Fighting Brent Council for rent in advance and a deposit for a disabled man’s flat

Brent council promises deposit and rent in advance, then just won’t pay up.

Right. This is a post about trying to house a disabled tenant and trying to find a deposit and rent in advance… Read on for more about one weapons-grade shambles that I’ve seen first-hand. I wonder how many people are having this sort of dire experience as more and more people are shifted out of inner London boroughs…

This is a story about Brent Council’s great reluctance to cough up the rent in advance and deposit on a place for a disabled man who was rehoused out of an absolute dump of a flat earlier this year. This situation really is a shambles. I would be happy to talk about it with the council, except that the council won’t talk to me. My attempts to contact the council have gone unanswered to date, so I am saying Boo Hiss to the council right now. I am posting this to talk to the internet about the problem instead. I am also hoping Brent will see this post and respond to me and everybody else and FINALLY AGREE TO MEET TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM.

Earlier this year, I attended an emergency homelessness meeting at Brent Council with a man in his 50s who has learning difficulties and health problems. The meeting was held at Brent Council‘s very flash Civic Centre which is next to Wembley stadium. (This is the Civic Centre that the council opened a couple of years ago with a legendary £98,000 ceremony if I may digress for a moment . Brent is also the council that famously found £12,000 for a virtual assistant hologram for its reception desk. I like holograms – who doesn’t – but you see where I am going here. There is some money sloshing about at Brent Council – for opening ceremonies and holograms, at least).

Money can be harder to come by if you’re looking to rehouse a disabled man, though.
The man with learning difficulties had been living in this mould-encrusted hellhole in Kilburn:

ceiling_mould

He’d received an eviction notice, because his landlord wanted the property back. He needed rehousing fast. This man was terribly stressed by all of this. He hates change and he had also been distressed for months about the mould and mice in his flat (the council came and inspected the place when I called to complain about the mould, just by the way. I asked the council for the results of that inspection a couple of months ago. I’ve heard nothing more on that, either. Brent Council may be good opening ceremonies, but it really is useless at communication.

read more here: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/10/fighting-brent-council-for-rent-in-advance-and-a-deposit-for-a-disabled-man-housing/

Housing crisis forces disabled couple and 4-year-old daughter into hotel at motorway services

A disabled couple and their four year-old daughter are stranded in a motorway service station hotel because a council cannot find another home for them.

Janet Paddison, 23, and her partner and young girl were made homeless when their landlord decided to sell their rented property.

They looked for homes in the private sector but said no one was prepared to accept her assistance dog or housing benefit supplements………………………..

Rhys and Janet are both unable to drive due to their disabilities, leaving them stranded on the motorway in Bedfordshire…………………

They say they have been left unable to wash their clothes and Janet’s assistance dog has had to be put in kennels.

Janet said: “I’ve had a really bad experience with the council. It feels like some of my human rights have been violated.

“We don’t know what we can do. No one seems to care.”

Breakfast is provided for the family at the hotel – where rooms cost £65 a night – but the couple say the food prices are extortionate and they have no cooking facilities.

Janet says she has not been told how long they will be at the services.

If they have not found a new home locally by September her daughter will not be able to take up her new place at primary school.

Luton Borough Council said their “severe housing shortage” is down to landlords demanding rents higher than can be covered by Housing Benefits and competition from London authorities.

read the rest of this story here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/housing-crisis-forces-disabled-couple-6180277

The attack on housing associations was much worse than expected

By Jenny Brown, head of social housing, Grant Thornton UK

Initially there were some pleasant confirmations in the Budget for housing associations with devolved powers to areas such as Greater Manchester allowing greater planning freedoms.

The much debated Right to Buy was, this time around, skated across as part of a wider comment. This is unsurprising given there are still so many elements of this policy to be thrashed out. With that in mind it was always unlikely that anything specific would be announced today.

When the Chancellor began his proposals for welfare reform all was in order and he set off as anticipated, focusing on funding for the elderly and vulnerable – and then came the sting in the tail. Social housing rents are to be reduced by 1% per year for the next four years. Government figures estimate it will make savings of (and therefore reduce income in social housing by) £4.28 billion over the next five years.

Whilst the sector had been bracing itself for an attack – this was not the expected form and it is much worse than expected. Our discussions with associations in recent weeks have focused on an expectation that benefits would be cut and capped (which they were). Housing associations were expecting these measures to have a greater impact on the ability of residents on benefits to pay, resulting in further pressure on arrears.

Associations had already started to consider how the impact of this might be addressed, with some worrying that it may force them to reduce the proportion of their social housing properties rented to those on benefits. Whilst unpalatable to many, in these circumstances there are options to mitigate available.

