Shelter and their abandonment of social tenants

by Dr Rosalind Beck

5 months ago

Shelter and their abandonment of social tenants

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Shelter and their abandonment of social tenants

If there is one thing that Grenfell Tower has taught us it is that it often takes a catastrophic event for people’s serious concerns to be listened to; before the Grenfell fire, the tenants’ were forced to dice with death on a daily basis while their reports of the danger they were in went unheeded by their incompetent local authority landlords and also by ‘the left’ in general.  Indeed, there is no evidence that the organisations and individuals on the left who would normally be seen as their ‘protectors’ and advocates did anything at all to help them.

This refusal to listen to social tenants can only be explained as stemming from a misguided idealisation of council and Housing Association housing; a politically-correct vision of it as the preferred tenure for the poor (the ultimate dream of getting a council flat); in contrast to the portrayal of the private rented sector (PRS) as some kind of hell hole. Indeed, a new report out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also follows the politically-correct (but factually incorrect) line of assuming the PRS is a uniquely problematic tenure, whilst the social sector is deemed to be Nirvana.

We now see how this this simplistic and false dichotomy has cost people’s lives; it diverted attention from recognising and dealing with incredibly dangerous housing and shone the spotlight instead on housing which, despite its faults, was not putting its tenants’ lives at risk.

The ‘homelessness charity Shelter’s’  role has been especially pernicious in this. As all landlords know, this organisation has single-mindedly led the charge to demonise private rented housing whilst promoting the idea of social housing and more recently, following the Tory agenda, of owner-occupation, as the only tenures with a legitimate role to play in solving the housing crisis.

This is now beginning to unravel. Last week we saw Shelter and John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, vying to get in on the act and talk about shoddy conditions in social housing. They will try and portray themselves as though they have been the champions of social tenants over recent years; they have not.

Even for weeks after the fire Shelter was semi-mute about it (possibly because they were frantically trying to work out how to explain the fact that one of their Board members was the sole shareholder of the company which had supplied the cladding to Grenfell Tower); perhaps they also found the switch to criticising the social sector too far out of their comfort zone.

Maybe they don’t see how utterly scandalous their ideologically-driven agenda of recent years has been. Given that additional information in the latest English Housing Survey (EHS) has confirmed that social tenants are more dissatisfied with their housing than private tenants are (data collected before the fire) how do they think they might justify this extremely poor prioritisation of resources?

Other key questions to be answered include:

  • Did Shelter ignore tenants’ groups’ warnings that they were being put in life-threatening situations because of a conflict of interest with their Board member supplying the cladding?
  • Where is the evidence that they were ‘advocating’ for social tenants across the country in general? (what proportion of their resources was spent on this?)
  • And why did they see their main role as pursuing private landlords to the near-exclusion of all else?

A glance at Shelter’s Facebook page over the months preceding the Grenfell fire reveals that it was spending a significant amount of time and resources during this critical time highlighting things like ‘mould and condensation’ issues in the PRS (often caused by occupants’ lifestyles – a fact Shelter does not like to acknowledge) and focusing its energies on pushing for private landlords to grant minimum 5-year tenancies, when tenancies last an average of 4.3 years anyway, according to the EHS. It gives a terrible new meaning to the phrase ‘fiddling while Rome was burning.’

The damning fact of the matter is that not only has Shelter not protected social tenants with its annual £60 million budget; not only has it relentlessly harassed private landlords (and supported George Osborne’s insane fiscal attack on private landlords which is an attack on private tenants as much as on landlords – a punitive fiscal attack on landlords can only lead to higher rents), but it has also not provided one roof over anyone’s head during all the time it has been undermining those of us who do.

I think many members of the public, including those who donate to the ‘charity’ would be surprised to know that despite the assumption behind its name, it provides no shelter.

Incredibly, notwithstanding all of this, somehow Shelter’s reputation has remained intact. Indeed their former Chief Executive Campbell Robb (now heading up the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), who presided over this catastrophic mismanagement, has also escaped scot-free and into another lucrative position in the voluntary sector, leaving Shelter in what can only be described as a moment of existentialist crisis.

What does it now stand for? Who should it be helping? And how should it be doing this?

These are fundamental questions which its new Chief Executive, Polly Neate, who is about to take up her post, must urgently address. If she cannot drastically re-frame Shelter’s priorities so that it helps rather than hinders in solving the housing problems of this country, then I suggest Shelter shut up shop as it is not fit for purpose.

Dr Rosalind Beck

Dr Beck is a porfolio landlord based in South Wales, who has written a critique of the Government’s ‘fiscal attack’ on landlords: Click Here

Comments

Mark Alexander

5 months ago

I'm almost speechless after reading that.

