Will landlords evict benefit tenants?

Richard Blanco, London Representative for the National Landlords Association (NLA)
Richard Blanco, London Representative for the National Landlords Association (NLA)

London Representative Richard Blanco gives us his thoughts on the latest news regarding evicting tenants on housing benefit.

The National Landlords Association (NLA) announced in December 2013 that half of landlords (52 per cent) say they will not consider letting to tenants on benefits according to its latest landlord survey.

Three years ago 46 per cent of landlords let to tenants on benefits, this has halved to 22% in the latest findings.  To those of us in the business this was not news, but since Sky News broke the news there has been considerable press interest.

Last week Channel 4 News ran a piece on major landlords, Fergus & Judith Wilson’s decision to evict all tenants on housing benefit, presumably by serving no fault section 21 notices.  This scandalous story has brought into sharp focus rent levels, government welfare reforms and the balance of power between tenants and landlords.  Landlords evicting tenants on benefit has become a hot topic.

The government originally estimated that 40,000 households would be affected by total welfare caps introduced in 2013, which limits families to £500 and single people to £350 of work related benefits per week.  The actual figure is lower than expected and last week was revised down to 31,000. Only two of the local authority areas most affected are outside of London, namely Birmingham and Manchester.  In East London where I am based, Tower Hamlets was originally told that 1400 households would be affected but this figure is actually 568, of which 154 are in the private sector.  Neighbouring boroughs like Hackney and Islington report similar figures.  What is startling is that these families face an average shortfall of £78.76 per week or £341 per month.  That quickly mounts up to a serious level of arrears with a tenant who likely has no other source of income.

Local authority officers are making incredible efforts to help.  Housing Options staff have created multi-agency teams with job centres, social services and other colleagues to provide intensive support.

The first option is to try and help tenants get 16 hours work or more as this exempts them from the cap.  They also investigate whether the tenant is eligible for disability related benefits, also exempt, though the application process can take up to six months.  If neither of these options bear fruit, the tenant can bid for a social tenancy (extremely hard to come by in London), look for an affordable private rented sector (PRS) property or stay put until they are lawfully evicted.  The latter will class them as homeless and the local authority will then have a duty to house them, probably in temporary accommodation.

There is a political conscience that paying benefits of more than the national wage is untenable and we all believe those who can work really should try to.  But we should recognise that the system created these scenarios by allowing people to live on high levels of benefit and that many people need a lot of coaching and help to improve their employability. To create such conflict and anxiety in our communities in such a short period of time is brutal.  The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may change its rules in a flash, but tenants need time to change their lives, as do landlords, housing associations and local authorities who are faced with a huge shift.

Arrears in the benefits sector are not new.  They began with the introduction of Local Housing Allowance in 2008 coupled with new rules requiring benefits to be paid directly to the tenant.  This was part of the then Labour government’s responsibility agenda, encouraging tenants to budget and take responsibility for their own income.  Some coped well and with dignity.  More vulnerable tenants struggled and arrears rose sharply.  Universal credit will continue this trend, except payments will be made monthly.  So claimants will receive one lump sum and will need to pay their rent out of it.  If it is capped, there will be a shortfall and the choice will be between food and rent.

So why are landlords deserting the benefits sector?  Of the 1.5 million landlords in the UK, many thousands specialise in this area, providing a valuable resource, particularly in areas with high levels of unemployment.  In the past 12 months, seven out of 10 landlords letting to tenants on benefits have arrears, with more than £3,000 owed to them.  Where rent shortfalls are low, £20 or so per week, some local authorities have offered landlords direct payment as a tenancy sustainment incentive.  But the figures show that in many cases the shortfall is much greater.

However, much of a social conscious my NLA colleagues and many landlords have, we are ultimately running a business and have mortgages and other overheads.  So ending the tenancy may be the only solution.  Typically landlords will have to wait until the bailiffs arrive and face even higher arrears as local authorities, mindful of their own scarce resources,  advise tenants to stay as long as possible.  But eviction must be a last resort and certainly not a policy applied to a whole category of tenants regardless of their payment history.  We need the government to extend discretionary payments to give affected families more time to work through their housing options.  The costly alternative is providing these families with temporary accommodation and that makes absolutely no sense for their welfare or the UK deficit.

3 thoughts on “Will landlords evict benefit tenants?

  1. I’m a landlord with 60 properties which I used to let 90% to people on benefits. This has changed and I no longer let to people on benefits. Why the change substantial rent arrears with tenants mistakenly thinking they would get council houses if they ran up arrears and got evicted. Also a scheme report your landlord to environmental health and go higher up the waiting list for council house which resulted in a lot of deliberate damage to property. As you say I run a business and sadly took the decision no benefits.

  2. I would be happy to let to benefits tenants if they have good references, are prepared to look after the property and have genuine reasons for being on benefits. However I am prevented from doing so by my mortgage lender who stipulates “no housing benefit claimants” as a condition for my mortgage. It seems that this is not at all unusual and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Landlords to get new mortgages that don’t have this condition. It doesn’t appear to matter how small the mortgage is or how well positioned the Landlord is to manage the risk.
    That is where the true scandal is. Discriminatory practices by lenders who tie Landlords’ hands and prevent them from making their own judgements on a case by case basis. It’s time a journalist investigated that.

  3. I am one of those landlords. My tenants are having their LHA reduced as one is now working after 10 years on the dole. However now they are earning they are not paying me the difference. Local authority can’t help. I am now evicting and will never have LHA tenants again.

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