Homelessness Reduction – Four Simple Ideas

by Robert Mellors

11:03 AM, 19th October 2018
About 2 years ago

Homelessness Reduction – Four Simple Ideas

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Homelessness Reduction – Four Simple Ideas

This is an article that I recently published on my Linked In page – Homelessness Reduction: PRS co-operation

Homelessness, and severe housing need, is on the increase, there is a huge shortage of social housing, and no matter how much the Government say they are investing (even if you believe the figures), they cannot keep up with demand. Isn’t it time that Government (national and local) stopped deriding and demonising private landlords, and instead encouraged and embraced them? Close co-operation with small scale private landlords (not just the corporate Build to Rent schemes) has many benefits and can provide some solutions to the housing crisis.

I am a private landlord, I am a private tenant, I am the Director of a not-for-profit housing association http://www.choicehousingltd.org/ , and I have worked in local government housing departments, and also in Citizens Advice Bureaux, so my logic, ideas, innovation, come from my experiences from all of these diverse perspectives.

Mortgage Rescue:

In 2005, three years before the collapse of the housing market which resulted in large scale mortgage repossessions, I drafted a “mortgage rescue scheme” that was simple, workable, and cost neutral, because it involved the co-operation of councils, housing associations, AND private landlords, and it had the potential to have prevented much of the subsequent homelessness that occurred in 2008/09 when the housing market crashed. Unfortunately, the council I worked in at the time rejected the idea, as homelessness due to mortgage repossession was not a major cause of homelessness back in 2005 (and I was no longer working in local authorities in 2008/09). – This is all history now, but it is an example of how simple low cost solutions can be found, when councils and private landlords (including HAs) are willing to work creatively together for the mutual benefit of all parties (particularly the tenants).

Long-term Tenancies:

There has recently been much talk about the possible introduction of 3 year tenancies, but not only are these unworkable (mortgage companies won’t accept them, insurance companies won’t accept them, and they disadvantage landlords) but they are also unnecessary, as the tenants could have the security and confidence of a long term occupancy by use of a Deed of Assurance (proposed several years ago by Mark Alexander of Property118.com). This is the Private Rented Sector (PRS) proposing housing solutions which are sensible, workable, for the benefit of the tenant, but also protecting the landlord’s position, and which cost the councils/government nothing!! – Why does government reject this?

Letting to People on Benefits:

How about the problem of the PRS not letting properties to tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, again, there are low cost solutions for this, IF councils and government are willing to work with private landlords, for example, councils could act as rent/damage guarantors for tenants, or they could pay for Rent/Damage Guarantee Insurance. While this does have a cost, it is far less than the cost of processing and dealing with the tenants’ homelessness, it benefits the tenants as it gives them access to suitable housing, and it benefits the councils as it relieves the pressures on the housing waiting lists.

Encouraging Responsibility:

Government could amend the legislation that allows direct deductions from a person’s benefits so as to enable former tenant rent arrears to be paid to the claimant’s former landlord. This already happens for some utilities, and past benefit overpayments, so the core legislation already exists, so it would not be difficult to simply insert “former landlord” as one of the people that direct deductions can be paid to (“for former tenancy debt”). This would also have the result of reducing anti-social behaviour, (saving Police time and resources), as it would hold the tenant more financially accountable for their anti-social behaviour. This would save the government money on policing, courts, and other services. It would also encourage responsible tenant behaviour which in turn would reduce the need for evictions, and thus reduce the incidence of homelessness, so it benefits good tenants, good landlords, councils, and central government.

Summary:
So that is possible solutions for:
1. mortgage re-possession cases (preventing homelessness),
2. insecurity of tenure within the PRS,
3. access to PRS housing for Housing Benefit (or low income) tenants,
4. holding rogue tenants accountable, while also reducing the burden on police, courts, and other services.


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Comments

Adrian Alderton

9:09 AM, 22nd October 2018
About 2 years ago

Some good practical ideas. I am a landlord and have previously worked in Local Govt Housing for may years including running Homeless depts. Admittedly people losing private rented housing had been an increasing issue however the single biggest reason for homelessness was always people losing insecure accommodation not PRS accom. This is where they have no legal rights such as living with friends or family.

Also I tried many initiatives and by far the biggest contributor was working in partnership with the PRS. This enable access to more housing and an influence on housing standards. This required some (very low cost) incentives but primarily joined up working within the Council in particular with Housing Benefits. This was the key to several highly successful schemes for example in one yorkshire MBC we went from nil access to the PRS to frovidning 56 good quality homes in 4 months.
The transition to Universal credit and working with the DWP will no doubt compromise such initiatives. Another successful Govt initiative!

Robert Mellors

9:30 AM, 22nd October 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Adrian Alderton at 22/10/2018 - 09:09Hi Adrian
It sounds like we have some similarities in our work background.
It may be interesting to compare notes over a coffee some time.

I agree that the biggest cause of homelessness presentations, at every LA I worked at, was relationship breakdowns, usually parents evicting their children, but also marital breakdowns.

Evictions by private landlords was only a small fraction of the total homelessness presentations, (and when the reasons for the evictions were analysed, then in 9 out of every 10 cases, it was due to tenant behaviour, e.g. not paying the rent).

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