Evicting council tenants will cause more problems

Rushed and ill-judged policy changes, in particular evicting council house tenants involved in thr rioting, may lead to more problems

By James Gregory, Kevin Meagher and Daniel Elton

There are calls this morning for council tenants involved in the rioting to be evicted from their homes. While this is an understandable reaction to those who have rejected solidarity with the wider community, rushed and ill-judged policy changes will, in all probability, will cause more problems.

James Gregory, senior research fellow at the Fabian society writes:

” Firstly, if social housing tenants are evicted from their homes, there is no law in place to say that they will not qualify for housing benefit in the private rental sector. This, of course, is likely to be more expensive.

 ” To this we may say that it worth the cost if neighbours are saved from the misery of anti-social behaviour.

” But this brings us to the second problem. If we assume that rioters are indeed likely to have been anti-social neighbours (not an unreasonable assumption), we are simply transporting the problem elsewhere.

“Indeed, it is likely that the problem will move to our nascent slum private rental sector, where irresponsible landlords will do nothing whatsoever about such behaviour.

“Of course, all this assumes that it is even legally viable to evict tenants for behaviour (rioting) sometimes miles from their homes.

 “Thirdly, it is difficult to see how this will not in some cases fall foul of emergency homelessness legislation. If, for example, single mothers were rioting (an odd picture but one that fits with the anecdotal evidence emerging from the riots), it is hard to see how we could evict – and not at all clear that we would have the stomach to so do.

“After all, many of the rioters are teenagers and barely adults. And more are likely to qualify for social housing in the not too distant future (how long should they be excluded for?)

 “This is not, I should stress, meant to be an excuse. My larger concern is with exacerbating social (and personal) problems that predispose some people to this kind of behaviour.

They should be punished – without leniency. But the way to do this is through the criminal justice system, not the sticks and carrots of a punitive welfare state.”

Kevin Meagher writes:

“The threat by a growing number of local authorities to evict social housing tenants convicted of rioting or looting is certainly an eye-catching sanction.

“Councils including Salford, Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Grenwich, Westminster, Nottingham, Southwark, Wansdworth and Croydon have said they will seek to implement the threat.

“Barking and Dagenham’s council leader Liam Clarke explained:

“’We will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action…[against] any local person convicted of offences relating to these disturbances and will seek to evict any of our tenants who are found guilty of such crimes.’

“Meanwhile Salford City Council leader John Merry said he would push his local Arm’s Length Management Organisation, Salix Homes, to:

“‘take the most serious action against them [tenants involved in looting] and that may involve eviction.’

“Posting a message of support on Twitter yesterday, housing minister Grant Shapps endorsed this approach, saying:

” ‘I will back social landlords who evict tenants involved in any rioting.’

“Unfortunately, as we have seen when eviction powers have been used by social landlords before, it simply relocates problem tenants rather than addressing the root causes of their behaviour.

“Often it involves transferring nuisance families and individuals into the private rented sector, costing the state more in housing benefit, dispersing anti-social behaviour and blighting areas of the private sector market.

 “This idea of evicting tenants also sounds a bit like the fines that are always said to be awaiting residents who break hosepipe bans. The prospect of prosecution, however, is disproportionate to the ability of the authorities to actually enforce the threat.

“Hence few, if any, people are ever prosecuted for turning on their garden sprinklers in a drought. But at least the threat of enforcement is meant to act as a deterrence and most law-abiding people oblige. Here we have the reverse situation. The rioters and looters have already committed their crimes.

“The idea also calls into question whether the perpetrators of the disturbances are actually social housing tenants at all.

“Our televisions are full of pictures of young people and children perpetrating these crimes. Given their tender years, it is unlikely those few that are ever identified – and then successfully prosecuted – will hold tenancies themselves. More often that not the tenancy will be held by a parent.

“So would we see a lone parent bringing up three toddlers face eviction because her ten year-old son was involved in looting?

“The cost both to the innocent siblings and the public purse would be prohibitive. Moreover, the current law around eviction focuses on whether the nuisance behaviour occurs in and around the tenant’s property.

“As leading property law barrister Nicholas Grundy, Head of Chambers at Five Paper has pointed out the grounds for eviction:

“’…relates to things coming from the premises or being convicted of an offence in the vicinity of the premises. So it has to be in the vicinity. If you live in Tottenam and travel up to Enfield that won’t be in the vicinity. That’s the first problem.’

“To make good on the sabre-rattling, the government would have to change the law in this area, opening up fertile new ground for legal appeals – with the taxpayer undoubtedly left to pick up the tab.

“There is no argument that those involved in the mindless violence and larceny we have witnessed should be caught and punished, but half-baked gestures are doomed to failure. Let us see in six months time how many tenancies are actually revoked.

 “As MPs gather today to discuss the events of the past few days our political leaders should eschew the temptation to reach for easy solutions to this crisis. There aren’t any.”

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