Arguments between landlords and tenants often happen due to a misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge concerning a regulation and what is expected of one another. Therefore, in many of our posts we try and explain to landlords everything that is happening in the industry at the time, so that they can improve their knowledge and know exactly where they stand when it comes to their businesses. Continue reading
The housing shortage across the UK is harming some of the most vulnerable families according to Judge Nicholas Crichton, who has also claimed that it is the children of most of these families that are the ones losing out. He went on to say that it is difficult for parents who are attempting to be reunited with their children who have been put into care, as there is very little safe and affordable housing, meaning that many are living in tower blocks with “drug dealers knocking on the door”.
Judge Crichton is particularly concerned over the lack of housing for families that have had drug or alcohol problems in the past and therefore need to be housed somewhere away from those that could negatively influence them. He said: “There is a serious shortage of housing in London and that makes it hard to find suitable accommodation for the families that we work with. There is no point sending them back to high-rise tower blocks where they are going to have drug dealers knocking on the door. These parents want to keep their community support, their family support, and their children in the same school and it is no good saying we can find them homes somewhere else.”
“So we have got people living in hostels and bed and breakfast, which is not a good way to bring children up. Alcohol and drugs are the main problem, but shortage of housing does not help.” Judge Crichton set up the Family Drug and Alcohol Court five years ago in order to help parents who have lost their children through drug abuse go through treatment and eventually be reunited, but only after three months of abstinence and three months of working with staff to identify relapse triggers. After nine months the parents are allowed to be reunited with their children and finally after a year it is hoped that the children will be returned to them permanently.
As Judge Crichton pointed out however, it is often difficult to reunite families unless there is somewhere suitable to live. Landlords in the private rented sector are often wary of helping out families that have been though drug and alcohol problems, however with the right legal protection and landlord insurance they could find it to be extremely rewarding.
The reaction to the upcoming bedroom tax is becoming more and more extreme recently, as at first there were social landlords claiming that they thought it was unfair, but now there have been protests and MPs calling on social landlords to protect their tenants by any means possible. For instance, Frank Field, an MP for Birkenhead in Wirral has said that he wants councils and housing associations to take direct action to help their tenants and even ‘knock down walls’.
In a debate over the upcoming bedroom tax, Mr Field said: “I hope landlords will brick up the doors to spare bedrooms and, where appropriate, knock down walls so that the properties can safely fit the tenants. I have never before asked for direct action. I do so now because I feel that the measures are grossly unfair. In more than three decades I have never debated such a vicious cut. Even if most people wished to do what the Government want them to do they would be unable to do it.”
“One of the Merseyside’s Police’s worries about the measure is that there has been a significant increase in the number of people being encouraged to use spare bedrooms to grow pot. One consequence of this Government action will be to enable those gangs who try to enrol vulnerable constituents to make extra money. That will be a real first for the Government. They should be proud shouldn’t they?” There have also been concerns from private landlords and landlord insurance companies over the bedroom tax, as it could lead to legal battles which could prove costly, or even more dependence on the private rental sector.
Noting this, Mr Field went on to say: “Let us suppose that the tenants could move. The housing stock is not available, but suppose they could. We know from those that have managed to find alternative accommodation that it actually costs more. For example one-bedroom places in Birkenhead average £71 a week, but in the private sector they are £88 a week. If every wonderful tenant in Birkenhead affected by this vicious little measure did what the Government wanted the savings would not be made and the housing bill would go up, defeating the measure.”
However, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions minister Steve Webb defended the bedroom tax, and said that the amount that tenants would have to pay would be as little as £2 a day, which he claims is not much to ask for a spare room.
Immigration is quite a complex subject in England, especially as the housing crisis is leading to more and more people throughout the country struggling to find accommodation or even becoming homeless. The recent news that millions of people from Romania and Bulgaria will soon be legally allowed to immigrate to England has also raised even more concerns as some feel that public services in the country are already stretched beyond their means.
This is why David Cameron announced the other day that he plans to introduce stricter rules on immigration including restricting the amount of access immigrants can have to public services such as social housing. Under his new plans immigrants would have to have lived in the UK for two years before being able to join a housing register or receive benefits. However, there have been concerns that these new plans will lead to rogue landlords housing the most vulnerable families in poor quality homes, charging unfair amounts of rent, and not protecting their homes with landlord insurance.
A chairman for the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), Alan Ward, said: “These measures will put extra pressure on the private rented sector and provide opportunities for low-grade landlords and criminal elements to exploit immigrants. The RLA has been calling for councils to enforce the many regulations that already exist against criminal landlords, and the Government’s announcement will increase the need to prevent overcrowding and insanitary renting. Local authorities can already discharge their responsibilities for homelessness in the private rented sector, but where they choose to do so, they must ensure the properties are safe, legal and secure.”
Local authorities are already introducing stricter criteria for those wanting to join a housing register, such as Hammersmith and Fulham who have recently stated that they will no longer allow people to join its housing list unless they have lived in the area for five years. The council made this decision due to the fact that last year they had 10,300 on their housing list, but only managed to house 470. Discussing the decision, cabinet member for housing, Councillor Andrew Johnson said: “While we welcome migrants with open arms, this country should not be a soft touch for people who think they can simply rock up at our housing offices and demand a heavily subsidised house.”
