Activists Urge Tenants to Stop Paying Rent

by Readers Question

12:16 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

Activists Urge Tenants to Stop Paying Rent

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Activists Urge Tenants to Stop Paying Rent

Damien Gayle at The Guardian reports this morning that “Activists urge Tenants hit by Corona Virus Crisis to stop paying Rent” Click here

I have just sent this reply:

Dear Damien,

I read your article with interest as I am a small landlord currently coping with the Corona Virus outbreak impact on my business and my tenants and have been helping several tenants to explore their options with government support at this very difficult time.

Some statements in your article and that of the New Economics Foundation report (which I subsequently also read) did not make sense to me and so I wish to query and reply.

From your article: “Earlier this month, analysis by the New Economics Foundation thinktank showed that 1.2 million private renters in the UK will fall through the cracks in government schemes to help workers who have lost income, and face scraping a living on benefits.”

Whilst I understand that there may be many people who are not able to apply for the new government support schemes, it is my understanding that all those who don’t will be eligible to receive Universal Credit which whilst not new is also a “government support scheme”. Your description of these remainder facing “scraping a living on benefits”, whilst emotive, is not exactly examining the reality and detail of the support that is available. And in the wider context of your article regarding ability to pay rent it is avoiding an extremely relevant detail.

It is the experience of two of my tenants, (who fall in to exactly this category losing their income due to the corona virus outbreak and unable to apply for furlough or SEISS) that they were both able to apply to Universal Credit and within four weeks were awarded not only an amount for “Living costs” but also a clear and separate award for “Housing costs”. In both cases they were awarded the full amount of their rent and were able to forward this to prevent further arrears. In one case the amount of Housing costs award that they were eligible to receive was actually 3 times higher than the amount they needed. As a single person under 25 renting a bedroom in a shared property in the North London area they could have received up to £295 per week for rent alone.

From the linked NEF report: “Those who lose work and cannot rely on government support schemes will have to fall back onto universal credit (UC). But support from universal credit is also weaker for many of these disadvantaged groups. The main payment for under-25s is set at just under £79/​week”.

This report also completely fails to mention the separate award from Universal Credit for housing costs. The “main payment” of £79 per week is the award for living costs and does not include the separate amount for housing costs which as I said above could be as much as £295 per week.

In the context of both these statements from your article and the NEF report both have avoided mentioning that Universal Credit includes a separate and specific amount awarded for rent therefore securing the applicants accommodation. Whether the “main payment” awarded for living costs is adequate is the subject of an entirely different argument but whilst Universal Credit is independently assessing need for rent and providing substantial assistance specifically for rent it cannot be used as an argument.

If a tenant receiving benefits falls into arrears of more than two months the landlord can apply to Universal Credit to have the amount awarded for housing costs paid directly to them and any arrears are subsequently recovered with small deductions from future living costs amounts. Therefore advising such tenants to withhold any amounts awarded for housing costs as a plan of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” could not be a real solution.

Put simply if the estimated 1.2 million people who were “falling through the cracks” applied for Universal Credit and subsequently withheld rent they would only be able to do so for around two months. So how can this move anything forwards?

Whether my tenants are “scraping by” on the amount awarded to them for their “living costs” is an argument with which I would be willing to engage but “scraping by” on the amount for “housing costs” is simply not the case and the whole issue of paying rent seems to be being hijacked in at best a fuzzy thinking way which simply wouldn’t work, and at worst deliberately in order to serve a completely different agenda of which I am not entirely sure but I think the Guardian could examine in it’s unbiased way.

I would urge any tenants who are struggling to talk to their landlords in the first instance and to keep open and honest communication and find a way forward together.

Yours sincerely,
Joss Urch



Comments

Gary Nock

12:35 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

Its not about tenants. Its the the politics of the extreme left and their hatred of property ownership by individuals rather than the state that has brought this about. Any opportunity to politicise a crisis. They had a good kicking in December at the election and are feeling pretty sore and are trying to use this to re-ignite a class war. Change the record Momentum or whatever clothes you wear these days. You lost. Get over it.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

12:47 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

You wrote:
"As a single person under 25 renting a bedroom in a shared property in the North London area they could have received up to £295 per week for rent alone".

