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Ben Reeve Lewis’s Friday Newsround #21

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis  is in rant mode again  …]

Last week’s readers will be aware that I was ill when writing. Things haven’t improved much. I still feel like I am living life behind a blanket, and when I wake up I feel like I have been run over by a velvet steamroller, but I am coping.

I went to see the doctor who checked everything I had (apart from ‘Down-There’, which is off limits to all but Mrs Reeve-Lewis). And this 12 year old told me that she couldn’t find anything wrong with me she had 2 suggestions:-

  • I was suffering from a general bug doing the rounds;
  • I wasn’t getting any younger.

Cheeky bloody mare. I don’t pay my taxes to be talked to like this. Andrew Lansley and David Cameron should cook up a plan to dismantle the nonsense that is the NHS…………………….oh!!!!!…..too late…..they already have!

Yes you guessed it……….. I’m back in rant mode this week.

Rant mode again

The riots were such big news last week that they have spilled over to this week too, even though my chances of getting a Blu-ray player for nowt have now been significantly reduced. Honestly, the youth of today….no staying power.

carribean-scubabear68An introduction to Caribbean, inter-island politics.

Frazzy, as regular readers will know, is from Barbados-by way of Deptford – but still inter-island snobbery runs through her veins. Last week you will recall me recommending a clip of a woman in Hackney berating rioters. She saw it and commended the woman’s spirit but condemned her language, saying a Bajan would have been more eloquent.

Two day’s later she emailed me at work and said she showed the clip to her mum and that she actually knew the woman from back in the day and lo and behold she was Bajan and wasn’t it great that it took a Bajan to tell it like it is……….Her hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Evicting rioters

Much talk has dominated the press about the government’s support for council’s evicting rioter’s families where they have been found to be involved in the riots.

Grant ShappsNearly Legal came up with a fantastic description of our illustrious housing minister Grant Shapps “a housing minister whose knee is never knowingly un-jerked”…nice one Giles.

Wandsworth council were first out of the traps after the rabbit, completely oblivious to things like ‘due legal process’ or ‘Human rights legislation’ or even the word ‘Sensible’. Where chief exec Ravi Govindia announced they would be the first to take the lead.

clown-talkevNow our Ravi must have half an eye on Boris’s resignation as he seriously jumped the gun to look like Robin Hood meets George Orwell, wonderfully highlighted by William Flack in his blog where he likened Ravi’s antics to that of a clown

Don’t get me wrong, I was as depressed and incensed by last week’s events as the next man and I do think something should be done about it, but as a housing professional I can see the sheer daftness in the approach to this. The law as it stands doesn’t allow for what is being proposed and any changes to the law to simplify things are getting into monkeys and typewriters territory.

The Localism Bill is coming to get you

As if people in local authorities like me, haven’t got enough on their plates with the impending localism bill. A piece of legislation that is moving faster than a Lewis Hamilton Grand Prix and with as much insight as a Jordan biography……hey! Let’s all meet up in the rubble and have a party!

Housing benefit, again

Meanwhile housing benefit cuts are still having a 180 degree effect from the intention to drive down rents.

Today I attended a meeting at work in which the head of housing benefit revealed that HB claims have dropped over 2,000 in the last few months. In our terms this is akin to what the poor people in a tsunami experience when they suddenly see the tide rush out before it comes back in with a bang.

There seems to be 2 possible reasons for this:

  • Not so many people are becoming landlords
  • Landlords are moving away from housing benefit tenants.

My money is on the latter, which has been predicted by so many organisations and polls.

What intrigued me and dragged my attention away from the actual subject of the meeting (a very easy thing to do in council meetings, trust me) was the thought that, if the latter is indeed true, where are all those people going?

Where are all the HB tenants going?

London has around 30 local authorities. If all 30 are experiencing the same as us, that is 60,000 people going somewhere else. Be realistic, and cut it by 50%, to take into account leafier boroughs like Richmond, Bromley etc. and that still gives you 30,000 people, even by conservative estimates. Where are they going?

And we aren’t talking a year here, just the last few months. So what are the real figures?

When HB cuts were announced one MP likened the possible effect to be akin to the Highland Clearances of the 18thcentury. It would appear that his prediction in London alone may be proving true, just halfway through 2011.

A landlords market

Some of you may follow me on twitter. Today, while I was considering the subject for my newsround blog I received a tweet from someone who told me that their experience was that 8 out of 10 properties were gone within 24 hours of applying for them and that their last prospective landlord didn’t want to rent to them because they had been made unemployed through cancer. The presumption being that work and even life were too uncertain to invest in.

Right now we live in a landlord’s market. There are so many tenants chasing properties that the landlord can call the shots. It’s just business. Supply and demand. I understand that.

But why does our renting system exist in a see-saw metaphor where one party can only be up when the other is down? The old Rent Act restrictions tipped it the other way and the result was that people didn’t get into landlord-ing and as a result homelessness went up. I’m not calling for a return to that.

Why does it have to be this way?

A report this week (sorry Tessa, can’t find the link) found that 30% of people spend more than 50% of their income on rent. I know so many people doing 2 and even 3 jobs just to stand still. This may seem like a boom time for landlords but for tenants it is bloody awful and depressing too.

