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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newround #140

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis is going to Gleneagles ...]

I’m going to Gleneagles this weekend.

Frazzy, who runs her own business travel consultancy franchise has won an award and the ceremony is at the infamous hotel, all expenses paid by her travel concern….but only for one, not two.

So while she swans it with a tiara on her head and Michelin star food I am staying at a local B&B, having dinner in the bar in Gleneagles (Pizza £9.85) and finding a way to gatecrash the event so I can see my baby get the award she has coveted and struggled towards for 5 years.

Plan A at the time of writing is for her to give me her entry pass and text me just before she goes up for the award so I can walk in like I’m part of the event and get the snaps for the family album.

If that doesn’t work it’s Plan B and I’ll do that ceiling-wire entry like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

Mission impossible

I was a bit irked this week reading posts on a couple of landlord forums that turned into some quite ill-informed rants against councils, so I thought I would kick off with a nice bit of government red tape bollocks that would amuse you as well as providing an insight into the kind of nonsense us council bods have to deal with each day that government impose upon us.

In case you didn’t know, tenants claiming housing benefit can get a top up from a thing called Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). The official guidance notes for council officers  making the assessment published last year by central government say it can be granted using two determining criteria, “Further Financial Assistance” and “Housing Costs”.

So far so simple.

The guidance notes are helpfully divided up into sub headings in the form of questions, so the first thing you look for is the definition of ‘Further financial assistance’. The guidance says:-

“There is no definition of the term ‘Further financial assistance’ in law”.

Helpful then. So what does the guidance say about ‘Housing Costs?:-

“Housing costs are not defined in the regulations”.

Great. So the way a council officer calculates a tenant’s eligibility for DHP is based on two things that don’t exist.

George Orwell couldn’t have written better.

Before any council bashers out there stick the boot in bear in mind that by and large we just implement the crap that Westminster gives us.

Disappearing kitchens

Where to go for a bit of cheery sanity? Planet Property  an old favourite of mine who this week gave us the alarming news that kitchens are disappearing from London’s shoe box homes as people’s eating and cooking habits change.

Estate Agents Marsh & Parsons have been noting the fact that their clients are prioritising living space above kitchens. Director Charles Holland commenting:-

“Londoners today are increasingly following in the footsteps of New Yorkers, preferring to eat out and meet friends in a restaurant than host dinner parties. As such, kitchen size is no longer as important to many young professional buyers, and is often at the bottom of the pile in property wish lists”.

Personally I think this says more about Marsh & Parsons customers than real people.

London may be going through a massive gentrification process as the poor get pushed out to the country but for the vast majority of the capital’s 12 million inhabitants a shared meal is more Domino Pizza than a night out with Heston Blumethal.

Speaking as an obsessive home cook who even makes his own tomato ketchup (yes I am that sad) I think it has more to do with Lidl’s and Aldi’s value microwave meals than a preference for haute cuisine.

The people I know don’t choose homes for living space but for places they can afford without being made homeless. A nice kitchen is simply a bonus.

Slanderous boards

Being a housing bod I tend to notice things like estate agents boards. I point them out to Frazzy on the drive into work and pronounce from the passenger seat with an accusing finger, “Crook!……money laundering!…….that one is going bankrupt!……the boss of that one has just come out of nick!…..drug dealer!”.

That’s my world I’m afraid. I meet with cops and revenue protection officers all week, we swap information, I know their backgrounds.

So I wasn’t surprised to read on Rat & Mouse that mysterious boards have been springing up in gardens around Islington and Stoke Newington saying “Estate agents, everyone hates you”.

Even to my jaded eye that’s a bit harsh. I know some great ones as well as the crooks but it is a measure of how little trust people have for the industry.

Beware of the suits

I know that most of you wince at the word “Regulation” but lack of regulation coupled to a burgeoning market has brought an army of criminals and nutters forward that I just didn’t see when I first started in this business.

Personally, and I am being perfectly serious here, I think it’s the suits.

I spent a very short while of my life as a letting agent. At the induction course, for which we were all instructed to wear suits, we were told how important they were to convey a professional veneer.

I offered up a personal opinion that everyone I knew thought suits were a sign that a person definitely shouldn’t be trusted. Several others nodded their agreement.

The experienced letting agent running the seminar looked absolutely gobsmacked. This thought had never once occurred to him, that there may be a completely alternative perception of it by customers.

He rejected our hypothesis but two months later I had the chance to reject his when he was prosecuted for money laundering and theft of tenant’s deposits to float his dodgy concern only very narrowly avoiding a prison term from a judge who was obviously a regular at the restaurant the guy owned.

I rest my case and sit typing this in a my standard Hawaiian shirt, jeans and Adidas classics, an outfit I regularly appear in front of judges with without them batting an eye-lid.

