14:48 PM, 13th February 2019, About 4 years ago 2
Letter to Gareth Johnson Member of Parliament for Dartford:
Local Authority – Gatekeeping
The country as a whole has experienced austerity for the last ten years, only I believe with the exception of MP’s salaries. Local Authorities have felt the ‘financial pinch’ along with everyone else. However, like members of the public they are still required to act in accordance with the ‘rules’.
Two Housing ministers had to write to ‘remind’ local authorities that they were not to practice ‘Gatekeeping’ (the avoidance of housing tenants, usually from the Private sector who had been subject to legal possession proceedings). The practice was further addressed in the Homelessness Act 2017. Although providing authorities ‘go through the right motions’ they can still lawfully not have to House a vulnerable tenant – household until evicted by a Bailiff (or High Court Enforcement Officer).
There are still cases of Gatekeeping being reported to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) who in the main, find reasons not to investigate complaints against Local Authorities. In other cases, there have been both instances where LGO have found fault with L.A’s for Gatekeeping, and perversely where they haven’t despite a L.A practising it!
In addition, or as an extension to Gatekeeping, I recently experienced another variant of this practice.
My company, www.PossessionFriend.uk were acting for a charity who had a tenant on Housing benefit at their two bedroom flat in Croydon. Due to significant rent arrears, my company were contracted to achieve possession. By the time the legal process following Section 8 of the Housing Act, had reached court, the rent arrears were in excess of £9000.00
In order to restrict further rental loss, permission, with reason was sought to have the Enforcement of the possession order transferred up to the High court. The judge responded that he ‘never’ granted permission for those companies (HCEO) to be used, as they didn’t give the tenant enough notice of the eviction! Bear in mind, the tenant hadn’t paid rent for 6 months and had notice of legal proceedings 2 months before the court hearing! I will return to Judges Later.
County court bailiffs were requested and as usual, 6 weeks later, they attended the property to legally hand possession back to the charity. This took place last week and I was asked to be present for the Bailiffs attendance.
The morning of the eviction, the tenant contacted the landlord (charity representative) ‘out of the blue’ for the first time in 10 months since tenancy issues began. She asked to attend and collect her belongings at the time of the bailiffs attendance.
Upon speaking with the tenant, she explained her circumstances preceding the rent arrears. The tenancy and original occupation of the flat was in her name for herself and daughter. Subsequently, a boyfriend moved in with her and there was domestic violence. Police were involved, but despite such, allegedly with some tardy response, the tenant felt the need to seek other accommodation in a women’s refuge, in September.
The refuge would have been aware of her circumstances and she could, and should have been advised to surrender her tenancy. Furthermore, the local authority funded refuge placement did not take the opportunity to remove the tenants personal possessions until the morning of the bailiffs attendance.
The consequence of this, is that for the past 5 months, there has been a two bedroom accommodation available to house one of the many families desperately seeking such housing that we know is in short supply. Ironically, there were likely women and their children ready to leave the refuge and seeking accommodation that this flat could have provided. Lack of foresight and responsibility doesn’t even begin to describe the position. The timing of a removal van and storage, contracted by the local authority only on the morning of bailiffs attendance typifies Gatekeeping in terms of this example. How many families does that local authority pay for emergency accommodation, which is in excess of monthly rent?
This example suggests that the L.A. are trying to pass off financial responsibility for the tenants possessions and storage onto the private sector, increasing the amount of rent and CCJ arrears for the tenant – without seeing the bigger picture of saving their own expense in emergency accommodation payments. Aside from the financial impact on the tenant in rent / CCJ, the landlords increasing losses, the families being paid for emergency Bed & breakfast or hotel accommodation I’m sure would rather be occupying the charities flat.
Are Local Authorities so blind to saving money that they can’t see the wood for the trees?
On the subject of excess housing demand, and many tenant applicants for each available property, isn’t it natural justice that law – contract abiding tenants should be ahead of the defaulting tenants? In the example of a benefit tenant running up what was £10,000 in outstanding rent by the time of the full eviction process, there is no prospect of a landlord recovering this debt.
Furthermore, without a defaulting tenant database, such liabilities are passed around the housing sector, waiting for them to default on the next property. Again, the majority of law – contract abiding tenants are having to compete with the Rogue tenants (yes, they do exist and walk amongst us).
With 60% of landlords owning a single rental property, typically ‘blue-collar class’, such rental losses, let alone repeats, are not sustainable. There will be examples of mortgage repossessions, because a single property landlord can’t sustain such losses.
Indeed, a landlord experiencing the above charity scenario might be forgiven for believing there is no political will to put such a bad tenant database in place, as no Private Sector Landlord would Rent to anyone on that list. The ‘bad’ defaulting tenants would then fall to Local Authority responsibility. There can be no claim of Data Protection excuses for not having such a database, as there is a Rogue Landlord database, initially that was not meant to be accessible to the public – but now is!