Instead, Osborne has actually reduced the baseline amount that the housing associations may charge in the first place – regardless of the income source ie private or housing benefit. This is particularly critical to some of those associations who have in recent years secured ‘alternative funding’ where payments or returns are based on an assumption of a steady increase of income.

Indeed, many associations have found it is this assumption of steady income that has secured interest of investors in bonds and other funding mechanisms. Without this funding, the sector’s ability to borrow at a reasonable rate, allowing organisations to invest in new homes and provide valuable input into the construction economy, is likely to be severely affected. The knock on effect is that housing associations are left with few available options for action that won’t significantly affect the amount of social housing available.

The measures also make a mockery of the 10 year rent agreement which came in to effect from April 1 this year. There is now real doubt as to what government expects of housing – as it stands these organisations are expected to behave as both public and private entities depending on the policy in question. Their ability to meet their objectives is now being critically hampered.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2015-07-09-Opinion-The-attack-on-housing-associations-was-much-worse-than-expected

 

‘Rogue’ Landlords Raking In £5.6bn From Unsafe Homes, Says CAB

Rogue private landlords are raking in an estimated £5.6bn from unsafe homes that fail to meet minimum legal standards, a new report shows today.

The damning study from Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) reveals that 740,000 private rental tenants in England are living in homes that pose a serious health hazard.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.welfareweekly.com/rogue-landlords-raking-in-5-6bn-from-unsafe-homes-says-cab/

Rogue Landlords and the Benefit Cap.

Nine billion pounds of taxpayers’ money goes to private landlords every year in housing benefit.

And the Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that at least £3bn of that money is spent on poor quality accommodation annually.

BBC Panorama showed a programme last night called ‘The Great Housing Benefit Scandal’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32381471) This is not news to me.
Whilst delivering leaflets in this area of London terraced housing,  I find that many are subdivided into 4 or more flats. One has 11 letterboxes. These houses are built as 3 bed residences with a box room. The area is green and leafy and I had no idea before leafleting that this area was so overcrowded, I’ve been living here for decades.

I have visited houses nearby in London where the building has been subdivided into tiny boxes.  Tenants in these tiny boxes tell me they are paying £1,200 per month each which is our tax money spent in the form of housing benefit. This also leaves no money for them to live on, because of the benefit cap. All their permitted benefits go straight to the landlord.

Because of the selling off of council houses, there is nowhere else to put vulnerable people in this part of London. These places are filled with young single mothers, families and the disabled. Nobody else stands a chance of being housed at all locally. This is all due to greedy landlords, the selling off of council homes, and the benefit cap. Two out of three of these causes are policies brought in by the Conservatives.
Here’s an article by the excellent Kate Belgrave published in March http://www.katebelgrave.com/…/the-real-scroungers…/
The house next door to mine, once a family home, is now 4 flats containing 11 people, with no fire exit from the top floor. The tenants are frightened of a potential fire, they have small children and live in the converted attic. But they cannot tell the council because they’ll just be evicted, and its nigh on impossible to find an affordable flat in London, no matter how cramped and unsafe. This is a working family, not on benefits.
And its not as if the government doesn’t know. Here’s a Panorama program saying the same thing from 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/…/fron…/newsid_9122000/9122529.stm This was before the benefit cap.
The benefit cap means that NOBODY on benefits can afford a private rented flat in Inner London, or most of outer London. There are no council flats, they are being destroyed in their thousands and replaced by ‘luxury apartments’. The local authorities are being forced to satisfy their statutory obligations to house the vulnerable by placing them into slum rat holes, or move them hundreds of miles away from their support networks to where rents are cheaper. This is pushing up rents outside of London, too.
The Residential Landlords Association agrees there’s a problem, but says we don’t need more legislation. They say the existing legislation is perfectly adequate, the problem is that savage cuts to Local Authorities budgets means they cant enforce the laws that already exist. Last week the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that over the course of this Parliament, the budgets of local authority enforcement departments have been cut by over 37% per head of population in England. http://news.rla.org.uk/private-rental-market-is-being…/

My local community self help group, Kilburn Unemployed Workers, has had to set up a sister group just for housing, because of the terrible situations people are telling us about every week. The local council is useless. The local Citizens Advice Bureaux  have been closed down. The charities are starved of funds and most cant take on cases, only ‘give advice’.

The foodbanks are thriving.

Argotina

EVICTED: Mum and daughter sleeping in Ford Mondeo in Tesco car park

“Eating, sleeping and cleaning are not priorities at the moment” admits Beverly Clark, who says she has nowhere to live after being evicted by Milton Keynes Council.

