‘Housing Charity’ Shelter – Clearly a Double MisnomerMake Text Bigger
Serious questions were raised by my colleague on P118 ‘Free Advice for Shelter‘, concerning the so-called ‘housing’ charity Shelter. As we know, it is clearly a double misnomer to call this multi-million pound organisation a ‘housing’ charity or ‘Shelter,’ as it provides neither.
Clearly, most of the money goes on salaries and those salaried employees spend a significant amount of time campaigning against actual housing providers and slurring our name. These attacks are now reaching a crescendo.
The success of Shelter’s latest campaign against landlords – proposing the mandating of 3-year tenancies – has emboldened the extreme organisation ‘Generation Rent’ which is now suggesting that 3 years is not enough and that it should be made extremely difficult if not impossible for landlords to ever regain possession of their properties.
Already private landlords are running for the door. The predictable consequences will be a shortage of rented accommodation and the homes which remain in the sector will become more expensive to cover the huge taxes landlords now face and the risk associated with all this regulation. The lowest-paid will have to leave the PRS and go begging the councils for the homes they no longer have because they sold them all off and now expect the PRS to pick up the slack, whilst we are simultaneously attacked from all quarters.
Logic and reason account for nothing in this febrile environment. It doesn’t matter that Shelter’s consistent campaigning is built on wildly inaccurate statements and distorted representations of the sector.
There are three particular claims which are highly questionable, contained in a quote from their Facebook site:
‘Renting is unaffordable, unstable and unsafe.’Click Here
- Shelter’s claim that renting is ‘unaffordable’:
Firstly, to clarify, when Shelter talks about ‘renting’ in this context it is only referring to renting from ‘private’ landlords. This is clear in the following statement made by Shelter:
‘It’s even worse for people on low incomes who rent. They’re trapped paying ever-rising rents, and can’t access social housing – let alone save for a home of their own.’
It makes additional claims in this context which serve to emphasise its point about unaffordability: for example, in its advertising campaign in May 2017 the logo reads: ‘How much have you spent on rent?’ The advert featured prominently the single phrase: ‘rip off.’
The Oxford dictionary defines a rip-off as: ‘A fraud or swindle, especially something that is grossly overpriced.’
Also, on the 20th of May 2017, Shelter referred to ‘soaring rents.’
In fact, Shelter’s claim that renting in the private sector is (uniquely) unaffordable is open to challenge on various fronts:
Regarding the idea that private rents are unaffordable per se:
A Hometrack report found that:
- ‘Rents have tracked earnings over the long run. Rental affordability is worst in London while it is the best for a decade in regions outside southern England.’
I have more examples and evidence, which I omit for the sake of brevity. However, the following graph provides a good illustration
If London were excluded from this average picture it would be even clearer that rents are highly affordable and under 30% of gross income in most regions of England and also in Wales.
It is thus simply not true to say that rents are unaffordable and/or have soared.
- Shelter’s claim that renting is ‘unstable’ and the counter-argument:
Shelter has been campaigning for 5-year tenancies as they see 5-year tenancies as ‘stable,’ with longevity of contracts deemed the defining characteristic of stability. The average length of tenancy in England was 4.3 years in 2015-2016 (EHS 2015-2016). I would suggest that, comparatively, a 4.3 year average is therefore also pretty ‘stable.’ The claim is therefore extremely weak.’
The evidence is also clear that where tenancies end prematurely this is overwhelmingly due to tenants’ decisions and/or behaviour, so it is the tenant who largely dictates the length of the tenancy. These might therefore be seen as ‘tenant-controlled rentals,’ rather than as rentals lacking in stability. The Residential Landlords Association had the following to say:
‘In dismissing these allegations which Shelter has been making for several years even before the latest claims, the Residential Landlords Association has pointed out that the reality is that nearly all tenancies are ended by tenants. Just 9% are ended by landlords, usually as a result of tenant rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.’
Further evidence that tenants are ending their tenancies includes a YouGov survey from Savills which shows that tenants mostly move to find a better property, with fewer than 15% of tenancies being ended by landlords. Click Here
- Shelter’s claim that renting is ‘unsafe’:
I have been unable to find a single definition of what Shelter means when it states that private renting is ‘unsafe.’ It is not easy to combat an accusation that is not clearly explained, so I will have to guess and take it to mean that fire safety, trip hazards, electrical safety and so on are deemed by Shelter to be not up to scratch in the private rented sector.
In fact, the English Housing Survey has stated that the sector’s safety has improved dramatically – so it is misleading of Shelter not to mention this:
‘Over a quarter (28%) of private rented homes failed to meet the Decent Homes standard in 2015. The comparative figure for social sector rented sector was 13%. Although the private rented sector has always performed less well than other tenures using this measure of housing quality, there was a marked improvement in the proportion of non-decent private rented homes over the 2006 to 2013 period from 47% to 30%. Since then the proportion of non-decent homes in the sector has remained virtually unchanged.’
Although this means a proportion are considered to be non-decent, non-decent does not mean ‘unsafe’. The definition of ‘non-decent’ was created to measure the social sector, not the private sector and is defined by Shelter in the following terms:
‘The Decent Homes Standard is a programme aimed at improving council and housing association homes to bring them all up to a minimum standard.
To meet the Decent Home Standard, your council or housing association home must:
- meet the HHSRS minimum safety standards for housing
- be in a reasonable state of repair
- have reasonably modern facilities and services
- have efficient heating and effective insulation click here
However, in the private sector, there is a disproportionate number of older properties than in the social sector, so it is harder to achieve the same level of insulation. This must be taken into account.
To use one index, in 2015, when ‘rogue landlords’ were targeted, and 40,000 inspections undertaken, this resulted in 3,000 cases where further action or prosecution resulted. So even within this extreme category, 92.5% were considered safe enough to warrant no further action. click here
This is in contrast to inspections of Local Authority tower blocks last year, where 0% were considered to be safe.
Shelter’s findings in an earlier report that 33% of private rented homes and only 15% of social rented homes contained a ‘Category 1 hazard’ is thus open to serious question click here
In light of these facts, it would be reasonable to expect Shelter to withdraw its claim that private renting is unaffordable, insecure and unsafe and to desist from repeating similar, unsubstantiated claims in future.
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