Over the course of last year we saw numerous reports stating that landlords were becoming less inclined to let to DSS tenants due to the changes in the private rental sector generated by the welfare reforms. The introduction of Universal Credit and the spare room subsidy particularly concerned landlords as it meant they would no longer directly receive housing benefits and tenants could see a reduction of their housing benefits if thought to have a ‘spare’ room.
Just a few weeks ago the issue became even more prominent as George Osborne announced his plans to further cut welfare across the UK, with one of his ideas being excluding those on a household income of over sixty thousand pounds a year from being eligible for council housing. Another plan is for anyone under the age of twenty five to no longer be eligible to receive housing benefits, which Osborne claims will save almost twelve billion pounds per year.
The Councillor of the Exchequer also stated that in order for the UK economy to recover properly, further austerity measures need to be put into place, and the fact that the economy is already starting to recover is due to current schemes. He added: “Do we say, ‘the worst is over; back we go to our bad habits of borrowing and spending and living beyond our means – and let the next generation pay the bill’? Or do we say to ourselves, ‘yes, because of our plan, things are getting better. But there is still a long way to go – and there are big, underlying problems we have to fix in our economy’.”
With further austerity measures likely to come into effect in the next twelve months it is not surprising that many landlords are pre-emptively ceasing to let to DSS tenants. One of the most notable examples is that of Fergus Wilson who has openly stated that he is planning on evicting around two hundred of his tenants as they receive benefits. He claims that he would easily find other non-DSS tenants that could fill their places, and added: “Rents have gone north, and benefit levels south.
“The gap is such that I have taken the decision to withdraw from taking tenants on housing benefit. From what I can gather just about all other landlords have done the same. Our situation is that not one of our working tenants is in arrears – all those in arrears are on housing benefit. Tenants on benefits are competing with eastern Europeans who came to the UK in 2005 and have built up a good enough credit record to rent privately. We’ve found them to be a good category of tenant who don’t default on the rent. With tenants on benefits the number of defaulters outnumbers the ones who pay on time.
“Single mothers on benefits have been displaced to the bottom of the pile; sympathy for this group is disappearing. There aren’t enough places for people to live.” Naturally, a number of people have criticised Wilson’s views, including Dan Wilson Craw, a spokesman for campaign group Priced Out, who said: “Evicting tenants because you’re suddenly upset about new government policies is unbelievably heartless, and could lead to more people deciding not to claim benefit for fear of losing their home, and sinking further into poverty.
“This is just one symptom of a wider housing market that is simply not working in the consumer’s interests. The instability and poor conditions that private tenants have to deal with would not be tolerated in any other market.” There are also those that argue that having a comprehensive landlord insurance policy with rent guarantee insurance included can protect landlords so letting to DSS tenants is not that much of a risk. Furthermore, landlord Marion Money defended DSS tenants and said: “I find that my tenants, who Fergus Wilson would call hardcore benefit tenants, are very, very loyal and stay put. I only charge what the local housing benefit rate is. I’m not chasing top-ups, so I very rarely get arrears from my tenants on housing benefits. You could drive by their houses and you wouldn’t know if they were rented or owner-occupied. They’re proud of their properties.
“I worry about this image of tenants on benefits. They’re just normal, everyday people and it just happens that they might be on benefits or getting some sort of top-up. They are being labelled because of the story about the Wilsons. But they’re no different.”