[Ben Reeve Lewis to his surprise, finds a few good things in the Localism Bill ... ]
I’m looking into my crystal ball this week.
Despite being called ‘Landlord Law Blog’ I know that Tessa’s readers aren’t just landlords. It is read by tenants, lawyers, housing advisers, estate agents, homeless teams and a whole host of others.
So I am going to stretch my readers a bit this week by dragging most of you into unfamiliar territory….Homelessness, and a prediction or two.
How homelessness will affect YOU
Don’t hit the delete button just yet, I mean where homelessness is going to sit in the great scheme of things for landlords, tenants, lawyers and everyone else in the very near future.
It will affect everyone in the housing community, in both good and bad ways, depending on your viewpoint or vested interests.
What prompted this was a press release that came my way from the government’s communities website on Wednesday.
Changes they are a commin’
It’s a heads up for homelessness units around the country to get used to the new changes that are going to be ushered in with the Localism bill, that last week had it’s second reading and whose introduction is immanent.
It’s no secret, it has been widely reported but what slightly amazes me is the way homelessness units I know don’t seem to be preparing for it.
How it works
A short lesson. A person goes to a homelessness unit for assistance. Commonly they think they are going to get a council house…..If I could laugh like Brian Blessed at this point I would.
The homelessness unit investigate their case and if all is well they are owed a housing duty. Nowadays the council will offer to set them up with a private landlord because all the council houses have been sold off on the right to buy. But, if the person turns it down they can hang on for social housing, which might mean sitting in temporary accommodation for a couple of years until one comes up. Its called a ‘Qualifying offer’.
What the Localism Bill is ushering in is the eradication of the qualifying offer. So the new scenario will be, person goes homeless, council offer a private rental, person turns it down, council say duty discharged, your own your own.
A logical step?
Now as I mentioned above, depending on your perspective or vested interests you may think this is either long overdue or a living outrage.
For my part it just seems a logical solution for councils who don’t have properties anyway.
What does this mean to you?
Well it means that council’s are going to need more private rentals in order to be able to discharge their statutory duties. They will also have to do something that is for most of them a completely alien activity, building relationships and doing deals with the private sector.
To be fair some ground breaking authorities have already picked up the baton on that.
Landlords will have a ready market of tenants and may find it better to go to them rather than through accommodation agents, who in many areas don’t have the best reputations…..particularly my area.
Lets R Us – coming to a Council near you …
I know some people in homelessness units who have already clocked this and are looking to start their own agencies through which they can work to improve property conditions and security by having a comprehensive in-house approach.
Lets face it, what high street agent can boast a team of environmental health officers, housing advisers, grants teams, tenant finding service and hot line to housing benefit? Maybe this is the way forward. If the government continues to refuse to regulate agents council’s could step in.
If you shout loudly enough they’ll understand …
In areas where the council don’t go down this road, local agents will be able to provide a service. However, Public sector and private sector need to learn each other’s language.
Any agent thinking this might be a good idea to get in on needs to be mindful of the idea that councils are traditionally very risk averse organisations, they ‘re not natural entrepreneurs.
Orchard Shipman have already twigged to this and are making inroads as agent of choice for many councils, because they understand the needs of the culture.
Better for tenants?
Tenants? The response to the new laws may just help improve conditions if council’s insist on specific safeguards, which they will do (remember they are risk averse) because under the new law they must ensure that a property they are offering is suitable. For instance electricity safety certificates aren’t mandatory but most council procurement schemes that I know insist on them.
Also the Localism bill will require properties to be let for a minimum of 12 months, so hopefully tenants will have to move less and communities can build.
Much as it galls me to admit it, this particular part of the Localism Bill and the possible reactions to it, which are being discussed in councils up and down the land might just improve things in the private rental sector if council’s get their acts together.
Losers and lawyers
The losers will be homelessness applicants who go through the system expecting council housing but that hardly happens anyway, so what are they really losing apart from unrealistic expectations?.
And what about the lawyers? What do they get out of it? At the moment they can earn money challenging the council’s decisions but when legal aid cuts come in that will go.
Where will the affordable properties come from?
But I have a major concern. If rents remain high, and they show no signs of dropping, and housing benefit is taking a dive, how are these offers of accommodation going to be affordable for the tenants?
If they aren’t affordable they wont be reasonable so cant be offered. The glitch in the system perhaps. [Bear in mind also that affordable probably isn't really affordable anyway - Ed]
Housing benefit changes to be challenged in court
But that might get fixed too. Some of you may have heard that the Child Poverty action Group is taking the government to court to challenge the lawfulness of certain changes to Housing Benefit
If they are successful they might have to climb down.
If they don’t then I am concerned by the National Landlord’s Association survey this week that shows 58% of landlords moving away from housing benefit tenants because of restrictions.
That’s the problem with the present system. None of it quite fits together.