Shelter and their abandonment of social tenants

by Dr Rosalind Beck

14:41 PM, 26th July 2017
About 3 years 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


Annie Landlord

16:42 PM, 30th July 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Cheryl Waugh" at "30/07/2017 - 16:18":

Good Heavens. If a PRS landlord left a tenant for 3 weeks without a working toilet they would have their licence rescinded and the council would be down on them like a ton of bricks!

Robert Mellors

20:36 PM, 30th July 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Annie Landlord" at "30/07/2017 - 16:42":

In a HMO the Council can even insist that you pick up items left in the communal rooms by a tenant, at one of my properties the council told me to remove the duvet that a resident had left in the dining room. Of course when I got there the duvet had gone and the residents did not know what I was talking about. Apparently, the HMO landlord has to keep the communal areas clear and clean, so if a tenant puts an item of bedding down in a communal area (not blocking access or anything) then the landlord has to go and pick it up and remove it from the communal area, and if they fail to do so then the landlord can be prosecuted (yes, it is a criminal offence according to the Council, for which there is an unlimited fine).

Dr Rosalind Beck

21:17 PM, 30th July 2017
About 3 years ago

It's farcical. Maybe they should also pass a law requiring that we check all our tenants' arses each day in case they need wiping...

terry sullivan

11:59 AM, 31st July 2017
About 3 years ago

tell council to quote the exact legislation--insist on it--they cannot legally make it up

terry sullivan

12:00 PM, 31st July 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Sandra Pomeroy" at "29/07/2017 - 12:09":

donations from taxpayers

and purchases at expense of taxpayers

Robert Mellors

12:22 PM, 31st July 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "terry sullivan" at "31/07/2017 - 11:59":

Hi Terry

The legislation quoted by the Council was "The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006", and the specific regulation which the duvet in the dining room was said to contravene was "Regulation 7 - Duty of manager to maintain common parts, fixtures, fittings and appliances", and I was instructed to "Remove this duvet to a site of suitable disposal".

I suspect my tenants would not have been very happy if I had taken away their duvet just because they had put it down briefly in the dining room, but nevertheless, that is what the Council were telling (instructing) me to do.

Sandra Pomeroy

19:17 PM, 31st July 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "terry sullivan" at "31/07/2017 - 12:00":

Yes, people who donate to charities and purchase things often are taxpayers.

Mandy Thomson

11:50 AM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mark Alexander at 26/07/2017 - 14:54Hear, hear - absolutely brilliant article!

Dr Rosalind Beck

12:54 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mandy Thomson at 04/08/2017 - 11:50Thanks, Mandy. I wrote it with a view to getting the Guardian to publish it - they keep saying they are in an independent paper but have printed two very biased articles, taking all that Shelter and others like Generation Rent say, as gospel. I was advised I might like to send it in as a letter but I declined.

Mandy Thomson

13:21 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Dr Rosalind Beck at 04/08/2017 - 12:54I agree it would be better to publish it in the Guardian, but I hope you have better luck with other publications.

Ironically, I have seen articles advising on property investment in the Guardian's financial pages....

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