The New Kids on the BlockMake Text Bigger
What do you think of the way councils operate in relation to housing in your area? Do you think they are on the ball? – Helpful? – Proactive? – A blessing or a curse?
Not only can I guess your response but also the look on your face as you read those words.
But soft………what is that delicate fragrance I can smell wafting in on the chill breeze of the current housing crisis? The aroma of the Social Letting Agency. This may not only change your attitudes to your local council but also the way that you do your business.
As we all know the government has an aversion to red tape and a love of free market forces. So their response to the current housing crisis flies in the face of much perceived wisdom. House prices are rising or falling, depending on who you read, but the government are happy to let the mortgage lending industry follow its own logic there.
A cull on mortgage products and a requirement for huge deposits has caused a surge in demand for rented properties, which in turn has pushed rents through the roof and in the middle of all this housing benefit is being cut.
There are calls from Shelter for local authorities, whose enforcement teams have been denuded by public sector cuts, to prosecute more rogue landlords and their agents but the government aren’t interested in introducing licensing or regulation.
In short? A bit of a mess.
But a life-belt has been flung from the deck of this particular housing Titanic in the form of the relaxation of regulations which previously limited how far councils could get involved with the private rented sector, encouragement for them to be more entrepreneurial and even, horror of horrors, allowing them to actually make a profit from services offered.
In response the councils themselves are looking to the Social Letting Agency model to solve a variety of problems. SLAs aren’t particularly new, many local landlords and agents have worked in partnership with councils in the past 10 years to provide housing for residents in the borough with council support, but talk on the street is far more radical. Many councils are seeing this model as a way of both providing much needed housing as a discharge of their statutory duties whilst at the same time raising standards in the private rental sector through a variety of inducements.
What councils may lack in terms of financial packages that might appeal to local landlords, they more than make up for in services.
A well run council social letting agency can offer:-
- Direct and collaborative connections with environmental health departments who emphasise supportive partnerships rather than simply enforcement roles.
- Assistance with grants and social loans to help bring empty properties back into use and to develop more run down homes into viable resources.
- In-house legal advice services from people who really know what they are doing and can help with the setting up of lettings and the eviction of problem tenants, including representation in court.
- A hot-line to housing benefit. Imagine being able to make one call and know what the state of play is with your tenant’s claim, instead of being told they won’t talk to you because you aren’t the claimant.
- Experienced mediation and negotiation services when you run into difficulty with a tenant.
These are some of the basic services that any council would be able to offer. Each area will have a range of extras specific to their community.
From the council’s point of view, as well as greatly improving relationships between the local authority and its service providers it will also seriously raise the bar of housing standards that the slack landlords and agents will need to meet if they want the benefits of being ‘in the club’.
Those who choose not to come on board will be in competition with a serious contender in the housing services marketplace and the worst offenders may even be driven out of business by that very competition. The complete essence of a free market approach.
It won’t happen overnight. There is still a very ingrained local authority mind-set to be worn down, people in the council who still think they are extras in an episode of ‘Yes Minister’, but there are also enough people who see where it is all going and are keen to direct things that way.
Landlords and agents should be talking to their councils and finding out what their response to government expectations is going to be. Get in first and find out where this new force is going.
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