Energy efficiency has been a hot topic in both the private and social housing sectors recently due to the fact that many energy companies have recently increased the cost of gas and electricity, leaving many families in the UK struggling to heat their properties. “Fuel poverty” is a massive problem in the UK, and there are concerns that some people are having to choose whether to stay warm or spend money on other necessities such as food or rent.
Many landlords are concerned that their tenants will fall into rent arrears due to the cost of energy, which is why landlord insurance providers offer services such as rent guarantee insurance in order to cover the costs. Now it has been revealed that a green technology company from Cheshire is predicting massive profits due to the fact that social housing landlords are now investing heavily in their product that helps cut energy bills for tenants. VPhase create voltage optimisation systems that keeps voltage in homes at a steady level, meaning that less energy is used and owners can save money on bills.
So far fifteen thousand homes have had VPhase units installed, and the company’s chief executive Rick Smith has claimed that they have already saved customers one million pounds in electrical bills each year. However, the company has recently stated that they have made a loss of £1.2 million this year, but in the years to come will improve seeing as they have already tripled their revenues since last year. Mr Smith said: “We’re still a loss making business, but we’re trying to drive forward so we get to break even on a monthly basis by early next year. I cannot see us doing that before this.”
Meanwhile, VPhase chairman Vanda Murray said: “In the UK, VPhase’s strategy is to gain specifications in the social housing sector with registered social landlords (RSLs), who in turn put the installation work out to tender, with the successful contractor buying from us directly or through our UK network of distributors. Driving growth in our penetration of this sector is of key importance to us going forward and whilst we have doubled the number of RSLs working with us this year, there remains great potential for further growth.”
Housing associations and social housing companies are having to make some difficult decisions recently, and many are concerned that the upcoming welfare reforms will mean things will only get harder. We have published numerous news articles recently discussing how private rented sector landlords are protecting themselves against the upcoming reforms with landlord insurance, however many housing associations and social housing companies are choosing to discuss with their tenants how the reforms will affect them.
One social housing company has gone even further though, and has actually decided to let their tenants vote on who they want to run the company in the future. Even though many housing associations and social housing companies have been discussing financial matters and the upcoming reforms with their tenants recently, this is one of the very few times that a company or association has actually asked the tenants about how it should be managed.
Salix Homes in Salford have launched their ‘Your Home, Your Say’ survey that will inform the City Mayor’s decision as to whether the Salix’s properties should remain owned by the local council or goes to a tenant ballot for transfer to a housing association or a registered provider. The survey is giving the Salix Homes’ tenants the choice as to whether they want to stay with Salford City Council – who currently own the homes – and have them continue to be in charge of their housing services, repairs and improvements on the council’s behalf, or be transferred to a registered provider.
Even if the tenants do choose to transfer the properties to a registered provider, Salix Homes could become a registered provider itself if it is supported in the survey and the potential ballot. Discussing the survey, Assistant Mayor for Housing, Councillor Gena Merrett said: “The Your Home, Your Say survey is a unique opportunity for Salix Homes’ tenants to shape the future of their own social housing. I hope as many tenants as possible take part in the survey, so the customer panel has a true picture of opinions on such a crucial issue.”
Meanwhile, Barbara Harper, a Salix Homes tenant and chair of the survey’s customer panel said: “I’d encourage each and every tenant to make sure they take this chance to have their say on what they want for their home and future housing service. We will be making a recommendation to the City Mayor informed by what tenants say in this consultation, so it is important that we get as many views as possible.”
The housing crises is not only putting pressure on social and private sector landlords, but also local councils, especially in London where the amount of those looking for houses is more than anywhere else throughout the UK. Furthermore, the increase in rent prices and the cap on housing benefits has led to many struggling to pay their rent, meaning more landlords are having to rely on their landlord insurance or choose to evict their tenants.
Therefore it has come to a shock to many that the BBC has reported that the Westminster City Council is housing families who have had to move out of their homes in three or five star hotels, which is costing the tax payer a small fortune. The Council is currently paying around twelve thousand pounds per month in order to house a family in a hotel in the expensive Westminster area, and they claim that they had no other choice due to the lack of housing throughout the country’s capital.
The BBC report goes on to say that even though the Council claims that they are trying to re-house the families living in hotels, many have already been there for months, despite that fact that the law states that families are not allowed to stay in bed and breakfast accommodations for over six weeks. Furthermore, the report suggests that the government even knew that the council was breaking the law, yet failed to do anything to stop them.
One family the report focusses on is the Osmans, all ten of which have been living in the Jury Inn hotel in the Chelsea area since November last year. They became homeless after their housing benefits were capped and they could no longer afford to pay the rent on their home. However, it has been revealed that the family used to receive around £700 in housing benefits per week, which the council is now paying per night for the family to stay in the hotel.
