Why are Social Housing Tenants Seen As Second Class Citizens?

Why are Social Housing Tenants Seen As Second Class Citizens?

12:11 PM, 29th November 2011, About 13 years ago 44

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As I read my way through developments in the housing world on a daily basis I see increasing reference to perceptions about social housing tenants which seems to be becoming a source of more concern for many landlords.

People have often had negative opinions about that world, but not as serious as the direction it seems to be going. I thought it might follow on from last summer’s riots, I don’t know, but 3 things happened on the same day last week to make me ponder on this more seriously

  • I read Grant Shapps’ intention to challenge people’s perception that social housing is what he termed a ‘Dead end option’ .
  • I defended a hard working African couple from mortgage repossession.
  • Observing 2 broken windows whilst waiting for a bus to take me home from the African couple’s court case.

I was irked when I read Shapps’ proclamation about social housing. It didn’t fit my experience growing up in that sector.

Back in the day

Probably like many Property118 readers, I was raised in council houses. I was what used to be called a “latch-key kid“, letting myself in after school before my parents finished work, my Dad being a steel erector and making steel furniture on the side and my Mum being a factory worker. We never felt disadvantaged by our housing and never held the view that in being council tenants we were in any way second class citizens.

And a culture apart, my partner Frazzles, was similarly born and brought up, like me, in Deptford, bottom of the Old Kent Road. Her Mum, Midge, a nurse and her Dad, Fred, a bus conductor who like my Dad used his skills to make hand-made wooden furniture to supplement his wages. They arrived in the UK from Barbados in the early 1960s and grew up in property supplied by Lewisham Council without shame or apology. Hard working, decent people.

I think both our sets of parents would be horrified to think that people thought they were a dead end option. I don’t ever remember anyone I knew or their families thinking they were failures or that there was something lacking aspiration about them, simply for being council tenants.

We had family friends in the 1960s who owned their own homes and I can remember my parents thinking that would be a great idea but they didn’t stress themselves out by it, or think less of themselves for not owning property. There was no stigma involved. It was just something they would like to do one day if things worked out for them. They subsequently did but I don’t remember them looking down on where they came from. Homeownership was just a different option.

All a question of attitude

Cut to my African couple who I represented in court. A hard working family thrown into mortgage arrears by redundancy. Contrary to popular opinion they weren’t sponging off the state. Far from it. Part of the reason for their mortgage arrears came about because they weren’t claiming benefits they were entitled to. Home owners, but old school, hardworking people doing their best to support their families who took the view that their financial problems were their affair and they would deal with it.

Now cut to me, later in the afternoon. Standing at a bus stop by Woolwich Arsenal station, having just persuaded the judge that my African couple could come good on the debt if given a few months (The mum starting full time employment again in February).

I looked up at a low-ish rise set of flats, all looks normal but there is a flat on the third floor whose living room window had a massive hole in it boarded up from the inside with a lump of chipboard. The bedroom window a few feet away also had a broken window with a double sized duvet wedged into the glass blocking out the autumn weather while the TV flickered away.

This is no right to buy property. You can tell this from the building. So the council could fix the windows if called. Why is it like that? I cannot remember a single property in my life growing up on council estates where the occupants would let that be seen without shame or embarrassment. Is this what so many people fear about social housing tenants?

But is it that easy to explain?

So where did that working class pride go? A pride that wasn’t simply cultural, I see it in my adoptive West Indian family, who have a work ethic that would put Ian Paisley to shame; I see it in the pride of my African family working hard to get by. Who are the people who drive the popular perception that social housing tenants bring trouble with them?

Is it them or does it come from the perception of the cultural values of a nation obsessed with homeownership?

I ponder these changes in values but I am also loathed to fall into a mind-set of ‘people today just don’t care’. I think that’s just lazy stereotyping. There have always been people in communities who didn’t give a toss. Drunks and nutters but when did that perception transfer to all social housing tenants?

