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Cambridge House research reveals critical importance of social housing

Research by Cambridge House and the University of Leicester reveals importance of social housing in protecting the vulnerable 02/12/2015

housing, social housing, housing crisis, cressingham gardens, aylesbury, gentrification, lambeth, southwark, law centre, duty scheme, homelessness

Residents of Cressingham Gardens, Lambeth, gather to protest the demolition of their homes. Photo credit toSusanne Hakuba

New research released by Cambridge House highlights the essential role played by social housing in protecting those who are vulnerable and/or on low incomes from dispossession and homelessness.

Working with Professor Loretta Lees, an international expert in gentrification and urban regeneration, the research set out to examine the reasons for rent arrears among social housing tenants and to understand their experiences and circumstances. The project also investigated how social housing and the law protects those who are ‘vulnerable’ and/or on low incomes.

The report, Why We Can’t Afford to Lose it: Local Authority Housing London Protects the Poor from Homelessness, produced the following key findings:

  • Local authority housing plays an essential role in protecting those who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or physical disability, as well as those on low incomes, from homelessness.
  • Local authority tenants with a secure tenancy are better protected than housing association or private tenants.
  • The Pre-action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords protects both local authority and housing association tenants. Housing associations, unlike local authorities, however, can seek possession of a property using a Ground 8, Section 8 Notice. In this instance if the tenant owes more than 8 weeks rent on the day of the hearing the court has no mandate to intervene.
  • Disproportionately represented among those at risk of eviction in South London are women with dependants and ethnic minorities.
  • Work does not necessarily pay – over two-thirds of those observed defending a possession order were either in full or part time work and yet still struggled to pay their rent.
  • Housing Benefit delays or mistakes are a primary cause of rent arrears.
  • It is not just social housing under threat due to the proposed Housing and Planning Bill, currently Lambeth County Court and funding for legal aid are also at risk and the rolling out of universal credit will see a reduction in many people’s weekly budgets.

The research report also produced the following recommendations for the proposed Housing & Planning Bill currently being considered by a Public Bill Committee:

  • Plans to sell off high value council accommodation to subsidise the right to buy of housing association properties should be scrapped. In the short term the current proposals will increase the financial burden on local authorities and in the long term significantly reduce their capital assets.
  • Greater safeguards should be introduced for private tenants including rent controls, more secure tenancies and greater protection from possession claims.
  • Local authorities must retain affordable planning controls, while welfare reforms need to be reconsidered to protect tenants from forced dispersal and to save money. This should include:
    • A review of the bedroom tax and benefit cap, both notable causes of debt and rent arrears
    • Greater effort should be made to rehouse bedroom tax tenants in properties with fewer bedrooms
    • Discretionary housing payments should be made available to help tenants pay off debts in cases where rent arrears are the result of a housing benefit error
    • Measures should be put in place to stop rent arrears cases owing to a housing benefit error coming to court

Read the full research report here.

For more information, contact Dr Hannah White.

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