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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #96

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis is waiting for his 15 minutes…]

I’m in the middle of being filmed for a BBC documentary on landlords and tenants.

It’s the 5th programme I’ve done in the past year and I’ve ended up on the cutting room floor of all but 1 of them so don’t hold your breath.

The novelty of being housing’s Dale Winton wore off some time ago and I still forget to turn off the bloody radio mic when I go to the toilet.

I cringe when I imagine the looks on the faces in the editing suite as they sit through the results. Not to mention the recorded indiscreet, foul mouthed rantings to colleagues about members of the public who have wound me up during the day.

Of course if I do make it into the final cut you will see me appearing calm, professional and caring. Such is the magic of TV.

Costa del SolOff to sunny Spain

Frazzles and I have booked flights to Spain for a few days in April to attend our friend Yolli’s child’s confirmation down near Marbella.

Yolli is an estate agent down there and she tells us that she has a rental flat on her books. Two bedrooms with shared use of swimming pool and tennis court for 350 Euros a month, fairly standard rent down there.

Phil the cameraman for the BBC lives in Spain and confirms the rents are that low pretty much all over. Oh if only my council would open an office in the Costa del Sol. It’s the place to be with all this universal credit, bedroom tax malarkey we’ve got coming our way this year.

The blood bath moves closer …

Smart tenants on benefits would move to Spain. Not for the first time I found myself this week explaining universal credit to a tenant on benefits who had never even heard of it. People…..its going to be a blood bath.

Homelessness will rise as a result, which is going to be pretty amazing given that in the past 3 years there has been an 800% increase in families placed unlawfully in B&B.

The rise of families in B&Bs …

The Guardian were just one of the many organs reporting on this astronomic rise during a period that by a curious coincidence happens to map the very time the ConDems have been making all the decisions for us. Strange that isn’t it?

  • Wellingborough council have families costing £1,961 per week in hotels,
  • Eastleigh council £1,932 and
  • Dartford spent £21,355 over eight months keeping one family in temporary accommodation
  • Westminster’s B&B bill is a staggering £85,000 a week.

As Jules Birch of Inside Housing said in a tweet on the subject “If govt find these figures unacceptable why are they accepting it?”

The reason why

By law councils cannot turn people away who fit a certain criteria. The 800% rise in families in B&B simply reflects the fact that 800% comprises more people who fit that criteria have approached homelessness units in the past 3 years and those lounging in temporary accommodation longer than usual because rents are way ahead of benefit caps and people have nowhere to go.

You don’t have to be Joe Halewood to work that one out.

Mortgage repossession optimism?

And staying with the excellent Mr Birch, he wrote an interesting piece in Inside Housing this week about the little ripple of optimism being put out there by the Council for Mortgage Lenders press office, about the low rate of mortgage repossessions.

The CML says it is because lenders are working with borrowers in difficulty instead of going for repossession, the number of repossessions falling from 37,000 in 2011 to 33,900 in 2012.
However, Jules points out:-

“that 9 per cent fall in annual repossessions leaves the total not just 31 per cent higher than in 2007 but higher than in any of the eight years before that too.”

He also highlights the fact that although the CML say that mortgage arrears have fallen, the amount of people in serious arrears has risen. It depends where you shine the light doesn’t it?

Barons Finance in the news

While we are talking about mortgage repossessions, Nearly Legal ran two articles this week on disgraced lenders Baron’s Finance, a subject close to my heart as I have had several clients in the past couple of years with these lenders and a couple of tenants this week also running into problems.

Mr Gopee is the director of several companies whose names appear on the Nearly Legal article, all of them claiming to be lending money as agents of Reddy Corporation, whose licence was revoked by the OFT last year for shoddy and unprofessional practices.

In fact all of them are Mr Gopee who operates in my area of South East London and Southend on Sea. Whenever I get involved in his cases it seems to be lending people money at astronomical interest rates as a secured charge so they can clear mortgage arrears to the primary lender. Thus getting a grasp on their homes when they are already at a low ebb.

A license to lend?

Trouble is, none of the companies apart from Reddy had a licence to lend, so any repossession actions they may bring can be blocked.

