[Ben Reeve Lewis is glad to be back...]
After over two years writing Newsround it has become so much part of my routine that I actually missed writing it these past two weeks, like not brushing your teeth.
I even emailed Tessa on New Years day and asked expectantly if she wanted to run one that week.
“No” she said…..and so I sat twiddling my thumbs [you need to get out more ...Ed].
But at least there is a wealth of material to trawl through for the first edition of 2014 – and first out of the traps is a bit of an inside story that nobody seems to have picked up on.
Remember you read it here first.
Money for Councils with a plan
Back in summer 2013 Mark Prisk – remember him? He was housing minister for a short while before having to fall on his sword for being a chocolate teapot – announced that he would set aside £3 million funding for any councils who wanted to be creative with initiatives to tackle Shelter’s famed ‘Rogue Landlords’ .
Loads of us came up with plans and 23 councils won funding.
My lot got £125,000 for my ‘target the bad ones you know and leave the rest alone’ idea. Some got less than £100,000, one or two got a bit more but the average was between £100,000 and £200,000, fair enough, you can do a lot with that.
The announcement of the awards was published on the 27th December and the big surprise was that the fund had been increased to £4 million without explanation and Newham council won just over £1m of it.
That’s around 10 x what everyone else got.
Curious huh? Especially given that Newham already have a scheme in place that is a year old and generating several million pounds on it’s own. So why the favouritism?
I honestly have no idea but it is clear that the Newham approach appeals to the CLG, so will downward pressure be gradually applied on local authorities to change their intended schemes to be more like Newham’s? Only time will tell but I smell a rat.
Redress schemes for agents
Towards the tail end of last year the government was making noises about introducing Changes to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act that would require all letting agents to register with a redress scheme of their choice by October 2014.
I’m finding it difficult to find any more up to date and definitive information but it’s an interesting move.
I wonder though about the real effectiveness here. Trawling around in the interests of research I found several stories of dodgy agents coming a cropper at the hands of Police, Trading Standards, Environmental Health but nothing about actual “Redress” from the accreditation body.
For instance, reported on Letting Agent Today last year I read of Keith Ranson, the manager of a large chain agents who nicked £210,177 of tenant’s deposits with his accomplice and co-director Melanie Cairns.
He was jailed for two years and quite rightly so but when asked for a comment, the agent’s accreditation body NALS evidently didn’t.
Seeking redress, an example – and what happened
My only run in with seeking redress was helping a client complain that her agent had taken 6 month’s rent in advance (French national so no references) and when she moved in there was no electricity supply and the landlord was aggressive and threatening.
The agent refused to refund her money.
I would name the accreditation body but, sloppy journalism I know, I actually can’t remember which one it was.
However several weeks later she got a letter from the redress scheme saying that unfortunately the agents involved had repeatedly failed to answer emails and letters or respond to phone calls so there was nothing further they could do.
So there’s the get-out then. You can be as dodgy as you like, ignore all correspondence from the scheme and they in turn will ignore you.
So, government’s new plans? Spin 10 – expectations 2
Bulgarians and Romanians
You cant have missed this one. On the 1st January citizens of these two countries have the same rights to live, work and claim support as other EEA nationals.
For month’s the press was in hysteria about a flood of economic migrants and several of the major newspapers actually had photographs of Heathrow’s empty arrival halls on New Year’s day.
Whether you are ‘For ‘em or agin ‘em’ as Walter Brennan would have said, did anyone in their right mind imagine that as the clock struck midnight planes would be disgorging thousands of benefit hungry ne’er do wells, through the ‘Anything to declare’ aisles?
The fact is nobody can calculate how many will come.
The right wing press reckon that there will be so many flooding in to claim benefits that we will all be forced to teeter on the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover because there wont be any floor space left to stand on in the whole of the UK.
The left wing press who ran most of the daft empty arrivals hall photographs would have us believe that there will be 5 of them.
The fact is however many of them do come it will be a gradual thing.
A friend who helped out at Crisis for Christmas giving out housing advice told me he met several already here that day and seeking housing, but over a week into the New Year I have to say that out of the 500 recorded souls who go through our homelessness unit every week we haven’t seen a single one looking even for advice.
What we are seeing is increasing numbers of people going homeless because of the benefit cap introduced a few months ago.
A fact not lost on Mr Fergus Wilson of Kent, a large portfolio landlord with 1,000 properties, who has issued eviction notices on 200 of his benefit dependant tenants as reported in the Daily Mirror and elsewhere [including this blog - Ed].
Wilson pulls the plug on benefit tenants
Mr Wilson astutely observes that the problem is that:
“Rents have gone north and benefit levels have gone south.”
“The gap is such that I have taken the decision to withdraw from taking tenants on housing benefit. From what I can gather just about all other landlords have done the same.”
In a rare meeting of minds the NLA’s Richard Lambert concurred with Shelter’s Roger Harding, the former of whom saying:
“What we have seen over the last three years in particular as the welfare reform agenda has progressed is landlords have become increasingly concerned about the risk of taking on tenants who are reliant on benefit,”
While the latter said:
“It is very worrying. If this policy continues over the long term, we will see blackspots in the country where people on housing benefit simply cannot find anywhere reasonable.
And I’m not having a pop at Mr Wilson here at all. I totally understand his reasoning. The benefit cap means people in my borough are regularly £200 – £300 a week short of the rent now, and no, you didn’t misread that, I do mean a week not a month or a year.
Mr Wilson has another plan though, which is to rent the properties currently being occupied by benefit tenants to East Europeans of whom he says pragmatically:
“We’ve found them to be a good category of tenant who don’t default on the rent. With tenants on benefits the number of defaulters outnumbers the ones who pay on time.”
So there you have my prediction for 2014.
Vast swathes of Kent will turn into the Steppes and the humble Kentish Cobnuts and cider apples will be pushed Cuckoo-like from the once proud nest to be replaced as the county’s culinary favourite by Borscht which will appear on the menu’s of the Nell Gwynne Tearooms dotted about the area.
People of Kent? Welcome your new neighbours with the cry “Allo darling. When you’ve finished unpacking come round and I’ll pop the Samovar on”
See ya next week.