“We use public toilets to clean and if we have a bit of spare money, we’ll rent a cheap hotel room for a bit of luxury – but that’s a rarity.

“We barely sleep because we’re scared, and it’s hardly comfortable.

“We’ve given up everything. It’s a nightmare, [my daughter] Deryn can’t go to college and I can’t look for a job in these conditions. It’s a never-ending cycle. I can’t win.”

For the last two months, the pair have tended to park their blue Ford Mondeo in supermarket car parks, where they feel safer, beneath the bright lights. Quieter, darker areas are just “not safe for two girls to be sleeping alone in a car.”

Beverly, 38, and 17-year-old Deryn, found themselves without a home after falling behind with the rent on their council-owned Bletchley home.  The pair were evicted from Cherwell House, Derwent Drive, on Wednesday, September 3.

Beverly said: “We have nobody. I have no family here. I am my own support network and my daughter’s support network.”

According to Milton Keynes Council, Beverly has made the pair “intentionally homeless” by failing to pay the rent for the 10 months she and her daughter resided at the two-bedroom flat since December 27, 2013.

By her own admission, Beverly, who says she suffers with depression, did not fill in the required housing application document in time, nor chase up its whereabouts when it apparently went missing.

A spokesman for the council told MKWeb: “We have tried very hard to help Ms Clark, who did not make any rent payments for the duration of her tenancy, despite our repeated efforts to work with her, and help her. There is a discretionary housing payments scheme, but we will only normally assist people to whom we have a statutory duty to house. Because of the issues with Ms Clark’s tenancy, we found her to be intentionally homeless, and therefore not eligible for help from this fund.

Devastated families face eviction after Britain’s richest MP buys housing estate and hikes up rent

Richard Benyon’s estate has told the social housing tenants in East London there are more rises to come – one resident, Debra Cox, described it as ‘social cleansing’
Devastated families are facing being evicted after the inherited estate of Britain’s richest MP bought a stake in their homes.Tory Richard Benyon’s £110million family firm is part of a consortium that snapped up the housing estate and announced plans for a massive rent hike. Up to 90 households in East London fear the Benyons’ plan to charge “market rents” will treble their bills.

The New Era Estate, in Hoxton, has a long history of providing affordable housing and has been home to some people for 70 years.

Distraught Debra Cox, 49, who has lived there for 18 years, said: “This is social cleansing – this has always been a form of social housing and they just want rid of us. I have been to the council and was told we don’t have a chance of being rehoused.”

Soaring house prices have driven o­rdinary families out of vast swathes of the UK – particularly the capital where the average price of a home rocketed by 18.5% last year. Britain’s housing crisis is worsened by weak legal protection for private tenants, who can be forced out of homes they have lived in for years at a few weeks’ notice.

At a heated meeting on Thursday, teaching assistant Debra told the new landlord: “You do realise that as soon as you put them on at market value, whenever that may be, myself, my husband and my 18-year-old daughter will be homeless?”

Her husband Gary, 50, fumed: “My wife had a seizure during the night brought on by the stress. My wife is ill and I am going to lose my f*****g flat because of you and your mates.”

Threat of tenant evictions at highest level in more than 10 years

Bedroom tax and housing list squeeze blamed for landlord repossession orders topping 47,000 in three months

Changes in state benefits, including the introduction of the bedroom taxand tougher sanctions on jobseekers, have helped drive the number of tenants facing the threat of eviction to its highest level in more than a decade, it was claimed .

Official figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed that between January and March landlords in England and Wales went to court to make 47,220 claims to repossess property – the equivalent of 525 a day.

The vast majority were made by social landlords, including local authorities and housing associations, which took the first steps towards eviction against more than 31,000 tenants – up 13% on the same period last year. Private landlords made nearly 6,500 claims, up 11% on 2013.

Daniel Fitzpatrick, a partner at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen who represents social tenants in possession cases, said they were being squeezed by cuts to welfare payments and councils seeking to reduce housing lists.

read the rest of this article in the Guardian here: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/may/08/threat-tenant-evictions-highest-10-years-repossessions

Are private landlords about to pull out of the housing benefit market, or not?

Mixed Messages

It’s one of the most crucial questions for the future of the housing system but the answer may be more complex than recent publicity suggests.

The alarm was raised when Fergus and Judith Wilson, the King and Queen of buy to let, revealed that they were evicting all of their tenants on benefit. A poll yesterday by the website spareroom.co.uk found that only 18 per cent of landlords currently rent to claimants, down from a third two years ago.

