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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #58

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis REALLY IS Ben Reeve Lewis, folks  ..]

Regular readers will know I am a practising Buddhist. That doesn’t explain the shaven head unfortunately, which is simply a fashion response to male pattern baldness.

I’m a bit of a crap one as well to be honest. Although I meditate and attend my local temple, even go on meditation retreats from time to time I still drink alcohol and several times a week when considering my dinner, putting it bluntly, something just has to die for my pleasure.

Not that Buddhism forbids it you understand, I just live with the consequences, which is as it should be for a good follower of the Dharma, no value judgements just self-responsibility.

Dalai LamaSo I was chuffed to hear the Dalai lama interviewed on radio 4 this week. (Several friends call me the Dalai Lager, for obvious reasons).

He is very hot on transparency and is regularly criticised by his political entourage for discussing big affairs of state with cleaners, or anyone who happens to be near him while he is wondering about things and needs a listening ear.

I tend towards the indiscreet myself, which is why I use my real name as a blogger and twitterer, I think pseudonyms are for Pussycats, don’t say anything you aren’t prepared to stand by is my motto.

Transparency and freedom

Transparency is a big thing these days in governance too. Councils are being bombarded with Freedom of Information Requests asking us everything from what we are spending money on to what our plans are for the homeless.

I was intrigued to read in Landlord Today that Yorkshire letting agents Linley & Simpson had compiled their own research based on responses to FOI requests they had lodged with several local councils. (I can’t tell you how much FOIs ‘P**s everybody off in a council office. We are busy enough without having to fill in questions rigged to make you look like you aren’t doing your job.)

What the FOI request revealed was that in their area complaints about landlords, agents and bad properties were up tenfold on what they were a decade ago.

Interesting figures but what astonished me was Linley & Simpson’s explanation for this:-

“This trend is in part down to the increasingly litigious society in which we live, and in part down to the increasing burden of red tape associated with being a landlord”. Said director Will Linley.

So, nothing to do with unregulated agents or criminal landlords flooding a captive market then? Or amateur buy to let landlords creating chaos without even knowing about the laws that govern their source of income?

Its all down to council bureaucrats and barrack room lawyer-tenants making life a misery for a bunch of saints. Quite a biased analysis methinks.

Also at odds with Shelter’s rogue landlord campaign who accuse councils of not prosecuting enough. You can’t have it both ways.

Safe Agent and accreditation – who do they protect?

SAFEagent logoTo be fair the article does urge landlords and tenants to only sign with properly regulated agents, preferably those signed up to ‘Safe-Agent’ but bear in mind Safe Agent protects the landlord’s money.

As I understand it, and I am prepared to be corrected, there is nothing in it for a tenant, other than perhaps the reassurance that the agent is at least trying to be professional.

It can also be difficult for anyone to understand what any of the accreditation bodies actually means in practice.

Today I was checking out an agent I hadn’t heard of so far and saw on their website, the National Landlords Association logo proudly displayed but when I did a bit of digging, the badge turned out to simply be a free advert for the NLA posing as a badge of accreditation. There’s some pretty slippery customers out there.

My missus, the very wonderful Frazzy Cox is a freelance travel agent and she advises me that although everyone has heard of ABTA and ATOL, accreditation for travel agents their role isn’t to automatically reimburse traveller’s costs if a company goes down, it actually only indemnifies travel companies, not the traveller who lost their dream holiday. It depends a lot on how the holiday was booked.

A bit misleading eh? Prior to having my own flight booker just an arms length away on the settee I had booked holidays with ABTA agents thinking I was safe, come what may.

Using the Police

Surprise read of the week was the news on Property 118 that Plus Dane Housing Association in Liverpool is training Police to issue eviction warnings to troublesome tenants.

Nicola Andrews of Plus Dane said:-

“Every police officer should have a copy of partner housing providers tenancy agreements in their back pockets”

I’m sure they’ll love that. I can’t even get my regular Gavvers (old London term) to stop helping landlords illegally evict people, let alone provide doorstep housing advice.

They say god loves an optimist, but the Buddha would say optimism and pessimism are both delusional states of mind, reflecting a childish grasp of reality….so now you know.

Financial limits for housing

Now if you have an in-depth understanding of how housing works as a whole you would have spotted the really important news this week.

The announcement reported in the Telegraph that Hammersmith and Fulham council, have grasped the new legislation nettle firmly in their un-gloved hands and stated that from now on couples in their council housing will only be offered properties or be allowed to stay if their combined income does not exceed £40,000.

You may remember a few months back the government suggested anyone earning more than £100,000 should be excluded from social housing. This wasn’t a rule, only a ball-park figure but I am surprised at how low H&F have gone on this

Having spent several years living in Somerset I can confirm that £20,000 each is a fairly decent wage down there, given local rents but in London, its on the very poor side of low-average.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually against a limit, just pointing out another hard fact.

Renter Girl advised me in a tweet that they have this system in the USA for a while and the article also points out that only 500 new social lettings come on the market for them each year with 10,000 people on their waiting list.

I suppose that our notion of what constitutes social housing has to change. I even agree with H&F head of Housing Andrew Johnson when he said:-

“Council housing can be a great safety net to help people get back on their feet – but it should be a springboard not a destination”.

I would love it to still be regarded as a destination but we aren’t in that world any more. I do have reservations however, about how it will incentivise people to do well when he says:-

“The current system does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home ownership”.

As I say, £40,000 wont allow anyone to buy in London. Renting too is cripplingly expensive and I remember, when they piloted this way of working in New South Wales, Shelter, who had monitored the scheme found that it actually dis-incentivised aspiration, with people deliberately not taking that job or promotion for fear that in bettering themselves they would lose their home.

In setting the bar at £40,000, H&F are displaying all the misguided optimism of a 78 year old Limbo dancer.

The social housing death rattle

On a serious note, what this week’s announcement marks is the real death rattle of social housing as a safe, affordable, decent home for ALL. H&F aren’t to blame for this, the causes are many and numerous and have been wearing it down for several years now.

My parents generation, the war babies, grew up in a culture where Social housing had a role that no longer exists. I remember many, many people in the 1980s who refused to buy their council flat because they believed in that ethos of a safe affordable home for all.

Ladies and gentleman, doff your hats please for the death of social housing as a dream.

It happened this week, while everyone was busy watching Pudsey being hailed as the best our culture can aspire to.

Ben Reeve Lewis

Follow Ben on twitterBen’s runs Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties, 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.

Picture : the Dalai Lama

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2 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #58

  1. And the income cap in USA’s social housing ie ‘the projects’ has created ‘gehttoes.’ You hear about them in rap music, like Chicago’s Cabrini Green. Once you’re in, you’re stuck either on low wages, or forced to move if your wage increases.



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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