A good friend of mine owns a 3 bed house in Newham, not far from the Olympic site. She rented it to a GP, a woman in her 40s with a 16 year old son. My mate breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the tenant was a working GP, thinking it a perfect and trouble free letting. It turned out that the Doctor’s son was a drug dealer who she had no control over and who, well let’s just say, ‘Got intimate’ with girlfriends in the back garden. My mate got them out and it took a group of us a whole weekend to clean up the mess of a damaged kitchen and condoms in the garden. And this was from a GP, everyone’s ideal tenant. This wasn’t social housing.

For the past 6 months, Frazzles and my neighbours in the upstairs flat (now thankfully gone) were 3 women in their 30s who worked for a city bank. They once put a black bin liner out without putting it into the wheelie bin, the foxes got it and rubbish was strewn all over the front garden and path. It wasn’t the first time, Frazz and I refused to clean it up for them despite the fact that the contents included women’s feminine discards – shall we politely say. For 3 days we saw them leave the house and just step over the detritus without bothering to clear it up, until we were forced to raise it with them. Like it needed mentioning. And THIS isn’t social housing.

Why do 3 professional women working in investment banking care so little about what their neighbours and passers-by think of their personal hygiene? Why do people have boards and duvets up at their broken windows not care enough to get them fixed? How can a middle aged GP live in a way that would shame a Hogarth Print?

It isn’t a class thing; it isn’t about social housing tenants. Something is amiss in the way British citizens go about their lives. But Shapps, and popular misconceptions, would lay it all at the feet of social housing tenants.

On a training course I did once a council tenant showed me loads of pictures he had taken on his mobile of jobs he had done around the house without ever once calling the council to fix it for him. It was a matter of pride. He told me that the fact that it was his home meant it was his responsibility not the council’s, who he simply saw as a home provider.

Why should social housing be seen as the poor relation of other types of tenure? Why should home-owners presume that council tenants lack aspiration? A person can have aspiration but lack the resources to realise it. My dad, a dyed in the wool working class Bermondsey Tory supported Ted Heath in his election campaign in the 60s and got a letter from him thanking him for the work he gave in support, but he was never invited to have dinner with the guy because he was just a steel erector. He had aspirations, he just couldn’t afford the tux.

The problem as I see it that is at the heart of the attitudes between different types of home occupancy. Britain is obsessed with home-ownership as a bottom line. The government’s housing strategy still promotes this as the thing everyone wants but social housing grew out of the depression of the 1930s and was the reward for a nation’s citizens who fought and died in World War 2. People were thankful of a safe home that they could afford.

I hate the fact that the negative state of the nation is being laid at the feet of social housing tenants who are in some people’s minds automatically equated with rioters.

There is certainly something wrong with British culture. It is a lack of respect and self-responsibility but it is across the board. It isn’t confined to working class, social housing tenants, immigrants or even chavs.

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15:52 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

..and every bit as scary! 🙂

15:56 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

And losing your driving license is time limited. Losing the roof over your head has lifelong impact on health and prospects. Not saying that anti-social behaviour should not have consequences or that Landlords should not receive recompense. But the solution is no good if it simply creates a greater problem for society as a whole.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

16:43 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

How about mandatory tenant insurance to cover any claims a landlrod might need to make. A tenant's monthly or annual premium falling like a no claims bonus with car insurance.

That way an LHA tenant with a clean bill of health and adequate insurance cover for rent arrears and damage wouldnt be seen as a liability and the prejudice might lessen somewhat

if a landlord has to arrive clutching a brace of licenses and documents why not tenants too?

17:17 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Has been suggested on other posts. Not sure who would underwrite it, possible issue of double jeopardy situation with Landlords' Buildings Insurance.

Ian Ringrose

17:32 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

"How about mandatory tenant insurance to cover any claims a landlrod might need to make. A tenant’s monthly or annual premium falling like a no claims bonus with car insurance."