A combination of different factors seems to be at work here, starting with the April 2011 cuts in the local housing allowance, continuing with further cuts such as the overall benefit and culminating in concern about the impact of universal credit and the presumption that the housing element will be paid direct to the tenant rather than the landlord.  The most worrying finding from the poll was that half of those currently letting to claimants said they wouldn’t after the introduction of universal credit.

However, a survey in London by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) presents a more mixed picture despite the fact that the capital is where many of the housing benefit cuts are having the biggest impact. In contrast to the poll, 36 per cent of landlords say they continue to let to benefit claimants and 63 per cent say their tenants have not fallen into arrears because of the cuts.

In terms of specific changes, 59 per cent say they have not stopped renting to claimants under 35 because of the change to the single room rent but 74 per cent say they are more reluctant to let to claimants because of the benefit cap.

So far, so good for the DWP and its hopes that the private rented sector will absorb the changes but only 9 per cent of RLA members say they have reduced their rents because of the LHA changes and only 6 per cent say they would be willing to drop the rent so their tenants could stay in London. Meanwhile 46 per cent have concern that working age claimants whose benefits are restricted will be driven out of the capital altogether.

This is at odds with the hardline stance taken by the Wilsons across their 1,000-home portfolio in Kent. They say they will refuse to take tenants on housing benefit and have ended the tenancies of 200 existing claimants who should ‘get a job’.

In a series of media interviews over the last month, they have cited many reasons for this decision: principally the non-availability of rent guarantee insurance for claimants but also rising levels of rent arrears, the shortfall between LHA rates and rents, the prospect of direct payment under the universal credit and the availability of alternative Eastern European tenants who are working.

If you haven’t seen them yet, watch Fergus Wilson’s ‘If I’m heartless then all landlords are’ interview with Channel Four News and read his bizarre ‘Fergus calling Dave’ statement to The Guardian. Discussion forums reveal some frustration from other landlords with ‘the story that refuses to die’.

The extensive coverage has certainly raised the media profile of the housing benefit issue but are the Wilsons representative of private landlords as a whole? If the London survey perhaps suggests not, are the more professional landlords who tend to be members of national organisations taking a different attitude to the small buy-to-let investors in the website poll?

Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the National Landlords Association, says its research shows ‘more and more landlords moving away from renting to tenants claiming benefits’. However, he says it also knows of many landlords who have never had a problem and specialise in the claimant market. ‘They tend to be the more experienced landlords with larger portfolios, who understand how to manage tenancies to ensure stability and minimise the risk of arrears.’

RLA consultant Bill Irvine argues that there is no need for landlords to follow the Wilsons’ lead: demand is high, margins are good and the threat posed by the universal credit is exaggerated. He says the government has already made concessions on direct payment and in any case the national introduction of universal credit will not happen until after the 2015 general election.

In the Commons this week, ministers played down fears of a private renting crisis. Housing minister Kris Hopkins said that ONS showed that rents were rising by 1.1 per cent in England and 1.9 per cent in London, which were both below inflation, and boasted about £2 billion of bids for phase 2 of Build to Rent. Asked by Labour’s John Healey how he would ensure that claimants were able to access the market, he said:

‘The key to making the private rented sector accessible to all is to build more homes for rent. That is why we are investing in the private rented sector through the £1 billion Build to Rent fund and giving £3.5 billion in guarantees to get builders building—and we will deliver 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015 through this process.’

Labour’s Sheila Gilmore tackled communities secretary Eric Pickles over his denial in an earlier debate that landlords were refusing to rent to people on housing benefit. Given the reports about the Wilsons, she asked, would he carry out a proper inquiry? Pickles replied that ‘there are a lot more private landlords than just that particular gentleman, and I do not think he represents anything that speaks of the sector as a whole. The short answer is no.’

Only time will tell if that complacency from Pickles is justified but Hopkins’s response of using stats about affordable homes that are not privately rented does not fill me with great confidence. Neither does his comparison between rents and inflation. At a time when rents are still rising faster than both earnings and the 1 per cent cap on increases in the local housing allowance it is completely irrelevant.

If the action taken by the Wilsons is unrepresentative of the sector as a whole, the caps and cuts are undoubtedly having an impact on landlords as well as tenants. It’s one that will vary around the country according to local market conditions but as demand continues to rise the pressure grows. Housing benefit may have taken the strain for more than 20 years but for how much longer?

by Jules Birch on ‘Inside Housing’ 23rd Jan 2014: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/blogs/mixed-messages/7001775.blog