Paradise or was it?
The weekend before writing this article I was on a beach in Barbados, (see pic) having an, in my opinion, well earned, or at least much needed holiday meeting the in-laws.
Five days after being back at work I thought I had dreamt it.
So far away did it seem from the moment my feet hit the ground, which saw me traipsing around in three different slums, where a landlord had removed a skylight to let the rain in as well as removed the gas meter for the 11 occupants, dealing with an illegally evicted 64 year old carer who had been forced to sleep on the sofa, of her 70 year old Dementia patient, and endure the wrath of an irritable judge, who nearly caused me to lose my cool for the first time.
All in the first week back.
A system in meltdown?
Also catching up on legal developments that had been going on while I was away, I got a distinct impression of the meltdown in the housing system.
Peeling the plastic off of the latest copy of Legal Action magazine on day 1 read an excellent piece by Sue James from Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre, who runs the county court duty desk on possession cases.
She talks of a possession case from her routine day of a woman accompanied by a psychiatric nurse, facing eviction from social housing for a welfare benefits problem that was unlikely to be defendable due to rules on courts discretion.
She points out:-
“Without access to early legal advice or benefits advice (both removed from legal aid by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) its near impossible.
Following this, Sue talks of the meltdown in courts, saying:-
“As I travelled back to the office, I reflected on the word ‘Crisis’ as it didn’t seem anywhere near sufficient.
Or was it just that in the 6 years since LASPO we’ve become almost numb to it? So, while sitting on the bus, I looked up the alternatives to the word crisis and found; catastrophe, calamity, cataclysm, emergency, disaster – and that seemed much more like it”.
On Friday I was assisting a client to claim the penalty for non-protection of the deposit, 7 months after making the application.
As we all took our seats, myself, tenant, landlord and Safer Renting’s new Intern, the judge exploded like an angry headmaster.
“Do any of you know why you are here?”
I was momentarily taken aback, as I thought he was actually asking a real question on the reasons our bums were on the seats, before pointing, through gritted teeth, to the piles of paperwork before us and the fact that all parties were present but it turned out that the court office had not given him a single document, which he seemed to decide was our fault.
I gave him our copies and he huffed and puffed, told us to leave the room for 10 minutes whilst he boned up, before calling us back in and making a quick judgment on a routine matter.
I have written of unhelpful and bad-tempered DJs before but as he seemed to soften towards the end I got the impression that his real ire was actually for the court system he was being wrongfooted by and probably not for the first time.
Somewhere in there on my return week, I read this piece about rent levels rising again as a result of the Tenant Fees Act.
The much-predicted possibility that landlords would raise rents, in order to recover from increased fees being charged by agents.
This depressing information provided by David Cox of ARLA who said:-
“As predicted, last month’s findings have shown an increase in rent prices in advance of the Tenant Fees Act coming into force. This rise in the number of tenants experiencing rent hikes is the highest we’ve ever had recorded, and rents will likely continue to rise”.
Yet another slice of misery for private tenants but with a knock on effect that ARLA probably don’t predict, when read next to another case I flew back into, that of Samuels v. Birmingham CC .
Samuels v. Birmingham CC .
This is a serious homelessness issue on how caseworkers should be measuring the affordability of accommodation when investigating a homelessness application.
A decision of such importance that it was covered in many places on the web, perhaps most clearly for nonspecialists here .
The upshot being, that a person must be taken on as a homeless case if the accommodation they are occupying is unaffordable.
The Samuels case concentrated on how caseworkers make the calculation.
With benefit rates and delays wreaking havoc across the land, ARLA’s news that the Tenant Fees Act is pushing up rents to new highs will likely also knock on to rent arrears and, as per Samuels, an increase in homelessness applications, causing not only misery for the families but also tipping homelessness services further over the brink at a cost to everyone contributing to the public purse.
Who suffers most?
Mainly this is going to hit tenants in areas of high demand and highest rents and also those on benefits, who landlords aren’t allowed to discriminate against, remember.
Related to these findings is the March 2019 report by the Local Government Association that also fell on my desk as my tan and will to live rapidly withered, revealing the lay of the land 1 year after the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act on the 3rd April 2018.
Some of the highlights:-
- 61% of Councils have seen an increase in families placed in temporary accommodation.
- 78% of councils put this down directly to the Homelessness Reduction Act.
- 83% of councils report an increase in homeless applications over the past year.
- 92% of councils cite unaffordability of PRS accommodation and welfare reform affecting their ability to meet people’s needs.
That’s a snapshot of part of the picture.
Courts are in meltdown due to closures and legal aid deserts mean many people facing housing problems are left without qualified representation, even if they qualify for legal aid. Rents are rising again and new rules on measuring affordability are going to make more people officially homeless on grounds of affordability than they were a couple of weeks ago.
92% of councils, even before Samuels, considered rent levels and welfare reform to be a massive part of the homelessness crisis.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
Probably none, in a parliament destroyed by Brexit and Johnson and Hunt squabbling in the mud over power, with no grasp on the housing crisis at all, let alone any interest in addressing it.
As one wag also wrote this week, in I think the Indy,
“Being asked if you want Johnson or Hunt as prime minister, is like being asked if you would prefer a punch in the face or a kick in the nuts”.
Now…… How much is a ticket back to Barbados I wonder?