We’ve come to expect it from some, but when even landlords with a social purpose are thinking twice about who they allow as tenants we know a change is needed.
We’ve come to expect it from some, but when even landlords with a social purpose are thinking twice about who they allow as tenants we know a change is needed
Fergus and Judith Wilson, the owners of almost 1,000 homes in Kent who have become dubbed Britain’s most notorious and controversial landlords, have made the news again today after beginning an eviction campaign of families with more than two children, tenants who are on zero-hour contracts, and extended families.
The pair, who earlier in the year stoked controversy by issuing letters of eviction to tenants in receipt of housing benefit, and said they preferred eastern European migrants as tenants to single Mothers, have now started to evict those same migrants “because they are having too many children”.
Clearly undisturbed with how nasty they appear in the press, and probably quite happy about it, they represent the worst kind of spinelessness. But their stereotypes of eastern Europeans aside, what they’re guilty of is being horrifically honest.
Of course they’re loathsome people and should be held responsible for their repugnant views; but the wider problem is that the government is creating more like them.
Through a toxic mix of rising costs associated with barely growing wages and an economic recovery that is not being felt by a considerable proportion of the population, the number of people going to Citizens Advice with rent arrears rose in every region of England in 2013. In the second quarter of the same year Citizens Advice Bureaux gave advice on the following:
- 22,412 issues about social housing rent arrears – an increase of 13 per on the previous year;
- 2,840 issues about possessions claims due to rent arrears in the social housing sector – a 38 per cent increase on the previous year;
- 2,736 issues about threatened homelessness in social housing – a 12 per cent increase on the previous year;
- 3,307 issues about Discretionary Housing Payments – an increase of 110 per cent on the previous year.
If Iain Duncan Smith, through his work flogging the Universal Credit (UC) dead horse, gets his way there is no doubt that things will get worse. While much has been made of the UC public costs, and the extent to which jobcentre staff are already struggling with it, what’s more worrying is what would happen if UC was rolled out to plan.
As I found when researching for a report earlier in the year, the introduction of Universal Credit has already worried private rental tenants and landlords alike. The main trade body for landlords, the National Landlords’ Association (NLA), released advice to their members to ensure they avoid the worst case scenario and plan lettings “on the basis that you may only receive rent 10 out of 12 months”.
The uncertainty of the welfare reforms has meant that many would-be social landlords are becoming nervous about entering this sector, and existing social landlords are weighing up their options elsewhere.
Unbelievably, the government in 2010 were convinced that after cuts to housing benefit landlords would happily lower rents for tenants and modify prices to take into consideration any shortfalls. It will surprise nobody that this has not been the case.
Exactly the same goes for the government’s assumptions about life under Universal Credit: benefit claimants need somewhere to live as well and government, in its naivety, or more likely its stupidity, is helping to reduce their options.
Data from the National Landlords’ Association shows the number of landlords letting to people on benefits has halved from (46 per cent) to just one in five (22 per cent) in the last three years. Stopping direct payments to landlords, as will be part of the changes in UC, will mean a lot more reconsider taking on people receiving benefits, and it’s simply unnecessary.
Landlords, of course, must take responsibility here. But owing to the mess of changes to welfare, government are creating uncertainty for the market and its reaction is to the detriment of tenants. We’ve come to expect it from the Wilsons, but when even landlords with a social purpose are thinking twice about who they allow as tenants we know a change in tack is needed.
Carl Packman is a contributing editor for Left Foot Forward
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