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‘I, Daniel Blake’ – Not So Far From The Reality – Safer Renting Blog

Safer Renting works to tackle criminal landlords and support their victims across London. The Project Director Roz Spencer, as seen on Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords, has over 30 years experience working with private sector and social housing in London. This blog follows her experiences working with some of the most vulnerable tenants in London.

Ken Loach, I Daniel Blake, housing, eviction, illegal landlord, private sector housing, illegal eviction, shelter, rogue landlord, roz spencer, Cambridge House, safer Renting,

Ken Loach, director of ‘I, Daniel Blake’, has been highly critical of recent welfare reforms and efforts to tackle the housing crisis. Photo via Wikipedia.

Ken Loach’s new Palme D’Or winning film, I, Daniel Blake hit our cinemas on Friday. The film follows a 59-year old carpenter navigating a hostile welfare system to claim sickness benefit and a single mother who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel, with her family is forced to relocate to a residence 300 miles away. I have high hopes for it to make the case to government about the dire state we’re in, both in housing and on welfare – governments are unfortunately slow to see the imperative for change until popular culture sets out the case.

My experiences this last week suggests things in the London private rented sector are bleaker than even I supposed. Two of our clients in Waltham Forest could have provided material for Loach’s film. Both rely on housing benefit for their housing costs; both occupy single rooms in poor quality houses in multiple occupation; and both are being obliged to move because – quite rightly – the landlords are being forced to undertake major works to bring the properties up to standard. Both of these clients have strong and understandable reasons to remain in Waltham Forest. Mr M is 57 years old and unable to work because of a spinal condition – he has lived in the area for decades and, without any direct family for support, relies on his network of friends and acquaintances in the area to get by. Mr H works long and irregular hours in low paid employment in neighbouring Stratford. Neither can find a room in a house that they can afford, or indeed where the landlord will consider them – many landlords will disregard tenants on housing benefit immediately.

The phrase “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” doesn’t quite capture the desperation of both of these men’s situation. Both will have to make compromises on where they might move to – we’ll be working with them  to advise on where best to search and what scams to avoid; meanwhile, we’ll defend their legal right to stay in their homes until their landlords either end the tenancies properly – a right the landlords were trying to deny them – or offer them an acceptable out of court compensation settlement.

I take some cheer in the news that government are proposing a new national minimum space standard for a (bed)room as 6.5 m2 – you can fit a single bed in a room that size. I am concerned, though, that this is to become the default standard to accommodate a grown person and everything they own; this smacks of a new generation of dispossessed – and these are the folk who have got a home.

However, it has to be said that we can enforce minimum standards like these  to our hearts’ content, but low paid people can’t even afford a room of their own with shared facilities in the current market. The skyrocketing of rents and drop in the value of housing benefit in real terms means if you are poor and you need to rent a room, any room, regardless of decency – pack your bags, get on your bike, in Waltham Forest (and pretty much everywhere else) there’s no room at the Inn…

On that note, I do hope our Housing Minister and the Minister of State for Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions can take time out from their busy schedule to go to the cinema this week. Maybe they’ll realise just how serious this situation is.

Buying a House Takes More Than Hard Work and Willpower – Contrary to Government Belief

Alice Belotti speaking at Cambridge House's Housing Conference, May 2016

Alice Belotti speaking at Cambridge House’s ‘Can We Afford To Lose Council Housing?’ conference in May 2016

Home repossession, evictions, and homelessness are on the rise. At the same time, the lack of decent, affordable, and stable accommodation causes huge strains in people’s lives. But what will the government’s ‘landmark’ Housing and Planning Act 2016 do to tackle these problems?

The housing crisis we are experiencing is made up of three interlinked components: a lack of supply where there is more demand; soaring rents and housing prices; and unaffordable home prices for lower-income households, leading to a rapid expansion in private renting. These components play out differently in various local markets, with huge regional variations. But the depth of the current crisis is experienced by people living in London and the South East.

