The tenants’ trap

Following the actions of Fergus and Judith Wilson hundreds of private renters have been served legal eviction notices– simply for receiving some housing benefit. According to the most recent National Landlords Association survey just one in five landlords let to people on benefits.

Those in desperate need may turn to their council for homelessness assistance. All local authorities in England have a legal duty to assist people who are homeless, or threatened with homelessness. As the loss of a private sector tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness a growing number of people are finding themselves in precisely this situation.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance calls on local authorities to accept a Section 21 notice (which is what landlords use to end a tenancy) as evidence of homelessness and a just reason to help a family. However, legally councils can wait until the date of eviction – when the bailiff has been and actually chucked you out – before they’ll recognise your case and offer any help. Eviction also requires the landlord to have issued a possession order, a process that can take months.

This is a particular problem for renters who are being forced to leave their home because they can no longer afford the rent. As wages continue to stagnate, and the housing safety net is dismantled, many renters are now unable to meet their soaring housing costs. As we have seen, it can be incredibly difficult to set up a new tenancy under these circumstances and those in desperate need will be forced to declare themselves as homeless.

Councils are increasingly advising these renters to stay in their property until eviction: a terrifying prospect for anyone left feeling threatened, unwanted, and without any surety of when they’ll next have a place to call home. In the process, they may also rack up huge rent arrears. This could then allow the council to declare them ‘intentionally homeless’ and refuse support. Even if they are accepted as unintentionally homeless, eviction is still incredibly destructive for the tenant as they are left with a huge black mark against their name.

When seeking a new private rented property, credit checks will reveal their history, almost guaranteeing that the landlord will reject them. Equally, a number of social housing providers now refuse to offer a home to anyone with a history of arrears.

The result is that a cycle of repeat homelessness can set in, or that families can be left languishing in ‘temporary accommodation purgatory’ despite doing everything properly. They could also be driven into the hands of the worst rogue landlords, who are willing to exploit those with nowhere else to turn.

What can we do?

  • Many councils are driven to this course of action because they simply do not have the resources or the affordable homes to provide the help that is desperately needed. The Government should provide realistic budgets for councils to help those facing homelessness, and lift the borrowing cap on councils to enable them to borrow sensibly to build more genuinely affordable homes.
  • The Government could also tighten the existing legislation so that councils have a legal duty to assist and rehouse these renters when their eviction notice runs out, rather than waiting for a court order and the bailiffs.
  • Housing benefit for private tenants needs to be paid at a level that allows them to access affordable homes in the private rented sector. LHA rates should keep pace with market rents.
  1. I
    am a Landlord and I condone the “some” of the actions of Fergus and
    Judith Wilson. Evicting those tenants who are not in arrears is wrong.

    Wilson says 50% of his housing benefit tenants are in arrears, that is a
    staggering number of people. However, the root cause is the LHA system,
    which was introduced by a Labour government in 2008. It mean instead of
    the Landlord or Letting agent getting the rent, it went straght into
    the tenants bank account and it was spent rather then the rent paid. In
    the past the tenant would never fall into arrears.

    Councils and Housing Associations get the rent direct. So private landlords are been treated like mugs.

    the tenant had undeclared income from casual work, the housing benefit
    would stop his/her benefits, but when this undeclared income is in the
    form of keeping the rent money, then it is not undeclared income. Or
    better still returned to the tax payers.

    Shelter like to
    play politics, how about supporting Landlords, since 2008 and the
    introduction of the LHA scheme; it is the tenants who receive the rent.
    This is the fruist of this policy.

    LHA no longer reflect market rents. In 2012, the LHA was frozen and in 2013, it only went up by 2013.

    those of us who have 2013, are accepting below market rents, so it
    would be nice if Shelter spent some time thanking good landlords, rather
    then castrating them in public.

    It is going to get worse under
    universal credit, because those tenants who still receive housing
    benefit on the scheme before LHA, will be moved to Universal Credit. A
    good proportion will end been evicted.

    “When seeking a new private rented property, credit checks will reveal
    their history, almost guaranteeing that the landlord will reject them”

    is incorrect. Most landlords use Section 21. It is a ‘no fault’
    eviction. In fact this is how tenants who wreck properties get away with
    it, because there is no record.

    Some housing benefit tenants
    wreck properties, so they can get the council house, because if they are
    livign in temporary housing they get a better chance of getting council
    housing, so it rewards bad behaviour!

  2. Interesting. First, our local authority found us a house within seven days of being asked for help on a section 21 eviction. (long story, no arrears).
    @anon LL : As a tenant, I get H Benefit which is now paid direct to my landlord. I far preferred the benefit coming to me because I could BETTER organise my finances to meet both my living costs AND my rent AND all on time.
    I read what you say but PLEASE: do not assume that ALL tenants are incapable of paying their rent on time even if THEY have to organise use of H Ben.

  3. Many renters are now unable to meet their
    soaring housing costs because the rent is rather high! Landlords want to take
    benefits from the rental property that is why they raise the monthly rent and
    make their tenants pay more! They have the legal right to raise it when the
    previous agreement is coming to the end and you need to sing a new one. A
    periodic tenancy may arise either under a lease, or without a lease. Landlords can’t just lock you out, even if
    you are behind on rent. They must get a court judgment first. But even if you have not violated the rental agreement and
    have not been late paying rent, a landlord can usually ask you to move out at
    any time. People should talk to their lawyer or tenant’s organization
    before attempting to withhold or escrow rent, so you can make sure that you
    follow the local law.

  4. This is a disgusting practice by Local Councils that is bad for tenants and landlords alike.

    Clearly GUIDANCE is not enough and we need legislation to force Councils to follow the guidance ( or simply a legal liability to tenants and Landlords legal costs if they do not.

    If Councils want to delay possession they should offer tenants a S21 Legal verification service, pretty much what Shelter does and perhaps Shelter could provide that service for a fee,

    Shelter also needs to name and shame good and bad practice, name the Councils, name their head of housing, name the Councillor responsible.

    If you are a tenant and asked to remain, ask the Council to provide this advice in writing, then write to the head of finance and Leader of the Council (CC your MP.) informing them that you will be holding them legally responsible for not obey what is a legally valid notice to quit their property in accordance with the Housing Act and subsequent law.

    Explain that by remaining in the property the landlord is forced to incur costs which he will ask the Court to hold you responsible for and for which you will seek from the Council.

    Furthermore, this short sighted policy creates a sub class of tenants who are now permanently dependent on social housing because they now have a County Court Judgement, a former Landlord unprepared to offer a reference. Their obligation to service that CCJ means they will be less likely to be able to pay their rent in future.

    It is bad for Landlords because to recoup their losses they put up rents which in turn puts up LHA rates and increases costs to public sector. It also makes Landlord less trustworth of tenants in general and of Councils.

    Why? Because Councils are failing to build enough temporary accommodation. Yet they know our population is increasing, that we have legal immigration from the EU and will at some point be taking on some refugees, so failing to build new accommodation is a failure to plan. Just on domestic population growth they need to double the temporary accomodation due to increases in private rent.

    Shelter needs to put in place a campaign to finally put an end to this,

    1. Announce the Campaign

    2. Write to each Council with FOI to confirm they are following guidance.

    3. Create a page on Shelter Website called S21 Name and Shame, list the good Councils and the shame the bad. Add a comment form encouraging Tenants and landlords to share their experiences while naming and shaming their Council.

    4. Ask MP’s to put an end to this by either passing a bill specifically or one saying that any Council that does not follow Guidance automatically opens itself up for legal liability.

    Come on Shelter, no more excuses, what we need is a CAN DO attitude.

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