According to research published by the National Landlords Association (NLA), nearly half (47%) of possessions by landlords are due to tenant arrears. It follows recent data released by the NLA showing a fifth of private-residential landlords had tenants in rent arrears during Q2 2010.
I have two simple suggestions for government. First, make direct payments of housing benefit to landlords the norm and, second, don’t proceed with the reforms to housing benefit eligibility. The first will ensure that payments where eligible and paid reach the landlord; the second will prevent the massive increase in evictions, homelessness and rough sleeping that many, including BHT, are predicting. The government’s stated aim of encouraging JSA claimants to move off benefits will not be best served if the financial consequences are felt, primarily, by landlords. Increased homelessness will move those affected further from employability.
In today’s world, it is great to celebrate a remarkable achievement. Youth homelessness in Brighton & Hove has fallen by almost 80 per cent as targeted initiatives prevent the city’s most vulnerable residents becoming homeless. Highlights include initiatives that intervene early to help prevent family breakdown, a new supported housing project for teen mothers and tackling the underlying causes of youth homelessness such as mental illness, drugs or alcohol dependency.
Congratulations are due to all concerned, particularly Brighton and Hove City Council, whose Youth Homelessness Strategy action plan contained 76 actions, of which 69 have been achieved since January 2007, and seven partially achieved.
At risk of souring the celebration, the fantastic achievements recorded above could be undone by the recently announced changes to Housing Benefit entitlement. While young people are already restricted to a room in a shared house, the changes to entitlement would see those living in an ordinary room in a shared house in Brighton and Hove lose up to £13.09 per week from their housing benefit which they would be required to make up from their Job Seekers Allowance of £50.95. This would leave them just £37.86 to live on – food, heat, light, clothes, and everything else.
It is likely that they will not make up all their rent, resulting in arrears and the possibility of eviction. But for many, young and old alike, the prospects of securing private rented accommodation might become a lot more difficult. As Chris Norris of the National Landlords Association said in the Telegraph on Saturday, “Landlords will have to look at their profit and loss and decide how much they can afford to cut their rents by. If they are not going to do that, they will have to seek non-housing benefit tenants or sell up”.
There was a BHT good news story this week which I missed! It is not like me as I have sometimes been accused of presenting BHT as the only show in town. This is a weakness as I do passionately believe in and am proud of the amazing work undertaken by BHT staff.
But I have learned my lesson. I also now talk about the excellent work of partner organisations such as Sussex Central YMCA, CRI and Rise, to name a few, as well as the positive relationship we enjoy with our local authority partners such as Brighton and Hove City Council, Eastbourne and Hastings Borough Councils, and East Sussex County Council.
But back to the good news story. It concerns another essential partner for BHT – private sector landlords. BHT is leasing studio flats from private landlords for three years and paying a guaranteed monthly rent of up to £500.
We understand that landlords want to minimise their risk. We guarantee the rent, and we will keep the property in good condition. Tenants will receive support as well as being able to access our programmes to support them back into work.
But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Malcolm Pither of the East Sussex branch of the National Landlords Association thinks the scheme will be a success. He said: “It is good for landlords because they get guaranteed rent, and it’s good for tenants because they get security. There can be problems with any tenancy, but we hope BHT will mitigate that with extra help and advice”.
In towns on the coastal south east, like Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, there can be unrealistic expectations placed on local authorities as being able to resolve every housing problem in their area. We need to be more practical and look to the private rented sector as being the most likely provider of housing options.
For more information about BHT’s Private Sector Leasing Scheme, please call 01273 234750.