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 10 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.


by Ian Ringrose

14:14 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 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. "

The issue is that an attachment of earning order from the lender on the landlord will most likely get the lenders money back in the end, the landlord also stand to lose his own house as well as the deposit he put in. The same can’t be said about a landlord that is owned rent by a none working ex tenant; it is very likely the tenant will not even get a bad credit rating, as a lot of landlords don’t see any point in “throwing good money after bad”. (An attachment of benefit order is not worth having as they tend to be for less that the given person spends on drink, smoking or paid TV, in a week – likewise when fines are collect var the benefit system)

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:56 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

No Ian, the issue made by Paul was that the law protects people in rent arrears, it doesnt. But that doesnt mean that the practicalities of pursuing that money arent fraught with problems and ultimately pointless I agree, but this is one of the annoyances and risks of the landlording business. all you can do is try to minimise that risk, maybe, as is becoming evident through this discussion, not renting to peple who have a limited ability to meet liabilities.

And drink, smoking and paid TV? So now you've got to knock my hobbies???????????


16:17 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yes Ben I agree with what you contend.
Clearly there is no actual overt law protecting tenants from the effects of their not paying rent etc.
It is just the net effect that the system has whilst a LL goes through due process to get rid of a wrongun tenant.
I would much like the system to be tenant pays rent and LL leaves tenant to have peaceful enjoyment of property and it's services.
UNFORTUNATELY as you are only too aware the 'system' is on the side of the tenant.
Irrespective of the fact that the tenant potentially does not do themselves any favours ultimately by manipulating the system (or do they?), the net effect on the LL can be catatrosphic has as has been the case with me.
Those wronun teants have now walked away from the circumstances leaving me technically bankrupt and massive capital losses.
1 of them has worked the system and now managed to obtain another LHA property
1 is now dead (goood riddance)
1 has disappeared
1 has disappeared and is wanted for fraud.
1 has probably obtained LHA again with another victim LL
2 of these were non-LHA tenants.
County court actions against these wronguns is a complete waste of time and money; I know as I have wasted time and money on them!
The system is set up against LL which is why I WILL NOT rent to tenants who do not meet RGI critereia; this means that most LHA tenants would not pass and so I could not take them on as I can not bear the risk of a LHA tenant

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

16:53 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yeah I have every sympathy with landlrods in those situations. I too can see tenants milking it quite often.

There is growing pressure to transfer at least some possession cases out to residential proerty tribunals to take the pressure off the courts and shorten eviction times..

On the PainSmith blog this week they talk of London where even Accelerated claims are taking 4 -5 months, which is ridiculous.

Maybe as I mentioned earlier, tenants having a pack with all their records and references with them would help reduce the risk as would similar landlord's credentials to match up


17:25 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yes I agree with your proposals.
There would be obviously miriad issues regarding DP but the principle should be a sound one.
The only problem is a similar situation was tried out for a property and that was..............HIPs.!!!
Which I don't think went too well!!!
Clearly as a HO there has to be a way of good LL meeting up with good tenants whether on LHA or not.
Social networking has it's place.
It must however be to your eternal frustration that there is not a more efficient and effective way to match up LHA claimants and LL.
Unfortunately all the good LHA claimants are being damaged in reputation by all the bad ones leaving a situation where most LL do not wish to LHA claimants.
Clearly this is not fair; but what is the proverbial small LL to do.
He is up against it and as a consequence tenacies which could go ahead with a LHA claimant are denied as the LL does not wish to take the risk as he can see ALL the cards stacked against him.
This is unfair on the good LHA claimant but you can't blame the LL for behaving this way.
I could see the situation in extremis going back to the bad old days of
No blacks
or dogs
OR LHA claimants.!!!!!!


17:30 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Also as a matter of interest have you been given a heads up as to how the new UC system will work as I can see your workload increasing exponentially when it does!!

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:14 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yeah spot on Paul. The no dogs, no blacks, no irish things is sort of what is happening today. I hadnt thought of it that way. No Chavs.

