Thin end of the wedge?

With the confirmation that private landlords in Northern Ireland will now be allowed direct payment from housing benefits when applicable, landlords in the rest of the UK are asking why they can’t be treated the same.

It has long been a bone of contention for private landlords that they cannot be paid direct from housing benefit and it has led to many landlords refusing to take tenants who are on housing benefit fearing their clients will fall into arrears. Now that Lord Freud, the Welfare Minister, has allowed Northern Ireland’s assembly to approve the proposal the wedge is well and truly in the door.

Chris Town, vice-chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said “With 9.1% of all rent in the private rental sector being in arrears, this is a situation which is simply not sustainable for either tenant or landlord. Both parties in the Coalition before the general election pledged to introduce direct payments to landlords. Organisations working with tenants including Shelter, Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust all support tenants having the choice to have their rent paid directly to landlords. The Government should get out of the way and trust tenants to know what is best for them. If it’s good enough for Northern Ireland it should be good enough for the rest of the country.”

It is the fear of mounting arrears that prevents many landlords from taking on welfare tenants and although some landlord insurance providers do provide cover for non-payment of rent it is a situation that all landlords will do almost anything to avoid. Most landlord organisations agree that direct payments would cut the housing waiting lists in many big cities at a stroke.

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