Homelessness – Landlords are not the enemy

The NLA’s own Steve Kirkwood discusses the latest in the homelessness debate

Oft-cited statistics about the cause of homelessness seek to pin the blame on landlords.

With the possibility of new legislation to tackle homelessness being announced in this month’s Queen Speech, meaningful reforms need to be made that engage landlords rather than making them a scapegoat.

Where are we now?

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 29 per cent of people accepted as homeless in England cite the main cause as the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy.

However, this headline percentage that gets trotted out at regular intervals to bemoan the ability of landlords to regain possession of their property for legitimate reasons is an oversimplification of a more complex situation.

In total numbers, the ending of a tenancy was the cause for homelessness for 15,420 people in 2014. In 2004, this number was 16,820. It reached a low of 4,580 in 2009 but has steadily been on the rise since. Plausibly, this is down to LHA rates not keeping up with market rents, among other factors.

In those ten years the number of households in the private rented sector (PRS) has more than doubled from under 2million in 2004 to over 4million in 2014. In that time, the number of owner-occupier households has slightly declined and those in the social housing sector have remained relatively stable.

The PRS has grown steadily and picked up the slack from the other housing sectors. The lack of new social housing stock has led to local authorities discharging their homelessness duties through use of private landlords, but the squeeze on housing benefits and the rise in rent arrears is leading to landlords becoming unwilling to take part in the process.

The NLA is supporting calls by Crisis, the Centre for Social Justice, and others for the Government to enact meaningful reforms in order to tackle homelessness.

Extend Council Duties

A report launched this week by the charity Crisis recommends:

  • Extending the definition of threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days
  • Amending legislation so councils accept Section 21 notices as valid evidence that a person is threatened with homelessness

These changes would allow councils to respond to the threat of homelessness at a much earlier point, allowing for a greater chance of success in mediating with private landlords, assisting with rent arrears and debt management.

Importantly, forcing councils to accept a Section 21 notice as evidence of impending homelessness would stop the current practice of councils encouraging tenants to remain in the property until the bailiffs turn up to evict.

This advice leads to tenants accruing further rent arrears, making them more susceptible to becoming homeless while forcing landlords through a lengthy and costly court process that undermines their confidence in letting their property to vulnerable tenants.

The NLA has been pushing for Ministers to change this but despite a letter from the Housing Minister to all councils in England, the practice is still continuing. Legislative action is what is needed to fix this now, and we support Crisis in this call.

Confidence is Key

In order to utilise the PRS to tackle homelessness, landlords need confidence in the system. Being dragged through a lengthy and uncertain court battle to try and regain possession of a property, or receive rent owed, undermines this confidence.

We’ve previously talked about access schemes that alleviate some of the risks that landlords face in renting to vulnerable households, but there are other changes that can be made to off-set risks and increase confidence.

Universal Credit

Last week, the Resolution Foundation published a report on Universal Credit. The role out of UC across the country is having disastrous effects for landlords in terms of rent arrears. Despite continued pressure, the Government is still reluctant to extend the sharing of information with landlords and ease the transition to direct payment.

The report agrees with the NLA that this current process is not sensible, and change is desperately needed to cut down on rent arrears face by many landlords.

That being said, as long as UC rates continue to restrict access to just the very bottom of the market , and fail to at least reflect market rents, only a minority of landlords will be willing or able to engage with vulnerable groups.

Section 8

The Centre for Social Justice recently published a report on the housing sector in the UK. One of the main recommendations, which the NLA supports, is the wholesale reform of Section 8.

We want the process to be made fairer and more efficient, starting the extension of online application. As the CSJ report recommends, it should be brought into line with the Section 21 process so that where there is a clear breach of contract on the part of the tenant, for which the landlord can provide documentary evidence, a decision can be made without the landlord being dragged through a long and costly court case.

Such a change would not only lower the risk for landlords letting to previously homeless people, or those in receipt of benefits, but would also provide landlords with the confidence to offer longer tenancies (where possible).

Reforms are needed in the PRS to improve it – but in order to ensure that tenants receive a better service; these reforms should engage landlords and not unnecessarily punish them.

6 thoughts on “Homelessness – Landlords are not the enemy

  1. We the responsible may need to ask the NLA to take action.
    In the past the NLA has proven to have the contacts and the wherewithal to represent us in a forceful but correct manner.
    We the smaller landlords are being penalised in many ways, whereas the bigger and richer friends of the Government are not.

  2. Perhaps the government should ask why good landlords issue section 21’s and 8’s. If the tenant doesn’t pay the rent (however they receive the money), then they receive a notice to quit. If they damage the property they get a notice to quit. I like good tenants and see no reason for them to quit, unless I intend to sell the property.

  3. Landlords put their own money into a property and pay taxes to rent it out. If a tenant does not look after the property or does pay the rent, then why shouldn’t a landlord be able to get rid of them. Many landlords are having to pay mortgages on their own property in addition to the property they are letting out. We are not doing this as some kind of extension to the social housing problem caused by the governments offloading of housing stock and flooding our country with immigrants needing housing. We are private investors who have already paid tax on the money at source and pay tax on everything including rental income. We take all the risks.

  4. As a long standing private landlord I have had a very good success rate with tenants receiving housing benefit. I look after my properties and treat my tenants with respect and in return my rent is paid to me mostly without a any problems.

    Unfortunately there has been a problem with one tenant recently that is proving to be a disaster and I am having to rethink my future strategy for renting to Universal credit tenants and wether the risk is worth it.

    Here is a brief summary of my situation. For 3 years I have been receiving the agreed rental payment from the council and a small top up from the tenant. It was always regular and on time, however 5 months ago the rent was stopped by the council with a letter telling me that my tenant’s situation was being reviewed and housing benefit would be temporarily stopped. I called and emailed the council but they refused to discuss the case with me but said they were waiting for further evidence from my tenant regarding her part time job. After 5 months they are still reviewing her case and they have sent small interim payments to me in order to try to keep me quiet.

    My tenant has told me that she has supplied the council with everything that they asked for but they are still not happy to reinstate her rent and pay me the arrears that have built up.

    Although she has been an excellent tenant I am now forced to issue her with a section 21 and start the process of taking her to court and eventually have her removed from my property. She will then be considered a homeless statistic and no doubt the landlord will be blamed.

    For this situation to improve, Councils need to work much closer to responsible landlords and to speed up the checking up process with the tenants. They then should look at ways of compensating landlords who have ofter made huge losses whilst the lengthy ” accelerated process ” soldiers on to the bitter end.
    If improvements are not made quickly then I will definitely stop taking in Universal credit tenants and will only go for reliable and more lucrative private tenants.

  5. It is a FACT that most of the 138000 evictions carried out last year were for RENT ARREARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Good LL don’t evict GOOD tenants for no reason!!!!!!!!!
    It should be the case that as soon as a S21 is issued that the LL should be able to achieve repossession WITHOUT any requirement to attend court
    However I believe this should ONLY apply in cases of alleged rent arrears
    If rent arrears cause a S 21 to be enforced then the tenant should be removed by police the day following the expiry of the S 21 2 month notice period.
    Personally I refuse to have ANYTHING to do with HB tenants because of the system; NOT the fact that they are HB tenants
    HB tenants are as much a victim of the ridiculous existing eviction laws as LL are!!!
    I have had to evict 5 tenants; ALL because of vast rent arrears.
    How I avoided BANKRUPTCY I will never know!!!!!???
    The eviction system is fundamentally flawed and despite being meant to protect tenants actually does the opposite as it discourages LL from taking on HB tenants.
    UC is another impediment for LL to take on HB tenants
    The HB element is a big issue as well.

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