Shocking Bristol poverty report reveals an average of 9 people are chasing each private tenancy.
A recent Housing Benefit Poverty Hearing report confirms Landlord Referencing’s on-going fears; that the scale of problems & homelessness (which are a direct result of Housing Benefit cuts) is already escalating, that this report puts the UK further on course for a national rent cap AND that the majority share our views on the impending welfare reform via Universal Credit.
The Hearing, which took place on the 18th May 2012 at Bristol Council House, aimed to raise awareness regarding the human costs of the Housing Benefit cuts and to search for practical ways of improving the situation.
This was achieved by providing an opportunity for benefit claimants to speak out about their experiences to a range of different people involved (without the bashing of government policies) in order to begin the process of searching for solutions and working collaboratively to meet what will be a huge challenge for the City of Bristol.
Over 100 people attended, including representatives from housing associations, voluntary organisations and charitable trusts, academics, local councillors, council officers, landlords, the media, the public and Kerry McCarthy MP.
There has also been an assumption that Housing Benefit claimants will be able to negotiate a rent reduction with their landlord or move to cheaper accommodation. However, the Poverty Hearing revealed that (the majority of) surveyed landlords are unwilling to take any cut, and those that are; a small cut.
Also, with a “shortage of shared accommodation and large houses”, claimants who have been mostly affected by these cuts are already living in Easton, Ashley, Lawrence Hill and Bedminster – some of the most deprived areas of Bristol.
Concerning the private rented sector, the main findings and points taken from this Hearing are as follows:
- Rents are perceived as being too high.
- Tenancies are too short and insecure.
- Many demands to introduce “fair rents”, “legislate to reduce rents” & “bring back rent tribunals”.
- Calls for “security of tenure”, “longer private leasing terms to allow for more stability and security” and enforcement of “the decent homes standards on private landlords”.
- Considerable frustration with owners who leave properties empty and allow them to fall into disrepair – with a general demand for council tax/rates to be paid and increased on empty properties.
- With the acute shortage of housing for people on low incomes, there was a general demand for more social housing to be built.
- Under 35 legislation prompted suggestions to “incentivise private landlords, who can work this market to the advantage of those who need it”.
- There was concern that the Housing Benefit cuts will have “an impact on mental health”, where some participants called for “improved joint working between housing, health and social care.”
Bristol Poverty Hearing on the topic of homelessness.
Participants at the Hearing were very clear that tenants who lose their home because of the Housing Benefit cuts are not “intentionally homeless” and should not be denied assistance.
It was also recognised that in order to meet their statutory duties to homeless applicants Bristol City Council would have to “work with the private sector” –
- Paying Housing Benefit direct to landlords as an incentive “to house people via Bristol City Council”.
- Sanctions or moves to recover Housing Benefit which had not been paid to landlords.
- Contracting out to private agencies/services to incentivise landlords to join deposit bond schemes.
- More debt and budgeting advice. (What are Credit Unions?)
- Help to ensure that homeless people retain their vote.
- Developing more hostel provision, to prevent street homelessness.
Other notable suggestions included:
- The council should “contract with landlords with a view to adjusting rents.”
- That there should be Council Tax incentives for private landlords “if rent is low/reasonable.”
- “A review of current private housing stock”; In order to determine whether there are too many one-bed flats and studios which, with grant aid, could be converted into larger units.
- Demands were made to use the council’s land holdings, to “utilise brown field sites” & to release land to housing co-ops.
- To reform the building sector to prevent developers from hoarding land; “playing the land market and the planning system” rather than focussing on building homes.
Bristol Poverty Hearing on the topic of welfare reform via Universal Credit.
The participants of the Hearing acknowledged that the government do not seem to have factored in the human element and the very people who will be using this new system. One group commented, “The system doesn’t help those who live at the basic level of subsistence, making debt an easy trap.”
The managers of two projects working to rehouse homeless people also expressed concern about the likely consequences of ending direct payments of Housing Benefit, and one did so in a written response:
“One of the major threats to our business model is the prospect of landlords (and ourselves as their agent) no longer being able to receive direct payments of housing benefit, as has been proposed as part of the forthcoming introduction of universal credit. We fear that this will result in a mass exodus from the LHA market on the part of private landlords. We advocate retention of the current rules permitting direct payments in a variety of situations, but at the very least direct payments must be permitted to not-for-profit organisations such as ourselves who are housing people in the greatest need.” (Mark Coates, Home Turf Lettings)”.
MP Kerry McCarthy, who attended the Hearing, told Landlord Referencing:
“The Poverty Hearing really demonstrated the scale of the problem facing Bristol and the desperate situation so many private tenants will find themselves in. While this is profoundly worrying, it was at least encouraging that so many people were there to listen and to discuss solutions. It is clear that the Government has imposed these LHA cuts without any consideration for the impact on tenants, landlords or the local economy generally, given that millions of pounds will be taken out of the Bristol economy.
