[Ben Reeve Lewis is back at work ...]
Lovely to have 4 days off from being spat at, threatened and abused – but back to the coal face on Tuesday, leaving the comfort of my crisp linen sheets and loving hugs to be thrown straight back into real life, a group of tenants living for 7 months without gas.
Problem, what problem?
One of them hospitalised with Co2 poisoning, the gas supply condemned while the landlord swears blind there isn’t a problem, but can’t be traced because he uses false addresses and names.
My job is to track him down and ‘Do him’.
The rise in property fraud
Perhaps the biggest change in the PRS I’ve seen in the past few years is a rise in property fraud and scams.
So my TRO role is evolving into something else as time goes by. I’m becoming more Sam Spade than DCI Regan.
The problem with this is the amount of man hours spent just trying to find people or work out why this website has the same address as the other website and why, when you look at the office on Google street view it is a country lane with no buildings and why it is that the landlord’s home address for housing benefit is completely different for each claim.
All of these efforts taking place against the next round of job cuts and being told in no uncertain terms that the spotlight is on you.
Why I bother
I was walking home yesterday, feeling totally unappreciated and wondering why I bothered, when a guy in a parked car wound down his window and called me over.
He said “You don’t remember me do you?”. To which I confessed an absence of knowledge. Everton, for that was his name, reminded me that I had defended him in a harassment/illegal eviction case 2 years ago in court.
The landlord, suitably chastised, had capitulated and settled out of court with a sum that allowed him to open the ‘Peace and Prosperity’ Caribbean take-away that is going great guns and is now supporting his family.
That’s why I bother. I may well not have a job by the end of this year but at least Everton and his family got something out of me turning up in the morning.
Now if I’m concerned about the amount of scammers I have to deal with I was slightly heartened to read that this isn’t the exclusive preserve of my clientele.
Another type of scammer
I read of the strange case of housing association Astonbrook, a registered charity established to provide housing for refugees and asylum seekers who, it transpired were actually a company set up to use public funds for money laundering and fraud
A conservative estimate is £1.8 million but Police reckon it is closer to £6 million.
The company went down in 2009 but it has taken this long to seal the matter up, Mohammed Arwo and his co-conspirators ‘Goin Dahn’ for a very long time.
So Shelter’s infamous Rogue Landlords aren’t confined to people like my death trap gas supply (ignorance is bliss) guy, whatever his name is.
Astonbrook aren’t the first to go this way either. Back in July 2012 (this column is nothing if not bang up to date) inside Housing reported on the boss of Ujima Housing Association being cleared on 3 counts of fraud, forgery and theft to the tune of £3.5 million.
Inspirational housing associations
This is a very unusual development. Speaking as a housing law trainer who gets the opportunity to work inside many housing associations (or Registered Providers – RPs as they are more properly called) I find them quite inspirational and forward thinking.
Much more geared towards an open market way of working than most councils.
Many think of them in the same meme but they are different animals.
As a trainer who works for quite a few of them you can really see a difference. Makes me almost optimistic about their possible role in the future of housing.
A view shared by Nick Temple of Social Enterprise UK writing in the Guardian this week who views RPs as :-
“A powerful lobby, an economic force and a major influence on all kinds of social policy”.
If you have always looked on housing associations as public sector funded bleeding hearts, working in the ‘not for profit’ sector think again. Nick points out:-
“Some £40bn of public money in the form of grants has made it possible for housing associations to lever in £60bn of private finance – creating a £15bn surplus.”
For those of you that might not know, councils are under a tight rein from government and have restrictions on how they borrow money to finance new building projects. RPs don’t have the same restrictions so they are a strange crossbreed of private and public service which seems to work well.
Rent arrears claims
Staying with RPs, there has been quite a bit written recently about some of them announcing that they wont be evicting tenants for arrears of bedroom tax.
But I also read in Inside Housing that following a survey of 73 social landlords, 37 housing associations announced they would use the feared ‘Ground 8’ procedure, previously frowned on by the Housing Corporation, to evict tenants in arrears
Human rights defences, on their way?
Two questions arise here; will judges back their play and will it give a ‘waiting in the wings’ army of housing lawyers a chance to jump in with human rights defences?
Ask any housing association housing officer (my sister and my ex are but 2) and they will tell you that judges are reluctant to issue warrants on breaches of suspended possession orders where a social landlord is involved.
Will they evict if there is a sudden avalanche of possession claims on rent arrears when they are already turning their backs? My sister has a case of an SPO where the tenant has breached terms 26 times but still the judges wont allow a warrant.
Radical District Judges
Will we see DJs voting with their feet? Don’t make the mistake of thinking of district judges as a bunch of irrelevant crusty old geezers, they are a lot younger than you might think and are comprised of very clued-up housing lawyers with clear views on housing land.
You don’t have to wear badges or sell papers in order to protest, and far from being stereotypical right wing establishment figures, most judges I appear in front of are quite reactionary in their own peculiar way.
As for human rights defences, well I don’t have the space to discuss this in depth but I know people who are looking for those cases, so watch this space.
Finally I want to lead you to my favourite article of the week Ricky Tomlinson, AKA Jim ‘My Arse’ Royal, with his take on welfare culture and cuts. You might disagree with the man but you cant argue with his passion or belief in a dying ethos.