Ros, in one word; WOW!

yew tree

5 months ago

why does shelter not buy and let homes or build ???
where does all the money they collect go ??
come on shelter become a landlord try it !!! see what fun it is to
NOT get your rent PAID

Mark Alexander

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "yew tree" at "27/07/2017 - 07:27":

That's the million dollar question ..... or the £60,0000,0000 question in Shelters case.

I couldn't be more pleased that somebody like Ros (a real do'er) has outed them for being the propaganda machine the really are.

So far as sitting on the sidelines, critiquing the Do'ers as opposed to actually being constructive, they are incredibly successful at what they do. What erks me is that so many fall for their BS and give them money.

Robert Mellors

5 months ago

As much as I dislike the way that Shelter (and others) unfairly attack private landlords and do everything possible to try to make it as difficult and costly as possible for private landlords to provide housing (thus forcing up the rents to everyone), they do provide a good programme of training courses and they do help and advise tenants who may have very little other avenues for obtaining advice.

In my opinion, Shelter has somewhat lost its way and needs to realise this (they are still in the denial phase), and instead of demonising private landlords, they need to meet with us, and work with us, to help good landlords provide decent homes for tenants. This will involve them realising that in order for landlords to provide good quality homes, then we need to be able to take quick action to evict bad tenants (bad = anti-social, or non-paying). It is not in the landlord's interest to evict good tenants, so Shelter need to realise this and encourage good tenant behaviour, so as to keep landlord costs down and thus help keep the rents down.

The same principle applies to the Section 24 tax, this adds to landlords' costs so that cost has to be passed on as higher rents, if Shelter campaign to get rid of the Section 24 tax (and it was repealed) then this reduces the pressure to put up rents.

My message to Shelter would be to come and speak to us landlords, listen to what we have to say and listen to our ideas and opinions, we should all be on the same side, i.e. we are all trying to provide the best we can at a price that is as affordable as possible for the tenants, but still covers our costs and risks. Shelter, please recognise this fact.

Sandra Pomeroy

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "Robert Mellors" at "27/07/2017 - 16:15":

Thanks for not going along with the lynch shelter comments here.
Anyone, like me, who has worked in the charity sector for over 30 years (now retired) has first hand experience of the dedication of most staff who work in this precariously funded sector.
It's about the only growth area left in the country!

terry sullivan

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "yew tree" at "27/07/2017 - 07:27":

salaries and propaganda

terry sullivan

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "Sandra Pomeroy" at "27/07/2017 - 17:44":

rubbish--public sector and charities are parasites

Robert Mellors

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "Sandra Pomeroy" at "27/07/2017 - 17:44":

Having worked in the public sector and in charities, as well as being a private landlord (and a private tenant), I am well aware of the great work that charities do and the dedication of their staff. However, the problem is that they only see the problems, the happy tenants don't go in to their local CAB and report how happy they are with their landlord, so the advice agencies CAB/Shelter etc, only see the very worst cases, and they only get the tenant's (often distorted) version of events. This is why they have such a poor image of private landlords, but it is a distorted and wholly incorrect image, so Shelter and the CAB need to recognise this and work with private landlords instead of working against us.

Sandra Pomeroy

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "Robert Mellors" at "27/07/2017 - 19:06":

I agree. It's like your average police officer has a more jaded view of people because of who they get to see in their day-to-day work. Doctors and nurses will tend to see a lot of people who are not in the best of health.
Similarly most of us having worked in charities find our 'customers' tend to be among the most deprived in society; people who, for one reason or another, find everyday living a challenge.
Charities such as Shelter can only be expected to speak for their own client group. They've never supplied housing; they've always been more of an advocacy group.
I can't speak for them, of course, but there is a general understanding that private landlords' interests are being represented elsewhere - especially those of the large property speculators. (the tory party, eg)

Annie Landlord

5 months ago

I, too, spent most of my life working for national charities and in the main they do a great job, I remember asking a senior manager at a well known children's charity why all of their media adverts featured sad, dishevelled, frightened children (they are all actors by the way) and never happy children who had been helped back to safety by the charity. His reply was "smiling children don't bring in donations" I guess Shelter works on the same premise - if they published the figures showing most PRS landlords are decent people and most PRS tenants are very happy with their homes, their donations would dry up because people would think there was no need for their service. Great article Ros, though I would take issue with some of the statements about Grenfell. A read through the Action Groups' website reveals that it is not simply a 'residents group'. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn about the group's activities, over many years to read through articles on the website. The media has picked up, or been fed, some very selective soundbites, which are being repeated ad nauseam with seemingly little attempt to see the bigger picture.

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