TENANTS who illegally sub-let their council homes have the chance to hand their keys back to Ealing Council, to avoid prosecution.

New laws introduced last October made sub-letting a council property a criminal act.

Once the key amnesty ends on March 31, any tenants found renting out a council homes could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to £50,000.

They may also have to pay back profits made from sub-letting the property.

The council has set up a telephone hotline for any tenants who wish to return keys during the amnesty.

Residents can also use the hotline to anonymously report anyone they suspect of tenancy fraud. The tenancy fraud hotline is 020 8825 8023.

Housing officers already carry out regular unannounced tenancy checks on council homes by knocking on people’s doors.

Since July 2011, Ealing has recovered 56 properties from people breaking their tenancy agreements by sub-letting their homes.

As it costs the council an average of £18,000 a year to house a family in temporary accommodation, the recovery of these properties represents a saving of more than £1m.

Ealing has more than 10,000 families on its housing waiting list.