by Mary Latham
16:42 PM, 30th December 2012, About 11 years ago 79
In the West Midlands we are addressing the issue of educating the young to understand their future housing options, financial obligations and choices. I work on behalf of NLA with a consortium called HOMESTAMP (www.homestamp.com) and we are just coming to the end of a major project to get a module into the national curriculum for 14-16 year olds. Under the subject of Financial Management this module will help to break the cycle for many young people to prevent them becoming the 4th generation of their family to base their lifestyle on “benefits will provide”. This will be a reality check for those who may believe that becoming pregnant will ensure them a “nice little flat off the council”.
All local authorities are becoming more and more reliant on the Professional Rental Sector (PRS) to help them to house their homeless and it is vital that young people are aware that their only future options will be to stay at home, provide their own homes (by renting or buying) or to convince a private landlord that they will be a good tenant. By the time these young people leave education the Universal credit will be in place and there are serious concerns that giving people a “purse of money” will further increase rent arrears, not only for the PRS, but also for local authorities and Registered Social Landlord’s (RSL). The utility companies will also become victims of those who choose to misuse the money provided to them, from our tax pounds, to keep them safe.
We all learn from what we absorb and young people who are brought up in families where no one gets up in the morning and dashes off to work become accustomed to this life style for them it becomes the norm. It will take some time to re-educate these youngsters that there is another way of living and that the alternative may, in future, be their only option. We need to appeal to the innate desire of each new generation to rebel against the lifestyle of their parents. No one wants to live in a society where we don’t care for those who need our help and financial support but it is in meeting the needs of the needy that we also fall victims to the greedy. I am well aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find work and that withdrawing or reducing benefits alone is not the answer but we must start with motivation, because it is only motivation that will break the cycle. We need to get to the point where young people leave education “knowing” that the next step is to find a way to fund the life that they plan.
Schools need to play a major role in making these youngsters aware of the life that they could have rather than allowing them to become myopic about their future. Parents also need to play a part. Those of us who do work often allow our offspring to open an account at the bank of mum and dad and, while this may be necessary during the years that they are in education, we need to close their accounts one month after they leave education and motivate them to become self supporting and to gain the dignity that comes from paying your own way. It is selfish of us to want to give our kids what we did not have because in doing so we take away from them one important thing that we did have, MOTIVATION. I consider myself fortunate that my parents could not afford to allow me to remain unemployed, I grew up knowing how hard my parents worked to fund our simple lifestyle and I could not wait to earn my own money. I knew what I wanted, I also knew that the only way that I would get that I wanted was to work.
As a tax payer, I welcome the Governments plans to gradually reduce the “dependence” mentality of many people in this country. As a landlord, I do fear that some of these plans may impact on my own income. All landlords are only one redundancy away from a tenant who is on benefits and we all need to position ourselves to ensure that whatever else comes out of that “purse” of universal credit our rent comes out first. ALL Assured Shorthold Tenancy’s (AST) should carry a clear clause that the tenancy is only granted on the basis that if now or at any time in future the tenant needs to claim benefits to help to pay all or part of the rent that rent is paid directly to the landlord. Under new Government guidance issued this year, local authorities should pay the rent directly to the landlord who only grant tenancies based on direct payment, as part of their safeguarding policy. Local authorities were given discretion on this, unfortunately, and it is up to the PRS to ensure that this discretion is exercised in our favour. Landlords should attend all local authorities landlords fora and landlord meetings and be very vocal about the fact that we will not be become part of the welfare state, we will not pay into a system that gives people financial support without protecting our tax pounds by ensuring that the money given is used to keep a roof over the claimants head. We will be taking legal eviction action and pursuing our rent arrears and we will refuse to house those who we fear will not pay for the service that we provide. All these authorities are only too well aware that without the PRS they are in BIG trouble, the day has arrived when they need us more than we need them and it is time that we set out clearly our terms of business.
You will often hear the term “financial inclusion”, what does that mean? It means that no one should be excluded from society because they have a lack of money and I absolutely agree with that. But there are accepted norms in our society and among them is the implicit understanding that goods and services must be paid for. Most of us arrange our finances so that the bills are paid before we spend on other, less important things. Most people use a system of standing orders and direct debits to avoid the temptation to put our desires before our obligations. Financial inclusion in our society means helping those who do not have the skills to manage their finances to follow these “norms”. Many people have poor financial histories and cannot gain access to the high street banks but Credit Unions will take these customers and most will “ring fence” their rent payments if landlords work with them. They will also send a landlord written notification if the tenant exercises his right to stop a standing order and, because they require one months notice to do this, the landlord has time to take appropriate action. The landlord will also get written notification if a tenant tell the Credit Union to change his rent payments from you to another landlord and again this is early warning that a tenant may have abandoned the property. Abandonment is fraught with potholes for unsuspecting landlords. Some landlords use what are known as “abandonment notices” on the door of the property but these notices have no legal status and will not protect a landlord against accusations of illegal eviction and the horrifying penalties that may follow a successful conviction. A tenant who has given a Credit Union the required written notification to change the recipient of their rent payments has committed himself in writing to the fact that he has changed his prime residence and the written notification that the Credit Union will send to the landlord may be just the document you need to cover your back.
The PRS must survive because without us we will have “cardboard Cities” all over this country. I believe that the Universal Credit will bring us closer to the day when Government have to face the fact that
Landlords are running a business, a business which is vital to the future of this country and the well being of those who live here. Landlords need to be paid for their services just like any other business. Without homes, people will sink into further dependence and put pressure on the Health Service, the Legal System and society in general. The UK will not be a place where people want to make a life and bring up their children. We will not hang onto the many talented young people who are the future of this country. We will become a country of lawlessness, worklessness and hopelessness.
This article was first published on 15th December 2011 and has been re-published on 30th December 2012 following recent media reports of a survey carried out by Housing Charity “Crisis” which indicates that only 1.5% of Private Landlords now rent to tenants claiming benefits.
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