Tagged: landlords

Darlington CAB calls for ‘rip off’ letting agents fees to be scrapped

Darlington Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is warning that ‘rip-off’ letting agent’s fees are causing renters financial problems in the borough.

New evidence uncovered by the charity reveals tenants are frequently charged fees often hidden by letting agents – to the tune of £337 on average nationally.

These charges come on top of advertised rent prices and deposits and in some cases can force people into debt, the charity says.

Nationally in the last year, Citizens Advice has seen around 14,500 cases of client problems with private rented rents and other charges

Most agents charge for checking references, but costs nationally range from as little as £6 to £300, according to the study.

Renters can also be hit by charges ranging from between £15 to £300 for simply renewing their tenancies.

Some agents charged £300 for credit checks that are widely available for £25.

The Still Let Down report advises that letting agents’ fees should be banned to protect tenants in the private rental sector.

Neeraj Sharma, CEO of Darlington Citizens Advice said:

“Some renters in Darlington area are being let down by agencies.

“People are being hit with fees for inventories, credit checks, and tenancy renewals.

“Adding expensive agency fees on top of rents can stretch people’s finances to breaking point.

“If you’re struggling because of letting agent’s fees, then come to Citizens Advice for help as soon as you know there’s a problem.”

Despite an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) requirement being introduced in 2013 that agents should give clear information about fees, this study found that only a third provided full written details.

The requirement will become law later this year which will mean agents have to publish fees on their websites and in their offices.

But Darlington CAB is concerned this will have little impact.

The charity says it does not call for a fees ban in England ‘lightly’, but said alternative measures have not worked.

It adds that if charges are to be made, they should fall on landlords as they are in a better position to shop around and pick the best agency.

A fees ban was introduced in Scotland in 2012 and there is no clear evidence to suggest it has led to an increase in rental prices, the report adds.

Darlington CAB is running a Settled and safe: a renter’s right campaign, calling for better protections for private renters and anybody needing advice can visit the office at Bennett House on Horsemarket.

Source – Northern Echo, 06 Apr 2015

Welfare Reforms Are Main Cause Of Homelessness In England, Study Finds

Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, sanctions and housing benefit cuts are fuelling England’s rapidly worsening homelessness crisis, according to an independent study.

The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has recovered, the study says, and they look likely to increase pressure on vulnerable households for at least the next two years.

London has become the centre of homelessness, the study says, as high rents, housing shortages and welfare cuts force poorer people out of the inner city to cheaper neighbourhoods. Those who lose their homes are increasingly rehoused outside the capital.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said the report revealed the true scale of homelessness in England. “Rising numbers [are] facing the loss of their home at a time when councils are being forced to cut services. This is a desperate state of affairs.”

Official figures show that homelessness is rising – up by 12,000 in 2013-14 continuing an upward trend since 2009-10 – with rough sleeping also on the increase, and soaring numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation.

But the study argues that these official figures underplay the scale and complexity of homelessness in England because they do not capture the hundreds of thousands of people in housing crisis who are given informal help by authorities.

Although latest government statistics show 52,000 households were formally recorded as homeless in 2013-14, a total of 280,000 families were given some sort of assistance by authorities because they were at risk of losing their home.

Local authorities are increasingly using informal homelessness relief to keep at-risk families off the streets by providing financial support and debt advice or by mediating with landlords, none of which appears in the headline statistics.

“Taking these actions into account, we see that the number of cases of people facing or at serious risk of homelessness rose sharply last year. Yet this alarming trend has gone largely unnoticed by politicians or the media,” said the study’s lead author, Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University.

The Homelessness Monitor 2015, an annual independent audit, is published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were misleading. Local authorities had a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets, he said.

This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he said.

Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

The study finds:

  • Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
  • Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.
  • Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The study says millions of people are “hidden homeless”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.

Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.

Source – The Guardian,  04 Feb 2015

More turn to Citizens Advice Bureaus for help with ‘problem landlords’

A “power imbalance” between landlords and tenants has led more households to seek external help to cope in the private rented sector, a Citizens Advice Bureau claims.

In the three months to September 2014, more than 100 people received advice from the Newcastle branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) about problems.

Issues included landlords not repairing leaking roofs, not replacing emergency lighting, the withholding of personal mail and refusals to return deposits.

Nationally, CABs helped people with 14% more repairs and maintenance problems between July and September this year than in the same period in 2013.

The organisation’s latest Advice Trends report lists difficulties getting repairs and maintenance as the most common problem reported, with the charity having helped in almost 17,000 of these issues over the past year.