This could work….
A few thought on what I would be looking for….

The landlord must still be covered if the tenant stops paying for the insurance for at least as long as it takes to remove the tenant (The insurance company should do the removal.) . Any “excess” on the policy must be recovered from the tenant by the insurance company and not effect pay-outs to the landlord. This could also remove the need for deposits if it was done right!

The insurance companies could inform each other about claims, like with car insurance and make a good effort to recover losses from the tenants. Tenants must not be able to think of the insurance as a way to avoid their responsibilities.

Now what if the insurance companies charged the tenants more if the landlord was not a member of an accreditation scheme, or if they have had to pay out a lot for other properties managed by the same agent – real change could come about.

What if housing benefit was paid to the insurance company and the insurance company also collected any renaming rent from the tenant, while always paying the rent on time to the landlord regardless of when the tenant paid. Landlord may even start charging lower rents for LHA tenants, if the risks were lower!

By removing the fear of renting to LHA tenants, it should be possible for LHA tenants to get a lot better deal. The issues with mortgages and building insurance not allowing landlords to rent to LHA tenants will also need sorting out.

The tenants must pay for the insurance (not the landlord), as the tenants must see that their past and current actions have an effect. The insurance must be mandatory regardless of the agent the tenant choses to rent from.

The insurance companies must be able to set the rate the tenants pay without any interfering from “equal opps” or “human rights” laws (Someone that has not been in the UK for long is a bigger risk, as they can just leave the UK to avoid their responsibilities.) Any charity that does not like the rates being charge could setup their own insurance company, rather than complaining about private landlords.

The insurance companies must be licenced by the government, with the government underwriting pay-outs to a landlord if a company stops trading. There must be no reason for a landlord not to like a given insurance company, so that the tenants have true free choose in picking the best value tenants company.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:21 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Ian I think we are finally on the same page.

Of course the government would never agree to HB going to the insuarnce company. If they did they wouldnt be insisting on direct payments of LHA, the whole reasoning being that a tenant should take responsbility for their finances, which is also the driver behind Universal Credit where the benefits are lumped in like a wage packet.

I think in wanting the insurance company to do the removals you are wanting a risk free letting where you are absolved of all stress. You dont get me on that one mate.

Insurance companies charging the tenant more for signing up with landlrods who arent accredited? Not sure of your angle here. Is this a call for landlord accreditation? I think landlords should pay a surcharge of they arent accredited personally. Prove their credentials. Remember there are rogue landlrods as well as rogue tenants.

Idle musings and ponderings aside, what this dialogue is doing for me is bringing me back to my wish that the PRS should move out of amateurs-ville and become professionalised but that tenants should be in the mix there too.

After 21 years of negotiating in landlord and tenant disputes I have to say neither landlords nor tenants usually know what they are getting themselves into. the law is complex, whatever angle you take and particpants should have at least some basic knowledge of what is required. Back to Mary's thing about education again

Ian Ringrose

22:57 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

"Insurance companies charging the tenant more for signing up with landlrods who arent accredited? Not sure of your angle here. "

The cost of my car insurance depends on how I have driven in the past, and the risk of the car I choose to drive. Likewise the risk a tenant is to an insurance company partly depends on how well the agent/landlord manages the property – if there was a direct and clear cost to the tenant of going with an unprofessional landlord, then the better landlords will find it easier to get tenants. And the market may start to work to improve landlords/agents. (Without having to have lots of more complex regulations that a lot of landlords ignore anyway.) A tenant would be able to be the details of the landlord/agent into the insurance company website and get a risk rating and be willing to pay more rent to a good landlord, as the mandatory tenant insurance would cost them less.

I wish the insurance company to do the removals as.
a) The issuance company are more likely to get it right and not mistreat talents etc.
b) There is the perception that there is not a level playing field between LHA tenants that have people like you on their side (plus free legal aid) and normal landlord. (Another reason only a few large expert landlords are willing to touch LHA tenants)
c) A tenant that has nothing to lose from a civil legal case is most likely to give problem when a removal is pending-it is in the insurance companies benefit to control this risk.

