Tenants of private landlords should be given new rights to stay in their home as long as they please as well as guarantees that their rent will not increase above inflation, a think tank has argued.
Civitas said that a new regulatory regime is needed in the private rental sector to prevent landlords exploiting the shortage of homes to choose from at the expense of both tenants and taxpayers.
The growing private rented sector is expected to account for more than one third of the UK’s housing stock by 2032 and, at present, two-fifths (40 per cent) of private tenants’ incomes are typically taken up by their rent.
An increasing lack of affordability in the sector is being reflected in an increasing housing benefit bill for taxpayers, the report said.
The number of private renters needing housing benefit to meet their costs has more than doubled in the past decade, from 722,000 in 2003/4 to 1.7 million in 2013/14. This figure is forecast to reach 1.85 million in 2018/19, according to the Future of Private Renting report.
The document also said that the amount of housing benefit rent subsidies claimed in the private rented sector has more than doubled in real terms over the last 10 years, from £3.9bn in 2003/4 to £9.5bn in 2013/14, and is set to top £10bn in 2018/19.
The report said that while these sums are vital for growing numbers of low-income households with little choice but to rent privately, they are also creating a “vicious circle” by helping to prop up the rent inflation that they are meant to alleviate.
In areas with very high numbers of claimants, this could give landlords the opportunity to set their rents at artificially high levels, in line with the local housing allowance, the report said.
The report argued that the private sector should be required to offer indefinite tenancies “as the norm”. And once an initial rent has been agreed, index-linked ceilings on rent rises would give renters the security they need, it argued.
Daniel Bentley, author of the report, said:
“As private renting grows it is important to ensure that it offers a fair deal to those who have little choice but to rely on it.
“This vicious circle will only worsen as the private rented sector comes to represent an ever-larger proportion of the housing market and more and more tenants have to fall back on housing benefit.”
Civitas said that exceptions to rent ceilings could be made in cases where a property has genuinely been improved.
Landlords who buy new-build homes would also be exempted from the regulatory regime, but they would be encouraged to enter similar voluntary agreements.
The report said that at present, the vast majority of landlords invest in existing homes rather than new-build, with this added competition for homes helping to push up prices and crowd out first-time buyers.
Mr Bentley said new regulations would not necessarily spell an exodus of private landlords, “many of whom have invested to capitalise on rising house prices and are influenced in their investment decisions by a much broader range of factors”.
He said: “Future landlord investment must be nudged towards new-build rather than being encouraged to buy up existing owner-occupied homes.”
Source – Northern Echo, 02 Jan 2015
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
A welfare team has been praised for helping tenants claim £2m in benefits and grants.
Financial advice from Derwentside Homes’ Welfare Rights Team has helped tenants access more than £2m in unclaimed benefits and grants.
Residents struggling to cope with changes to the welfare system, including the introduction of the bedroom tax, have been getting advice and support from Derwentside Homes’ Welfare Rights Team, set up in 2011.
Since it was established, the team has helped 869 tenants to claim an average of £2,314.54 in additional benefits.
Together, these previously unclaimed benefits now add up to £2,011,335.
The team provides a complete package of financial support – including helping people claim benefits they are entitled to but unaware of, applying for discretionary housing payments and appealing against benefits decisions.
Derwentside Homes’ Head of Housing Services Shelagh McGinn, said: “The Welfare Rights Team does a fantastic job helping our tenants to cope with the impact government’s changes to the benefits system which can leave many people confused and unsure of what they are entitled to claim.
“The fact we have now helped our tenants to access £2m in unclaimed benefits is a significant milestone and is testament to the hard work and commitment of the team.
“Our advice is targeted at tenants most at risk of falling into financial difficulty.”
Derwentside’s Welfare Rights Team can be contacted on 01207-521100, freephone 0800-783-9295 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Source – Northern Echo, 01 Aug 2014
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
Newcastle City Council is considering “re-designating” whole tower blocks of two-bedroom flats as one-bedroom properties – because tenants can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.
Two thirds of council housing tenants are currently behind on their rent, double the number before the bedroom tax was introduced.
The impact of the bedroom tax on families across the city was revealed by Coun Joyce McCarty, deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, when she spoke to MPs. Coun McCarty was giving evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an inquiry into how changes to the welfare system have affected housing.
New rules introduced by the Government mean housing benefit is cut for claimants in social housing who are considered to have a spare room. The policy has been dubbed a ‘bedroom tax’ by critics, while ministers say they are ending a ‘spare-room subsidy’.
Coun McCarty said 5,500 households in the city were hit by the policy. And others who weren’t currently affected were desperate to avoid it, even if that meant turning down the offer of a two-bedroom property.
She told MPs: “Because previously people wanted space, we actually pulled down one bedroom flats not that long ago. We are thinking of re-designating complete tower blocks of two bedroom flats as one bedroom flats, because people can’t afford them.”
This would allow tenants to avoid having their housing benefit cut, but it would also mean the council lost money, she said.
“The impact of doing that is huge because that’s a loss of rental income as well.”
“We’ve got lots [of properties] that people don’t want to move in to . . . couples and individuals don’t want to move in to there because they know they’d have to pay additional costs.”
Newcastle had been particularly affected by the change to housing benefit because 23% of residents live in social housing, compared to a national average of just10%, she said.
Your Homes Newcastle, who manage council homes on behalf of the council, visited tenants to make sure they were claiming everything they were entitled to.
“At the moment 66% of our tenants are in arrears, which is double what it would have been before April, so that can be allocated to be the bedroom tax,” Coun McCarty added. “There are about 139 currently pending facing eviction since the bedroom tax was introduced.”
But the council was working with all the tenants involved to try to keep them in their homes, she said. In theory, tenants could move into smaller properties. However, those properties were not available.
“We have 3,500 people wanting to have one bedroom properties now, but each year we probably have 800 free so it will take us several years to reallocate those people.”
Your Homes Newcastle said it was considering re-designating a further 1,200 properties, but could not specify which blocks. Neil Scott, director of tenancy services said: “Newcastle has an unusually large proportion of accommodation in high rise properties. We currently manage 44 blocks over six storeys. The vast majority of properties in these blocks are two bedroom. We have 2,594 two bedroom flats in high rise properties, and 80 of those are available for let.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Jan 2014