The study also claims one in three private rented properties in England does not meet the Government’s decent home minimum standard, while renters have few rights and fear eviction. CABs helped with 20% more issues where people are facing eviction without arrears.

Currently, the CAB-backed Tenancies Reform Bill is going through parliament, with a House of Commons debate taking place last month and another set for January 23.

If it becomes law, the bill would prevent so-called ‘retaliatory evictions’, and has been supported by Newcastle MPs Chi Onwurah and Catherine McKinnell.

Shona Alexander, chief executive of Newcastle CAB, said:

“Many people are finding it tough dealing with their landlords in the private rented sector. We are seeing more private tenants coming to us for help.

“People are living in homes which are damp, in need of repair and in some cases dangerous. But they fear that if they ask their landlord to fix problems they may face eviction.

“The power imbalance between private landlords and tenants needs to change. It’s time for private renters’ rights to be brought up to a decent 21st century standard.”

However, the National Landlords Association (NLA), which promotes and protects landlords, argues bringing in new legislation is unnecessary.

Bruce Haagensen, NLA representative in the North East, said:

“Retaliatory eviction, if and where it does happen, is an unacceptable and completely unprofessional response. Tenants should be able to raise issues with their landlords without the fear of losing their home.

“However, the Tenancies Reform or ‘Revenge Evictions’ Bill is a response more to the fear of it happening than widespread experience and the NLA has always been concerned that there is not the weight of evidence to justify the need for additional legislation.

“Following last month’s events it would seem the majority of MPs share these reservations given that so few were present to vote for it.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 Dec 2014

One Million Housing Benefit Claimants Who Are Officially ‘Employed’ Makes A Mockery Of The Fall In Unemployment

the void

housing-benefit-graph The number of people with jobs forced to claim Housing Benefit hit record levels according to the latest figures making a mockery of the so-called fall in unemployment.

The number of in-work Housing Benefit claimants now stands at over 1.049 million, the highest figure on record.  In May 2010, when this Government weren’t elected, the number claiming this benefit was just over 650,000.

Housing Benefit is probably the best indicator of how many people in the UK are poor.  Available to those in or out of work, as well as pensioners, the only criteria are being a tenant on a low income and having low, or no, assets or savings.  Even those with jobs on Housing Benefit will have a disposable income little higher than someone on out of work benefits, as the benefit is reduced as earnings rise*.  All of the Housing Benefit bill goes to landlords, and the…

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More and more North East tenants forced from their homes as possession claims rocket

More and more tenants have been forced from their homes in the North after landlords took steps to take back their properties.

In parts of the region, possession claims have risen to their highest levels in over a decade – with the number rocketing by more than 70% in some areas in just a year.

MPs say they are are “deeply concerned” by the trend, and that for too long, in the face of a rising cost of living, “Generation Rent” has been forgotten.

Many households in the North are really struggling with the cost of living – and one of the most significant issues facing so many families across the region is housing costs, whether they rent or own their home,” said Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, Labour’s shadow economic secretary to the treasury.

The steep increase in the number of tenants losing their homes across the North East is deeply concerning, but unsurprising in the face of rising household bills combined with falling real terms wages, and the prevalence of low-paid, insecure work for those who are in employment.

“Of course, many thousands across the region have been hit by the unfair bedroom tax, leaving many in rent arrears for the first time.

“For too long, those who rent their homes have been forgotten about – and this number is increasing.”

Nationally, the number of claims by private landlords were up 4.1% year on year in 2013/14, while social landlord claims rose 17.8%.

But in Middlesbrough private landlord claims jumped 71.1% – one of the biggest increases in England and Wales – and the number of both private (65) and social (573) landlord claims reached their highest levels since 2002/03.

The number of social landlord claims in Stockton-on-Tees also rose sharply, up 43.9%, from 253 in 2012/13 to 364 in 2013/14, while Northumberland also recorded its highest number of claims in more than a decade at 691.

These figures have been released just over a year since the bedroom tax was implemented,” Kevin Williamson, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said. “We have long warned of the stresses that the bedroom tax is placing people under, and housing associations are working hard to help their tenants.”

A spokesman for Northumberland County Council urged anyone affected by such proceedings to get in touch with their local authority, who may be able to offer support and advice.

Possession proceedings will only be taken by registered landlords as an action of last resort.

“We would urge anyone who finds themselves in a position where they may be in danger of losing their home to contact the council’s housing options team, who can offer advice and support,” he said.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle  11 May 2014