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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #109

[Ben Reeve Lewis is on his own for a week and has started thinking about cheese Ben on a chair]

I’m bereft.

Regular readers will know that my long suffering partner Frazzles works in travel.  Accordingly she gets freebies that the rest of us can only dream of.

All right for some

As a council worker my freebies are the odd folder or felt tip pen from the stationary cupboard.

She gets a free week in the Cayman Islands, courtesy of resort contractors keen that she recommends them to her corporate clients.

Caymen fishHave a nice day at the office darling …

I dropped her off at Heathrow this morning, with a fixed, resentful smile on my face and an oh-so-sincere “Have a nice time Darling”, before heading back to spend the coming week being spat at, threatened, sworn at and abused by landlords and tenants alike.

Landlords, because I am advising them of the inconvenient legal requirements which are incumbent upon them, that I didn’t invent, which will cause them to jump through hoops that they resent and don’t feel should apply to them because they have a ‘special’ exemption to law.

Tenants because they don’t understand why they can miss rent payments and clog up the property with condensation inspired mould and still be allowed to complain that the landlord is harassing them just for politely requesting that the problem be sorted.

Its a grim world

Welcome to my world…… and….. as you will have guessed…… I’m in no mood for pleasantries.

Earlier this week I attended a conference on homelessness prevention. One delegate grabbed the microphone and suggested that rather than councils and advice agencies posting advice information in libraries and council offices, the best place to do so would be pawn shops and pubs.

Getting advice down the pub

I actually thought this was a good idea. On a practical level I have to say that none of my clients who are the worst strapped for cash hang out in libraries.

Their meagre possessions are being sold to Cash Converters, in order to meet rent payments and payday loan companies happy to act as parasites off of the people in most need.

If any assistance is to be given surely it needs to be available in places where they actually hang out.

I make no value judgement against them for going to Cash Converters; it’s just how it is. If you are terrified that you can’t afford your rent, Keats isn’t much of a comfort.

My seat neighbour thought this an outrageous and demeaning presumption. I can only take it that he thought the first refuge for a person who can’t afford this week’s rent would be Herman Melville or Samuel Becket, rather than Wonga.

The Ministry of

General political arguments this week have centred around corruption and the lobbyist system, but let’s not forget last year’s revelation that Cameron adviser, Jonathon Luff was seconded out to be a lobbyist for Wonga.

So it would seem that Wonga is now officially a government department.

One of the most oft reported housing stories this week, that came up again and again was the notion that high PRS rents are damaging economic recovery.

Where do all the low paid employees live?

Sure, private tenants will complain about it but when those on the other side of the fence start making noises you have to listen don’t you?

I remember last year, the confederation for small business making a case that they found it difficult to recruit and retain staff in London who couldn’t afford to live there. The same issue resurfaced this week.

ARLA ran a piece about it  saying that 78% of local employers found housing costs a barrier to recruitment and retention and 70% reporting:

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing through building would stimulate the local economy, bringing more business into the area.”

Gill Payne of the national Housing Federation said:

“Businesses are finding it tough to attract workers and expand because many people can’t buy a home or would struggle to pay high rents.

If things don’t change, employers will simply move – potentially out of the country – taking away desperately needed jobs.”

LA bulk purchase in the PRS?

I was surprised this week to hear that Labour have few plans to reverse benefit cuts set in place by the coalition and wonder where they are going with this. However inside Housing surprised me even further with news that 6 labour councils, including my employers, have proposed plans to Labour for a system whereby:

A Labour government would encourage councils to strike bulk purchasing deals with private landlords to cut the housing benefit bill.

Interesting stuff.

Chief exec of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said:-

‘Labour is absolutely right that to reduce the need for housing benefit we need to build more homes that people can afford.

But we can’t limit the amount of help people need to meet their rising housing costs before those homes are available or housing costs begin to fall. Labour is in danger of putting the cart before the horse.’

So I confess to being a bit confused. How is this going to happen?

The end of the party

On the other end of these initiatives of course is what is happening while people are coming up with great ideas about sticking up posters in the local pawn shop; homelessness continues to rise.

I am really sorry to be the person who stops the party here but us frontline workers are like barometers. Beneath the statistics, the flim flam, the spin and the grand plans we see the people affected by all the bullshit.

24 Dash point out that;

“The last two years has seen a 23% rise in statutory homelessness acceptances, while in the last three years there has been a 34% increase.

In the financial year 2012/13, 55,300 households were in temporary accommodation, including 4,500 living in B&Bs, and one in four became homeless because their tenancy in the private rented sector ended.

In London there has been a 16% increase in homelessness over the last year.

Surprise, surprise!  Benefit cuts = homelessness.  Who would have thought it?

The Crisis report finds:-

“This rising tide of homelessness is a direct result of cuts to housing benefit with more to come yet at a time when there is a chronic lack of affordable housing and rents are rising,”

But hey…….let not get caught up with this trivia, and let’s jump on the bandwagon and talk about it never being a better time to be a landlord and of a buoyant lettings market.

Just one of those weeks

I told you I was in no mood for pleasantries. It’s one of those weeks. While Frazzy is tickling 10,000 stingrays on Little Cayman, I’m dealing with suicidal people …….. I’m thinking of resigning.

Honestly. For the first time I am getting sick of all the lies and the bullshit. Maybe I’ll open a cheese shop ………………… and no I’m not joking.

With all the cuts going on 2013 is set to be a cataclysm.

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4 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #109

  1. We’re seeing it already Penny. Benefit cap starts July in my borough and landlords already discontinuing tenancies and new landlords refusing to sign anyone on benefits up. Some of my clients over £200 a week down

  2. Ben, a genuine question for you: Do you think along the same lines as Shelter – that a landlord in the PRS has a duty to house the poor or homeless?

    A very London-centric article once again, although in your defence you do live and work there so it is to be expected. I doubt the effects of the cuts will be amywhere near as severe outside the capital where rents are lower.

  3. Yeah I make no apologies for being London-Centric Jamie, as you say I live and work here – its what I know. And you are right, the London market is a weird bubble, just as you cant compare New York to the rest of the states but 12 million people live here and if 1 in 4 people rent privately that’s a sizeable amount of people and their families being affected.

    Nope I dont agree that private landlords should be responsible for housing the homeless. It’s a daft proposition. As daft as expecting PRS landlords to be immigration officers.

    I wasnt aware that this is what Shelter are saying.

    What frustrates the hell out of me is seeing landlords willing to help councils out, only to meet a brick wall when they hit a problem and need a bit of help and advice. Councils are their own worst enemies half the time.

    I know I could run my advice service as a private concern and provide a service for landlords and tenants alike whilst turning a profit. In house, all you will get is bureaucracy and procedures.



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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