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


Mandy Thomson

13:34 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Cheryl Waugh at 30/07/2017 - 16:18Yes, I've witnessed some lousy standards in social housing first hand too. We have an image of the slumlord as being a totally inept, evil and greedy PRIVATE landlord and while there are many around and they need dealing with, despite Decent Homes, shoddy accommodation is much more likely to be provided by a SOCIAL landlord.

I have a relative in social housing who until earlier this year had a terrible old broken kitchen and bathroom, with filthy carpets left by the previous tenant, cracks in walls and ceilings, broken floor tiles etc.

He's recently had a new kitchen and bathroom put in, but still has the other issues together with windows that don't all open properly and a broken smoke alarm in the hall (though there is a working one in the kitchen). I reported the windows and smoke alarm but we've had no response from the management company.

Social housing should not be luxurious but it should offer basic but sound accommodation and certainly the necessities!

Sandra Pomeroy

15:18 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mandy Thomson at 04/08/2017 - 13:34I agree with what you say. However, I'm in my 60s and remember the days when most of the council estates I came across were well looked after and there were in-house maintenance teams that not only dealt with everyday issues like blocked toilets but did so in a timely fashion.
However, that was in the days before houses were sold off without being replaced and in-house (estate-based) maintenance teams were removed and replaced with the cheapest companies - many of whom have less staff and cover say, the whole of London, not just a few nearby estates.
Compared to today, the councils of 30 or so years ago had many more resources at their disposal - not least of all the rents from their properties.
It's not surprising many are not fit for purpose these days - including my own local authority.

Mandy Thomson

15:40 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Sandra Pomeroy at 04/08/2017 - 15:18When I was a kid in South London in the 70's and 80's, my parents and I lived in social housing for a time and my parents looked at various other council flats. The only real advantage compared to now was there was more availability.

My mother had to clean at least 2 filthy flats, and the property we eventually ended up living in had serious penetrating damp - one reason why such buildings are now covered with cladding.

Mark Alexander

15:47 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Sandra Pomeroy at 04/08/2017 - 15:18I'm a bit younger than you and grew up in the West Midlands.

My recollection of the 1970's and early 80's council estates is that they were very tough indeed. Many of my family lived on those estates and still do.

As Maggie's policies took hold it was easy to spot who had bought their Council home and who hadn't. The first thing they did was to replace the doors and windows and tidy the garden.

These estates are now very respectable, despite many of the original owners having sold to private landlords.

Dr Rosalind Beck

15:59 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

I grew up in a council house. It had a great big back and front garden which made us think we lived on the best council estate in Cardiff. I was quite proud of that. I don't ever remember seeing a council employee come to do anything though (until after I left and my Dad had to move out as the house was practically rebuilt). During all my childhood it was freezing in winter and the gas fire in the back room was dodgy and you could smell the fumes. I still went in there though to try and revise while Coronation Street was blaring from the other room ('turn it down Dad!' 'Vell, I can't bloody hear it den,' the old German would reply). We never thought to complain. You just got on with it and fixed things yourself if you could and left them if you couldn't. I never heard of an 'inhouse maintenance team.'

Sandra Pomeroy

16:03 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mandy Thomson at 04/08/2017 - 15:40I'd left home at eighteen 1969 but before that I grew up in an appalling private rented house in Tottenham. I can only say I was overcome by envy when I visited school friends in their council houses! I guess looking back their homes weren't that special - but compared with what I was used to it seemed so. Our house was owned by one landlady, who lived in a very nice place of her own (she'd invite us over xmas). Pleasant enough as an individual, she did absolutely nothing to our falling apart property even after holes appeared in the roof rendering one room uninhabitable. I've since made jokes about how we were able to sleep under the stars, the walls running with hot-and-cold damp; the Ascot heater blowing up and so on.
Memories! I suppose it's what guides us to the beliefs we take with us into adulthood.
I better sign off before I start sounding like Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch....

Mandy Thomson

16:25 PM, 4th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Sandra Pomeroy at 04/08/2017 - 16:03The issue with private rented housing before the 1988 Housing Act introduced assured shorthand tenancies was the fact that landlords were often simply not getting enough rent to fully maintain their properties. They were also stuck with the same tenants until they decided to move (in fact, I can see that not maintaining the property might have been landlords only means of getting rid of tenants). Permanent tenants would also render a property almost impossible to sell, especially when tenanted properties would be anything but desirable on the market for the reasons above.

When I was a child, we also lived in two privately rented properties, one of which had serious damp. However, they were better presented and in a nicer area than the council properties we lived in.

Ian Narbeth

14:33 PM, 9th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mandy Thomson at <a href="04/08/2017" rel="nofollow">">04/08/2017 - 16:25My parents bought a house in 1962 together with the adjacent semi which was tenanted. £4 a week rent, no bathroom, no central heating, a tiny kitchen on the back and an outside kazi. My parents had hoped to knock the two together to make a larger family home, having been assured by the seller that the tenant would move out shortly. That plan didn't work as they stayed until 1987 when they got too old to face another winter. By then my brother and I were grown up and had left home.
If my parents had modernised the property, it might have been attractive to the tenants' children and grandchildren who under the law at the time would have been entitled to succeed to the tenancy (Yea unto the third generation!).
People forget how stultified the housing market was before the 1988 Act and how unattractive to landlords. Unless you owned your home it was difficult to move to another part of the country. It was possible only if you could secure a Council house which meant trying to find someone to take your council house in a game of municipal musical chairs. Most private landlords were not interested in acquiring new sitting tenants.
The council houses sold off under Lady Thatcher are still occupied. Not selling them would not have created any new houses.
Others have banged this drum but I will do so also. The housing problems we have stem from an increase in the population, a failure to build enough houses and divorce leading to more dwellings being required to house single parents. Build more houses and try not to get divorced.

Annie Landlord

15:56 PM, 9th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Ian Narbeth at 09/08/2017 - 14:33Not only divorce. It has become acceptable for people to choose not to marry, and therefore live alone, and also for young people to move into their own place, alone, rather than only moving out of the parental home on marriage. Society has changed so much, and every government has failed to meet the challenge! Importantly, we are all living longer but often with reduced mobility. Governments' and developers' responses have been to shoehorn older people into tiny flats or residential homes, when what is desperately needed is a few thousand new bungalows.

Arnie Newington

9:04 AM, 25th August 2017
About 3 years ago

Here Here! Shelter are a scummy organisation that the politicians and media treats with kid gloves. Well done to Ros for stating the truth about Shelter.

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