tax on it, register to vote there, etc. It would probably be helpful if you rented out the two bedroom flat to demonstrate that it isn't your home too. The question will be how long you need to live in the Westminster flat in order for this to be considered your actual residence and not just an attempt to gain a school place somewhere you aren't really living. Some councils had been insisting on multi-year leases for people who were renting in an area, but I'm pretty sure that was knocked on the head by the courts. So maybe a year? It's a grey area and you may want to get some proper advise from a solicitor who has dealt with cases before. If you move into the flat for a few months (say from application to start of school year) and then move straight back to the two bedroom flat, then I think that may be considered fraudulent.

titchy Sun 14-Aug-16 19:27:02

Boomboom that is incorrect. Moving for the purpose of gaining a school place when another property is owned is fraudulent. It doesn't matter how long you move in for unless you dispose of the original property.

on a side note if OP can afford a flat in Westminster in addition to her usual home she has plenty of options...

llhj Sun 14-Aug-16 19:30:19

I am extremely experienced in London school admissions and the reality is quite different to the nonsense trumpeted here about councils being rigorous in checking. Most simply aren't. Fact. There are a tiny number of withdrawn offers due to fraud, minuscule. Check out the data, it speaks for itself. They do not have personel for this. If the op is legitimately living in the address, there's no problem. There's nothing to investigate. Having another property that they move into a year or so later will not invalidate the original application. It's not terrible advice, it's all about the level of risk the op is comfortable with.

SymphonyofShadows Sun 14-Aug-16 19:36:28

If they are paying full council tax on both properties and move the main residence to the Westminster flat then I struggle to see what they are doing wrong. Surely that is all any of us contribute?

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