Fergus Wilson Panorama documentary – now available on iPlayer22:10 PM, 18th March 2019
About 6 days ago 96
A few weeks ago, I started filming the new series of Nightmare Tenants Slum Landlords (due to air on Channel 5 in Spring 2018), and one of the eviction cases was for a landlord called Emmanuel in Dagenham.
He was owed £6,000 rent by a tenant who unfortunately ran into financial problems, but failed to communicate his current situation to the landlord (which is very common). The tenant took the tenancy out in his name and came recommended to the landlord by his neighbour, so no referencing was carried out (the biggest mistake that landlords make). Unbeknown to the landlord, the tenant also moved his wife and three children into the flat.
Sadly, this is not an unusual story and we are seeing it more and more. The tenant was all packed with his suitcases waiting with his wife and children, so he could go to the council to be rehoused as soon as he had been officially evicted. This is a distressing situation for both the tenant and the landlord. No landlord wants to see children getting upset because they have been thrown out of their home, but councils are putting this on families and forcing landlords to take legal action right up until the bailiff stage. The bailiff confirmed to me this is happening on an unprecedented scale, he had already carried out 12 evictions that day!
Eviction is not a nice process and should be avoided at all costs, but it’s so frustrating when councils appear to be working against private landlords instead of alongside them. By the time a case reaches the point of eviction, emotions are often running so high that people do and say things completely out of character. This bailiff told me how two weeks prior to this eviction, he had been attacked with a hammer.
Recently, we even reported on a case where a local council had allegedly advised a tenant to break back into a property, after she surrendered the lease on the property making herself “voluntarily homeless”, instead of waiting to be evicted. So panicked that she would not be rehoused by the council, she instructed a locksmith to change the locks so that she could re-enter the property.
In March 2016, the former Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, wrote to all chief executives of local councils telling them to stop routinely advising tenants to stay put until the bailiff arrived. This appears to have made little difference since The NLA (National Landlords Association) reported that 49% of tenants who received a Section 21 notice said their local advice centre or local council had told them to ignore it.
However, April this year saw the Royal Assent of the first major piece of homelessness legislation for 15 years – the Homelessness Reduction Act. The Act, which is likely to be implemented next year, will require local housing authorities to help all eligible applicants. Councils will have to help people at risk of losing suitable accommodation as soon as they are threatened with homelessness within 56 days. This means people should get help on receiving a notice from their landlord if they are struggling to find a letting, rather than being told to come back when they have a bailiff’s date. It makes clear that a valid section 21 notice that expires within 56 days constitutes being ‘threatened with homelessness’.
Councils have a duty to rehouse tenants on a priority basis, but of course they can’t magic houses from nowhere, so if that particular council does not have enough temporary or long-term housing to re-house, the easiest option is to say, “come back when you are evicted”. Recently it was reported that there are 52,000 people in temporary accommodation in London and half of those people had to move to another Borough. One London Borough has 22,000 people on its waiting list.
Yes, the challenges are great! Unfortunately, it appears to be a viscous cycle. Councils are not able to secure enough properties for those in need, meaning they are reliant on those private landlords who are willing to let their buy-to-let properties to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. However, changes to the housing benefit system, by way of the introduction of Universal Credit, means many tenants are financial worse off and struggling to meet rent payments, driving an increasing number of evictions. Then, you have landlords, who are facing their own challenges with many considering selling up because the ‘figures don’t stack up’ as a result of impending tax rises and increased regulation.
With rising rents and strong demand from private tenants, particularly in London and the South East, fewer landlords are willing to let to what some deem ‘higher risk’ tenants, unless they can receive direct rent payments from the local council. This is frustrating as many tenants in receipt of housing benefit stay in a property longer as they want the long-term security and are more likely to look after the property, but with landlords making less and less profit its understandable.
Over the last two years, we at Landlord Action have seen a substantial increase in cases where landlords are having to evict tenants under Section 21 proceedings, because they have been advised by the council to ‘stay put’. Let’s hope the local authorities get the funding from the Government to build more social housing, which in the year up to March 2016 was a mere 32,110 – a 24 year low -and less than half that of the previous year. I also hope that the plans outlined in the Homelessness Reduction Act come to fruition and landlords are encouraged to once again support the social sector.
We hold our breath.
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