Good news to the many borrowers who have had the misfortune to do business with them.

The OFT throw their hat into the ring

I read this week that pressure is mounting on the regulation of letting agents with the OFT throwing their hat into the ring. Tessa herself was one of the many who reported this week on the OFT report that found that complaints received from both landlords and tenants about agents are up 26%.

Money Saving Expert also picked out that 4,000 complaints were received mainly about surprise charges lumped on after the contracts had been signed.  The OFT’s elaborately named Cavendish Elithorn said:-

“Our findings show that tenants and landlords are often dissatisfied with their agents, but we also know that most agents want to do the right thing.”

The OFT are calling for the following:-

  • Ensuring there’s better upfront information for both tenants and landlords, with fees clearly set out
  • Setting up a regulator so landlords and tenants can sort out problems
  • Ensuring there’s more consistency in the practices used by letting agents, such as the information used for pre-tenancy checks
  • Agreeing how to punish agents who break the rules
  • Making it easier for landlords and tenants to assess quality, such as by bringing in a recognised logo
  • Creating guides to help consumers know their rights
  • Setting up a national strategy for the industry.

People like me and Tessa, as well as many letting agents and agent accreditation bodies have been calling for this for years now but government still refuse to listen.

Maybe they will listen to the OFT.

Lets all go to Peterborough

Finally the BBC reported on Kensington & Chelsea council’s plan to build homes for it’s residents in Peterborough, because they can’t afford to rent in the home borough.

The plan is to buy land there and build in partnership with homes going to Peterborough and K&C tenants.  An outraged MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson said:-

“It’s about getting rid of people they don’t want in their borough, who are on benefits, who they have a responsibility for – to house – who are statutorily homeless.”

Stewart what are you saying?

Maybe K&C could buy some land near Marbella. I know some people, we could come to an arrangement

Costa del sol picture

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4 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #96

  1. The 800% increase relates to the time before the homelessness suitability etc order came into effect (about 3 months ago).
    Councils can now discharge their duty onto the private sector so there should be no requirement for them to use B&B’s
    – provided they can persuade enough private landlords. The money saved on B&B’s would act as a big incentive.

  2. HBW councils have been allowed to discharge their duty to the homeless with accommodation in the PRS since February 1997 and have been doing so whenever they can. The problem is, presented with a ready supply of people who cant buy, PRS landlords have abandoned benefit tenants. Are you suggesting that more public money be used to line the pockets of private landlords?
    PRS landlords complain about councils being underwritten by tax payers money but they dont seem to have a moral problem if that public money goes to them.

  3. “HBW councils have been allowed to discharge their duty to the homeless with accommodation in the PRS since February 1997 and have been doing so whenever they can.”

    As you know Ben, up until November last year, tenants could refuse PRS accommodation and insist on being housed by the council. Now they can’t. Instead of spending £1000+ per week on B&B’s, councils can offer a private tenancy, if the tenants refuse, it’s job done.

    Which brings us to your next comment-

    “Are you suggesting that more public money be used to line the pockets of private landlords?”


    Far better for all concerned (except the B&B owners) to spend the money on incentivising private landlords to take on benefit tenants.

    In Wellingborough, Eastleigh and Dartford, 4 bed houses are offered for rent at £1000 per month. That is what councils have been paying a week for B&B’s.

    Offering double the rent would probably do the trick.

    More subtle methods would be 12 months rent up front, cast iron council guarantors, direct payments, landlord 24hr hot helpline, rent guarantee/legal insurance etc etc. Even pay the council workers a grand overtime to go round to landlords on bended knee and rebuild some of those bridges they’ve spent the last 20 years burning.

  4. “up until November last year, tenants could refuse PRS accommodation and insist on being housed by the council. Now they can’t. Instead of spending £1000+ per week on B&B’s, councils can offer a private tenancy, if the tenants refuse, it’s job done.”

    And then what HB? where do they go? Remember the offer must be affordable. Should they all then sleep on the street when it is as you say “Job done”?

    As for your last paragraph though, I heartily agree…..and more so. I’ve been banging on about councils coming out from behind those town hall walls for years. If councils learned to partner up with landlords it would be far more cost effective than just throwing cash at the problem.



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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