As Groucho Marx once said “If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”

Universal credit? What universal credit?

Finally Inside Housing informed us of stuff I already knew, that the benefit claiming public have no idea what is about to befall them  in terms of universal Credit.

An NLA survey found that only 10% know what it is and how it will affect them.

I regularly train tenants and of the 20 souls in the room I am lucky if I get 2 who have even heard of it.  When I explain, they look horrified.

NLA chair Carolyn Uphill said:-

‘If tenants don’t fully understand what universal credit is or haven’t even heard of it, more and more landlords will lose confidence that letting to this market is financially viable, especially with the high demand and availability from other types of tenants.’

I couldn’t agree more Carolyn. So where are these people going to go? To the homelessness unit of the council, or “Dahn the ‘omeless’ as they say in London, where we all will be paying through our tax and council tax.

They don’t disappear, we just pay for it in a different way.

I totally understand why landlords would reject people in this position and I don’t expect any of them to be charities.  The problem lies with IDS and his rubbish universal credit project.

The article goes on to quote the buffoon saying:-

“The roll out of universal credit may miss its 2017 deadline. “

No shit Sherlock?!?!?! ……It aint gonna happen is it? The whole thing is falling apart and I’ll be the first person to laugh my arse off….or ‘LMFAO’ as they say on Facebook.

See ya next week, after I’ve gate-crashed Gleneagles.



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4 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newround #140

  1. That is a bit of selective quoting Ben. It is purposely written vaguely to allow council officers to define it as they wish, within reason.

    The fuller quote goes on to say-

    “Housing costs are not defined in the regulations and this gives you a
    broad discretion to interpret the term.
    In general, housing costs means
    rental liability; however, housing costs can be interpreted more widely to
    include:

    • rent in advance
    • deposits
    • other lump sum costs associated with a housing need such as removal
    costs.”

    It goes on to say-

    “Who administers DHPs is entirely up to you.”

    It is quite a broad remit.

    So if we go back to the ill informed rants that I’m presuming irked you (they did me too), about councils advising non-paying tenants to stay in properties.

    Councils, theoretically, could pay off a tenants arrears with a DHP and arrange for future direct LHA payments to the landlord.

    But they don’t, they routinely advise tenants to wait for a possession order instead- which is self defeating in the long run.

    Before anyone sticks the boot in saying DHP is not an endless pot, see this;

    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/millions-of-pounds-still-available-in-housing-fund

    “New figures show that half way through the financial year, 70% of councils have committed to pay out less than half of their total Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) allocation to their residents.”

    Why is that? (genuine question)

    On the one occasion I have enquired about DHP, the council adamantly denied such a thing existed. Surely councils aren’t routinely gatekeeping funds that could prevent the need for gatekeeping?

    Re Gleneagles. There is only one reason anyone goes there voluntarily. Are you a closet golfer?

  2. CLOSET GOLFER????? I’ve never been so insulted in my life haha

    Selective quoting? Of course it is, I havent got space to print out the entire notes and part of my remit here is to entertain as well as inform. I’m like the BBC in that respect.

    DHP has all us council types spitting feathers as well HBW especially when you work in homelessness.

    Often the fund is administered by housing benefit teams themselves and I agree, you would think it was their own personal money sometimes. It’s on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis too, so any money left in the pot come end of March tells government you dont need it, so less is given next year.

    I know some authorities where the entire DHP budget is given to the homelessness units to prevent homelessness through topping up shortfalls or clearing arrears, an eminently sensible solution.

    To my mind THAT is the solution. Give the DHP to the frontline services that need to use it, not rely on unsupported applications going up to the finance department on a wing and a prayer whose main remit is to count beans, not keep people out of B&B.

    Closet golfer indeed!!!!!!!!!

  3. ON letting agents :

    “Being a housing bod I tend to notice things like estate agents boards. I point them out to Frazzy on the drive into work and pronounce from the passenger seat with an accusing finger, “Crook!……”

    I have just found out a letting agent, has re-let my property without informing me. Two letting agencies have this practice.

    I feel angry, because they are trying to protect their commissions (in case they the landlord will change the agency or sell up).

    I feel I have lost control of my property, the letting agency are treating it like is theirs.

  4. Sounds like a legal breach there Bob, although I’m not sure what you could do about it.

    The explosion in demand for rental properties coupled by a complete lack of regulation has brought more agents onto the market looking to make a fast buck.

    In my area I have seen new firms double. Almost every day I see new boards I hadn’t seen before and their practices vary from amateur incompetence to outright criminality. Several are currently being investigated by my new team and they are connected to more than just property matters, trust me.

    There is just so much money to be made when you ignore the laws and tenants don’t know what they can and cant demand.

    Keep your eyes out for an upcoming Channel 4 news piece on a letting agent in my area




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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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