I find this extraordinary! This amount would provide them with a flat in the North London area, not merely a bedroom in a shared property. Could you provide me your source for this statement?

Many thanks.

Dr Rosalind Beck

13:30 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

They're onto a loser here. Even the Labour Shadow Housing Minister doesn't believe this is the way to go.

https://labourlist.org/2020/05/cancel-the-rent-policy-would-be-un-labour-says-debbonaire/

All that will happen is that these tenants will get into debt and eventually face legal action, have a damaged credit rating and won't be able to find alternative accommodation in the future. They'll have to then choose between paying a fortune to stay in hotels or to go and live in a tent.

Jan Martin

13:43 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Dr Rosalind Beck at 15/05/2020 - 13:30
You took the words right out of my mouth .

James in London

14:12 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

The maximum a single person under 35 in Inner North London can get to pay for housing is £147.29/week. Anyone can check this on the VOA's website. Somehow Joss Urch seems to think it's double that. As for the idea it could be three times higher than the amount they need for rent?! Where exactly in London are they renting a room for £50/week, and what type of room is it?

Annie Landlord

17:28 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

A very well written piece. The renters unions are indeed a movement, rather than a union. Acorn tweeted this week that they were running a 'member defence' training course. It sounded a bit militaristic, so asked what it was. This is their reply:
"Thanks for your enquiry, ACORN is a community union that operates much like a trade union does in the workplace but in the community instead. Our member defence focuses around support our members and their communities in fighting for their rights and much of this includes tenants rights and representing tenants in disputes against their landlords and letting agents. This training will focus on how we collectively organise to support tenants in the context of the coronavirus and it’s effects on people’s abilities to maintain tenancies and pay rents in suitable and healthy homes. We’ll cover how we take and work cases and how we will be building campaigns to change the conditions of the private rented sector"

I asked if they would be interested in hearing from a landlord. Their answer was no - that landlords have a lot of people lobbying on their behalf and Acorn lobbies for tenants' rights! I had to laugh

Gary Nock

17:35 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

That's why there is only ever one side of the story. Typical left wing. It's their way or the highway. Or in their case the " Road To Hell" where there is no council housing, no other social housing, and no private rental sector. Welcome to Renters Dystopia, when they really want a Utopia. But they don't realise that their actions have the opposite effect to that which they want.

steve p

17:49 PM, 15th May 2020
About 2 weeks ago

To be fair I don't think there is an activist whatever their cause that is not shouting that their cause is now more important because of coronavirus. Be it calls for higher pay for public sector, Becoming more environmentally friendly, more money for carers allowance, more money for benefits. The list could go on and on.

Certain sections of the left including Shelter will not be happy until every landlord is not allowed to make a penny of rent, with still all the risk being on the landlord. It only goes I believe to highlight the inequality of rights, they are not suggesting you walk out of Tesco without paying or stop paying council tax, as this is a criminal offence, yet don't pay your rent and it will take a landlord 5 months+ and thousands of pounds to evict, even this slow and costly option has been removed.

Thankfully most tenants put this sort of rubbish in the same pile as flat earthers and will want to continue living in their home post coronavirus.

You highlighted the inaccuracies extremely well, unfortunately I bet Damien will not read past the first sentence as it does not fit with either his narrative or Attention grabbing headline. (Lets face it a headline of "Tenants should continue to pay rent with support available if they are struggling" is hardly going to get many views.

Smartermind

3:25 AM, 16th May 2020
About A week ago

"it is my understanding that all those who don’t will be eligible to receive Universal Credit"

This is not correct and is a false assumption. Not everybody can claim UC. Take take two financially independent people living together together as boyfriend/girlfriend. If one loses their job and the other is still working, then the person laid off won't be able to claim UC, they will then become dependent on the person still working. They won't be entitled to housing benefit either. If their finances were already at breaking point, then they will now be broken.

People commenting here appear to have forgotten all the horror stories that were appearing in the press about claiming UC prior to the lock down. They've just been drowned out by the pandemic, but will still be taking place.

Mick Roberts

10:00 AM, 16th May 2020
About A week ago

You couldn't have said it better.

Those that tout for tenants to stop paying rent, only make it worse for them long term as more Landlords that have pushed that one bit too far, pack up earlier than they was going to.
Leaving less supply, more demand, & we all know what happens to prices then. And availability.

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