Ministers have failed to consider how many privately rented homes will be affordable to LHA claimants, which may mean that tenants are forced either to go into rent arrears through no fault of their own, or to scrimp on other essential expenditure, such as food or heating. Given the many thousands of people waiting on the housing register, there is no alternative to private lets for many people, so it is crucial that both the Government and Bristol City Council work with landlords to ensure they are not deterred from renting to LHA claimants and to try to make sure their rents are manageable. We also, of course need to look at the number of empty homes in the city and to build more social housing, but this again requires the Government to open their eyes and listen to people like those who bravely spoke at the poverty hearing to explain the personal impact of the cuts.”
Hilary Saunders, from Bristol Poverty Action, told Landlord Referencing:
“As a result of Housing Benefit cuts almost 7,000 households living in private rented housing in Bristol will face an average shortfall of £27-84p per week. This means that many people will have to make impossible choices about whether to pay their rent or to buy food and other essentials. Indeed, one of our speakers was a single parent who took an overdose because she could not afford to pay her rent and feed her young child. Participants at the Housing Benefit Poverty Hearing suggested numerous ways of addressing the housing crisis in the city, including measures to bring empty property back into use, proposals for self-build schemes and special initiatives to help young single people at risk of homelessness. In particular, there were many demands for fair rents and greater security of tenure to be introduced in the private rented sector.”
Councillor Jenny Smith, who attended the Hearing, told Landlord Referencing:
“I, like many other Councillors, am worried about the impact the proposed cuts will have on the most vulnerable in our City and in my own ward.
Many of those on benefits after these changes come about will have to use money intended for food to underpin their rents. The proposals will mean that those under 35 who need accommodation will be expected to share with another of their own age. This in some cases may work but in others where people who have mental illness, or learning difficulties are expected to share could well result in a great deal of friction between the sharers.
While it is so very hard for the younger residents in the city to find employment, once pushed into multi occupier or bad conditions housing, it will be almost impossible for them to escape from the poverty trap, or get decent accommodation.
Many younger people will be condemned to a life in overcrowded housing which in some cases will be in bad repair and damp. This legislation will condemn those in these age groups to a life of poverty and deprivation. “
David Parkes, a Chartered Surveyor & currently Campaign Director for the BS3 Campus Project attended the Poverty Hearing, and told Landlord Referencing:
“This is close to my heart. I came to the Housing benefits meeting at the Council House where I was very moved by the personal stories.
My perspective is, as I said at that meeting, we need to find new ways of delivering housing that is both affordable and sustainable. The models we have used are not serving us. New affordable housing starts have reduced to a trickle. With 14,000 people on the Bristol Housing waiting list and only 200 affordable homes built last year not surprisingly the only option for so many is to rent in the private sector where rents are climbing, long term security is non-existent and quality is very mixed.
So what can we do?
Well, one of the key aims of the BS3 campus project was to try and show there are ways by which we can we can provide affordable housing by different means, not just rely on the traditional registered landlords or the Council.
The BS3 campus plans included a large self-build project; with partners offering skills training and help with finance; a private rented scheme that would give tenants the opportunity to live in sustainable homes with security and low running costs; subsidised Community housing that would be and offered to those who the community wanted to support.
All achievable. All possible. All in line with the Governments new housing strategy.
What we need is Bristol Council to get behind this sort of initiative which they have been pretty reluctant to do to date.
We have just been told we will have to wait another year before they can make any decision.
In my opinion this is one of the clear cut reasons we need a Mayor who will take up this challenge and cut through all the red tape reasons why we can’t get on with this.”
[ Many thanks to Kerry McCarthy, Hilary Saunders, Jenny Smith and David Parkes for providing Landlord Referencing with these direct quotes. ]
Landlord Referencing Services would firstly like to praise Bristol Poverty Action for their pro-active approach to solving their city’s housing crisis; the English government could definitely learn a thing or two from their example, that’s for sure!
However, this report deepens our worries for the future of the private rented sector if these issues are not correctly addressed.
If the very people who will be using the Universal Credit system have no faith in it before it has even come into force what hope do private landlords have? And in turn, what hope do LHA tenants have of renting privately and/or getting themselves onto the property ladder in the future?
Therefore, if none of this is addressed then the only outcome that we can predict is
As one of the private tenant participants commented in the Q & A session at the end of the Hearing:
“…what I’d like to see is a haircut for the private rented sector via a fair rent act. [applause] I’d also like to see a return to fair and just tenancies so they can’t evict me at the drop of a hat, which has happened to me three times in the last 10 years although I’ve always paid my rent and I’ve never ever been in arrears. That is palpably unjust.”
It is clear from their responses that most of the participants of the Poverty Hearing thought that Bristol City Council should take action to deal with various aspects of the current housing crisis.
Therefore, we truly hope this will mean that they will start to work more closely and harmoniously with private landlords, which in turn will strengthen the entirety of the housing sector.
Landlord Referencing Services believe that regulation of rents can only weaken the private rented sector and in-turn worsen the housing crisis further.
What are your views on rent-capping?
What are your views on the looming introduction of Universal Credit?
Whether you are a landlord, letting agent or tenant LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS!
Figures sourced from Bristol City Council local housing statistics, mortgage websites, and LHA rates.