Even social housing rent levels are getting raised under a scheme that is laughingly known as “Affordable rents”. A survey carried out in Newham shows that social housing tenants have to be earning over £43,384 per annum to be able to afford rents without housing benefit support.  [See also this old post on the blog about affordable rents not being affordable – Ed]

I’ll bet a lot of landlords reading this article don’t even earn that.

Bursting bubbles

Rent levels can only go so far before it becomes unsustainable and the bubble bursts. When that happens property investors may well find themselves not being able to pay their investment mortgages.

Landlords and tenants live and die together, that’s the nature of the business. Boom and bust applies to both parties.

The rental business can generate a good income, a regular income but when landlords try to turn it into a fast income they run the risk of killing the golden goose. I can really see this coming because, as my doctor pointed out, I am old enough to have been here many times.

Ben Reeve Lewis

Follow Ben on twitterBen has started Home Saving Expert, to share his secrets to defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties and catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.

Caribbean picture by scubabear68, clown picture buy talkev

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6 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis’s Friday Newsround #21

  1. Hello Ben! The old chestnut of Housing Benefit vs Private Tenants who can afford to pay. When will this country realise that, unlike in George Orwell’s 1999, we are not all equal?

    I worry for LHA claimants for the following reasons:
    1. One rental price does not fit all flats/houses/rooms
    2. LHA levels don’t remain static and seem to vary depending on whether the council are having a good month
    3. There is a prohibitive lack of information surrounding payments regardless whether you are the tenant (CUSTOMER! Councils take note) or a landlord (SUPPLIER!). Councils, you are the bit in the middle that facilitates this operation and should do so in a helpful manner. Your customer’s roof over their head is as important as your custard cream at tea break.

    Here is a case in point: Despite my sixth sense telling me that my tenant was about to abandon the property and my confronting him, he abandoned the property but not before claiming LHA which I completed the forms for. Lo and behold, his claim is processed and he received rent payments on a property he no longer lived in.

    Being the honest, good citizen I claim to be I contacted Housing Benefit (as decreed by them under Change of Circumstances) to let them know what had happened. Did I get an email acknowledging my deed? Did I heck, so I contact the boss of Housing Benefit to vent my indignation. Nothing. I know they blinking well got it as they sent more letters to the long gone tenant presumably confirming status.

    In short, the Government Housing bods should stop blaming private landlords for being greedy (I know many that are but market forces can sort that out) and look at their own internal processes which make Housing Benefit claimants an unattractive option to private landlords.

    Rant over, pulse back to normal, head still banging against a brick wall.

  2. Haha good to hear from you as ever ‘S’.

    I couldnt agree more. We have an up and coming landlords day. I attended the recent meeting (having missed all the early ones)and I am losing the will to live to be honest. I dont see much change in the usual attitudes, which depresses the hell out of me.

    We (council) need you guys but nobody seems to be able to see it from your perspective. ‘Whats in it for me?’, isnt a dirty phrase, we have to understand landlord’s needs if we are to build.

    As to your points. LHA rates are set by central government, not us I’m afraid and I totally agree with your idea about councils being the facilitators.

    For a while back there I foolishly thought I could make a difference as an agent myself but rejected the idea.

    I think a landlord wants 2 things; their rent paid on time and for the tenant to not smash the place up.

    A tenant also wants 2 things, to be allowed to live in peace and for their repairs to be done when they report them.

    I think an agent’s job is to make that happen, and if councils are going to become those agents, that is the job. Not rocket science is it?

    But councils have to make the perceptual shift and realise that landlords are part of the solution, not a bunch of sharks who we dont entertain because they are ‘Entrepeneurs’. I was hopeful about the future in this respect until my last meeting, but I aint giving up just yet.

    My views are influenced by the wonderful people in councils who, like me, are burning to make a difference, there are load sof us but maybe I am underestimating the influence of traditional council culture.

    My advice to you? Find the people in your council who are tuned in, who know what’s what and deal with them, ognore the ‘Yes Minister’ brigade

  3. Pleeease come and work for our council! You’d get Employee of the Month in next to no time and show them how it’s all done.

    It’s kind of you to refer to landlords as entrepreneurs (ranking alongside the greats such as Richard Branson, Einstein, Duncan Bannatyne and Bill Gates) but we’re really just a bunch of number crunchers who don’t know how to invest in stocks and shares!

    I am making progress on my “Practical Guide to Running an HMO” blog and will be ready to publicise it in the next month.

  4. Thats good news, I think it will make an entertaining read.

    I appreciate your problems with HB too. Nice people as individuals but it is a cultural thing. They wont talk to landlords because they arent the claimant.

    I’ll let you into a TRO secret. 80% of threatened illegal evictions are caused by rent arrears, preciptated by housing benefit problems. The tenant doesnt answer the phone to the landlord and HB wont tell the landlord anything about the claim when they call them. So I find out what is happening with HB, which is often a claim held up simply awaiting further documents and tell the landlord. Threatened eviction gets called off, job done. A usually exhausted landlord thanks me for just telling them.

    Its not all kicking doors in as a TRO, but being someone from the council who actually talks to the landlords – shock horror haha

  5. That is an amazing and believable statistic!

    Thanks for the offer to look at the blog. I’m building the information online but as I have computer dyslexia, I have been somewhat challenged on the technology so I’ve finally made friends with WordPress. You will be my first visitors and I would greatly receive any feedback of any kind.



About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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