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Regulator to probe link between charity and letting agency

The Charity Commission is to probe the links between a letting agency that has allegedly been paid more than £5.5m in housing benefit, and a charity set up to help the homeless.

Both the agency and the charity are reportedly run by the same person.

"We are aware of the concerns regarding this charity and we will be engaging with the trustees" a commission spokesman has told the Third Age charity sector website. 

The commission’s online register shows that the 2014 accounts of Fresh Start Housing - the charity in question - are more than 100 days overdue. Third Age reports that the charity had an income of £8,500 and an expenditure of £8,160 in the previous year, ending September 2013, the commission’s register shows.

Yesterday we reported that the BBC had been looking at the letting agency Investing Solutions - based in a storage unit in south London - which had received the benefit payments over the past two years by finding properties for single homeless men, usually aged over 35.

Fresh Start Housing - apparently set up by the agency’s owner and based at the same address - finds its clients from London homeless charities.

The BBC says neither the charity nor the company is acting illegally. 

It says records held at Companies House show Investing Solutions was set up in 2002 by Samir Patel, who then set up Fresh Start Housing in 2010. The BBC says the documents explain how the charity would help "the needs of current and ex-offenders with a wider goal to reduce poverty, sickness and distress".

Investing Solutions operates in seven London boroughs and is described by the BBC as being one of the largest recipients of housing benefit in the UK. 

BBC Social Affairs Correspondent Michael Buchanan says: “In one property we visited, Investing Solutions was claiming £2,114 per month in housing benefit for two tenants. The owner of the house was getting £1,150 per month, giving the agency an annual gross profit of £11,568 on the one property.”

Patel, in a statement to the BBC, says Fresh Start Housing was an independent charity with its own board of trustees and that the majority of the properties used were sourced from private sector landlords "who, to make exceedingly clear, own the properties. The simple point being, the bulk of the rents gets passed to our private sector landlord clients".

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