Rewarding rogues?

This afternoon Shelter and Crisis are launching Sustain: a longitudinal qualitative research study of people’s wellbeing and outcomes in private rented sector housing. The study spent 19 months tracking the experiences and wellbeing of 128 people who had been rehoused in the private rented sector following a period of homelessness. It found that these people are frequently living in shocking conditions:

  • Every home had a condition problem.
  • The majority of people had to deal with problem landlords.
  • Some people were moved into very cramped, unsuitable accommodation.

By highlighting the problems that many vulnerable renters face Sustain has prompted fresh calls to restrict housing benefit because of a landlord’s behaviour or a property’s condition.

Shelter has concerns that, although well-intentioned, such an approach risks directly and indirectly penalising the most vulnerable renters. Renters would remain legally liable for their rent. Their housing costs would quickly become unaffordable and they would be put at risk of arrears, debt and homelessness through no fault of their own.

Because this proposed policy is directed at the bottom end of the market it may also lead to illegal eviction and worse harassment as rogue landlords attempt to recover unpaid rent.

Restricting housing benefit also risks shrinking the already limited pool of properties which are available to housing benefit claimants. An increasing number of landlords are exiting the Local Housing Allowance Market– according to the most recent National Landlords Association survey just one in five landlords let to people on benefits. The loss of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy is already the leading cause of homelessness. Anything that makes the private rented sector even harder to access should not be encouraged.

However, it is of course vital that we tackle these problems.

Later in the week we will be blogging about the recommendations in Sustain. We have also previously looked in more detail at the alternative ways to punish the unscrupulous rogue landlords that make renters’ lives a misery. There is also scope to look more creatively at rent repayment orders: renters who live in – or have recently left – an unfit property could be able to claim back the rent that they paid.