I am not looking for “risk free” letting, but I wish all the ADDITIONAL risk off letting to LHA tenants to be taken care off – otherwise most small landlords will refuse to take the risk of renting to anyone without a good job, a big deposit and a home owning relative.

2:32 AM, 2nd December 2011, About 13 years ago

You are correct Ben I was just quoting such generalisations as examples of how LHA claimants may be perceived.
If I could obtain RGI on prospective LHA claimants or their guarantor and they passed the LRS and tenantid referencing checks and they could pay the rent; I WOULD take them on.
However based on my perfectly reasonable requirements I don't believe I will having many LHA claimants as tenants!!?
My risk would be then exactly the same as any other tenant.
Clearly if I could not obtain RGI on the LHA claimants why should I take the risk of losing even more of my properties and have more trashing and thefts from them.
I face potentially being made bankrupt and being made homeless caused by the effects of non-rent paying LHA tenants plus 1 'normal' tenant.
That would mean me losing £240000 of capital investment which has been swallowed up by negative equity.
Most of the issues caused by LHA tenants.
Mine is not an isolated experience and you can say that there are good LHA tenants but unless I coould obtain RGI on these LHA tenants I would not touch them with a barge pole.
This is just the reality of the situation and I am not alone in having suffered severe ongoing detriment at the hands of wrongun LHA tenants.
So again whilst again a massive sweeping generalisation I will NOT be housing the
Most of these are LHA claimants and these are the ones that give good LHA claimants a bad name.
Whilst there are sufficient 'normal' tenants then I won't need to bother with the risks of LHA tenants.
More and more LL are and will take the same view as the law protects the tenant against the LL even when the tenant is definitely in the wrong; like not paying rent etc.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7:09 AM, 2nd December 2011, About 13 years ago

Well Ian and Paul I accept all your points. Its obviously the lack of indemnity with benefit tenants, that is a valid bug-bear. Also speaking as the council nasty who defends the tenants from you guys I also acknowledge that many housing advice types will be too biased and unhelpful most of the time. Its a common mindset but one that I lost many years ago when I woke up to the fact that most incidences of harassment and illegal evcition resulted from frustration at tenants actions compounded by a lack of assistance from the council. If a tenant pays their rent and doesnt trash the property the vast majority of landlords are happy to keep them on and leave them alone.

I reserve my ire these days for the out and out rogue behaviour. I dont believe that violence or threats of violence are a valid response to any tenants action - I will bust a gut to get property fraudsters who rip tenants off - I will get shirty with landlords who change locks on their tenants because they cant be bothered to go through the court process (Many actually say this to me on the phone, sometimes very cheerily) - I will give short shrift to landlords who sell the property without evicting the tenants and simply expect them to move out because purchasors are moving in next Friday and who then get angry with me for holding up the exchange of contracts or complain that the homelessness unit should be picking them up without a court order to solve their problem for them.

Apart from that I am the soul of cooperation.

Finally I do take issue with your last point Paul. The law doesnt protect tenants who owe rent arrears, far from it, they lose their home if they have rent arrears and dont get rehoused by the homelessness unit because they have made themsleves intentionally homeless. Quite a sanction. If a landlord cant get the money back on arrears then that is a major problem but the law isnt protecting them. its the same situation with any creditor trying to sue a bankrupt

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7:21 AM, 2nd December 2011, About 13 years ago

Oh and as I always point out when this complaint arises. If the tenant doesnt pay their rent and the landlord cant then pay their mortgage the law that makes the landlord go through due process to evict the tenants is actually the same law that makes the bank do the same to them. Landlords would quite rightly kick off if the bank just arrived and changed the locks, you cant have your cake and eat it I'm afraid.

And I point that out in a spirit of cooperation haha

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