Karen Buck, Labour MP has criticised the situation and said: “These families have been losing their homes because of the cuts in housing benefit. Westminster Council cheerleading for those cuts, and now we find they are pouring money into hotels to have to house those families who have lost their homes.” Meanwhile, Conservative Councillor Jonathan Glaz said: “The scale of the problem I think is somewhat unprecedented in so much as we have large numbers of people presenting as homeless and we don’t have immediately opportunity to put them into self-contained accommodation or into social homes immediately.”
Private landlords have recently decreased the amount of social housing they provide due to the fact that they think it is too risky, especially as new welfare reforms are soon coming into effect which means that housing benefits will no longer be paid directly to them. Even though some landlords have protected themselves against the new welfare reforms by investing in landlord insurance with a rent guarantee policy, there is still a large amount that is unwilling to help. Social housing providers are therefore struggling with the amount of vulnerable families they need to home, especially as it seems there are not enough properties for the amount of people needing help.
Social housing providers have claimed that they currently even have to place those without homes in bed and breakfasts for over six weeks as there is nowhere else they can stay, meaning that these families do not have a sense of belonging or stability in their lives. London Councils has therefore urged for there to be tax breaks for private landlords that offer their properties as social housing. A survey has shown that in the last year alone, almost twenty per cent of landlords have claimed that they would not be willing to rent their houses to those in need, so it is hoped the incentive of a tax break may change their minds.
Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing, said: “While we need to address the long term housing shortage in London, we need to act now to tackle the acute housing crisis in the capital – primarily caused by the chronic shortage of temporary accommodation available for councils to place homeless Londoners. While local authorities have been doing their very best to mitigate the impacts, we need a concerted effort by central government departments and councils to take action to ensure a supply of good quality, affordable homes in the private rented sector. Londoners deserve to have safe, affordable and secure places to live. We hope to work alongside the government to make this a reality.”
Landlords have recently become concerned about renting their properties out as social housing, especially as in the upcoming months the way that housing benefits are paid is changing so that the money will no longer go directly to the landlord, but to the tenant who will then have to pay the landlord themselves. Meanwhile, the government is urging landlords to consider entering the social housing market, however many are wary about the consequences of renting out their properties to the most vulnerable of families. One landlord from Croydon has recently found that a property he rented out to social housing tenants was ransacked before the tenants vacated the property, and claims that it is situations such as this that puts landlords off of renting to social housing tenants.
Mohamed Shabir, said that he didn’t know “whether to laugh or have a heart attack” when he saw the state of his three bedroom property after the tenants had left, and said that it would cost up to twenty thousand pounds to repair. The damage included the floorboards being ripped up so the tenants could steal the copper piping, the boiler being torn from the wall and stolen, doors pulled from their hinges, furniture trashed, and the gas metre stolen. Examples such as this highlight the importance for social housing landlords to have proper landlord insurance to make sure the damages can be fixed.
Discussing the destruction of his property, Mr Shabir said: “All the time you hear that tenants get a bad deal from their landlords – but this is the reality. It has happened to me four times now and I can’t let it happen again. I’m not the only person this has happened to – it happens all the time. The council says we should take on more council tenants, but this is what happens when we do.”
To make matters worse, Mr Shabir has not been able to contact the woman who previously lived in the property as she has moved to a woman’s hostel. He said that he was disappointed with the turn of events, and “I thought I was doing a good thing – giving a home to a vulnerable family – but this is how I am repaid. What they [the council] need to do is make the tenant responsible for their actions. They have to warn their tenants that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable. If they are going to do something like this, the money should be taken from their benefits. If there was going to be a real consequence for them, they would soon stop doing this sort of thing.”
There have been many discussions recently on how poor economic growth and new welfare reforms will affect the social housing sector, especially how the new Universal Credit scheme will change the way landlords, tenants, and landlord insurance providers work together. However, one housing agency has said that housing associations need to do more in the face of an uncertain future, especially when it comes to tenants that have children whom are experiencing poverty.
Dr Caroline Wolhuter is the research manager for Ashram Housing Association and in an article for The Guardian said that housing associations need to work harder with their tenants to alleviate the problem of child poverty across the UK. According to Save the Children, three and a half million children are currently living in poverty in the UK, and based upon their work with the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the Child Poverty Action Group predicts that by 2020 there will be almost one billion children in the UK who are in poverty.
In order to combat this, Dr Wolhuter is planning on training all the front-line staff at Ashram Housing in poverty awareness and wants them to help educate households on the uptake of benefits and other key services that can help them during the worst economic times. She said that during the summer holidays many parents struggle to afford meals for their children, especially as during school terms the meals are funded by the government, therefore they are planning on rolling out the Holiday Kitchen plan. This is where families who have pre and primary school children can take their children to community based projects where their children will be able to learn, play, and have lunch during the school holidays.
Dr Wolhunter said: “The reality in our communities is that thousands of children are going hungry and without adequate clothing, on our watch. To overlook this by thinking it is someone else’s responsibility is not something housing associations should be in the business of doing. Ashram has a historical and successful commitment to promoting social inclusion and addressing unmet community needs. We can draw upon the expertise, the experience and sound financial planning of our partners in the housing sector to mitigate against risks and deliver not just housing and support, but new services that meet the evolving needs of the people we work with.”