I have followed this argument trying to see if if it goes off post but we are stil in there. Benefit tenants are the blacks/dogs/irish of 2011 but, stereotyping aside there seems to be good, sound financial reason for not taking on benefit tenants and for that I am thankful to all posters. The beauty of blogging is that it prompts debates that help clarify things for everyone involved. Brian Eno (A personal hero of mine, along with Mahatma Ghandi, Maya Angelou, Frank Zappa and Spike Milligan) once said we use conversation to discover our own thoughts.

UC, when ti comes in, is going to throw so much stuff into the air, as will the Localism Act for housing, which many, outside of our world, have little insight into what it is going to throw up.

in that sense, PRS landlords, social landlords, housing advisers, tenants, landlords have a massive task in front of us in 2012. We cant rely on government to sort it out. In that snese they have washed their hands of it, but what they have done, indistancing themsleves in the way they have, is change regulation to allow us to get on with it with little government interference.

it isnt an master plan on their part, just an abrogation of responsibilty, but the way is clear for people like us to sort out the mess and make it work for all of us.

Public/private partnerships are the way forward. Wehave to understand eahc other's needs and that is a challenge but lets do it.


19:34 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

I think maybe if the councils could up with maybe some sort of insurance bond or cover from them to persuade LL to take on LHA claimants then perhaps LL might be persuaded.
Clearly the councils do and will need LL more than LL neeed LHA claimants.
Something has to be done to convince LL to take on LHA claimants.
As you have mentioned if LL could be guaranteed to receive the LHA then they would most likely take LHA claimants on.
This only on the basis that irespective of whether a LHA claim proves to be invalid that the LL would not be penalised by recovery from him of LHA paid to him.
Clearly it would be far cheaper for the council to have stable tenancies rather than emergency housing which tends to be more expensive than 'normal' housing.
Essentially it would be cost efffective for councils to bear the burden of their wrongun LHA type tenants who did not comply with the terms of their AST's rather than as at present; leaving the LL out to dry!
This as LL would be assured as to the LHA receipt and any problems caused by the tenant would be resolved by the council.
A bit like the private property is a council house.
I appreciate all these proposals may be pie in the sky; byut you never know.
Councils are going to have to think out of the proverbial box!!?

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

20:48 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yeah, out of the box is where we are going Paul. Some of us our more out than others at the moment though. It will take some time but thedirection has been set.

Just today I read councils keen to become mortgage lenders. Thats would have been unthinkable even 2 years ago. It will be a snowball efffect.

And if the thinking is going that way, why couldnt council start RGI schemes as well? As I said above, government doesnt want to know so the way is free for us in the front line to do what we want really. PRS landlords have been complaining about the traditional attitudes of counicl staff when it comes to working with them but now, many in the public sector are waking up to this being the way forward.

UC might be a disaster in the making, I rellay think it will be. I was training a group of experienced social housing officers in Wales recently and I explained about HB payments going direct to tenants like PRS landlords have experienced in the last couple of years and one housing officer of 25 years standing looked astonished and said to me "If that happens, we're finished".

Maybe so, maybe not. It will be up to the partnership approach to sort that one out. At least government is getting out of the way and letting us get on with it


22:46 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 10 years ago

Yep I am sure Social housing groups are bricking it re UC.
I remember Option mortgages from councils from way back; can you?
I think think the whole situation is something that at last will enable you to get your teeth into all these issues which you have been fully aware of these past years.
Your experience will be invaluable for Chief Executives of councils when they turn to depts like yours for some solutions.
You should feel fully empowered and about time to as you seem to know what you are talking about.
Lets hope council officers like you come to the rescue of LHA/UC claimants and LL.
It is going to be interesting times for you.
So all those ideas you have had in the past I reckon you will be able to fully explore.
Here's hoping that powers that be start taking notice of the the people like you at the coalface rather than bring in always expensive 'consultants'

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