Private renting and affordability

Through the Act, the government is committed to exposing rogue landlords; but this is not enough, as they are a small part of the problem. What really plagues the housing sector are high rents and a lack of security. Private renting has grown rapidly over the last 15 years. More and more people – especially families with children – are living in private rented accommodation.

Yet private rents have been rising, especially in London and the South East, where rents amount for no less than 50 per cent of median gross monthly salary. Young couples are finding it a struggle to have kids while renting; many young people also have no option but to share a house with others (up by 70 per cent since 2011) or live with their parents. Their savings towards a step up on the property ladder are eaten by the extortionate rents set by a self-regulating market.

https://pixabay.com/en/london-building-panorama-947381/

Image Credit: Pixabay

Homeownership and affordability

And although the government may hope to help first-time buyers through Starter Homes, the scheme misses those on average income and below. The government’s new flagship policy will offer a 20 per cent discount to first-time buyers who are between the age of 23-40; but a 20 per cent discount will still be out of reach for those in need of an affordable home, given that Starter Homes could cost up to £450,000 in London, and £250,000 in the rest of the country. To discourage buy-to-lets and property speculation, Starter Home buyers will also be forced to repay a percentage of the discount if their home is sold or let within 20 years of the purchase. (However, if property prices continue to grow at today’s pace, it will not take much to pay back the discount early.)

Social housing provision

There was a time, only fifty years ago, when housing was seen as a basic right, and social housing was growing fast. Under both Labour and Conservative governments, the race was to build council homes. Five decades later, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 may be signaling the end of social housing as we know it, according to Lord Kerslake, former Head of the Civil Service. Social rented housing will be lost as a result of policies such as the new Right to Buy and the forced sale of councils’ ‘higher’ value voids. Estate demolition and rebuilding is also displacing large communities and gradually eroding the social housing stock.

In theory, housing associations and local authorities should build one-to-one (or two-to-one) replacement homes for any home lost through the above policies. But the new homes will not have to be like-for-like, and it is not clear where the money for local authorities will come from. The result will be a net loss of social housing. The 1 per cent rent reduction also means that the much-needed new social rented housing will not materialise.

And in light of new unexpected budget pressures, the majority of social landlords are drastically scaling back on development programmes, while others are deciding to build less social housing, and instead build more private homes for sale. Local authorities will have the duty to provide at least 20 per cent Starter Homes in any new development, which will count as affordable housing for planning purposes. A recent survey by Inside Housing of 97 English councils reveals that a third of them will see their affordable housing requirements completely taken by Starter Homes, not social renting.

The Chartered Institute of Housing also estimate that around 350,000 social rented homes be lost by 2020 through affordable rents and Right to Buy sales, high value sales, and demolitions of former council estates, whilst only 3,500 new homes will be built. Meanwhile, the housing benefit bill has risen from £11bn in 2000-01 to £25bn in 2015-16 to subsidise private landlords, rather than to support social landlords.

What’s the solution?

The government’s new housing agenda is all about home-ownership and incredibly penalising towards social housing and its tenants. The government’s policy, however, is based on the wrong assumption that home-ownership is possible for everyone through hard work and willpower. What it can be said it ignores is the fact that social housing provides a decent and affordable option for people who need it. So, if anything, we need to build more social housing, devise better and easier ways for people to access affordable housing, and revitalise low-demand areas to bring empty homes back into use.

https://pixabay.com/en/london-flats-urban-architecture-448552/

Image credit: Pixabay

In the absence of government funding, more responsibility rests on local authorities and housing associations to sustain social housing. Local authorities have the ability to borrow towards their assets and build more homes. There are interesting models of cross-subsidy of social rented housing which are being tested out by housing associations that want to remain a viable business while enhancing their social commitment. At the same time, devolution in the North could re-balance regional differences and uncover creative, innovative ways to improve the economic and housing fortunes of older industrial cities and regions.


Alice Belotti, research assistant at LSE’s Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) and an expert on estate regeneration, recently took part in our Housing Crisis Conference. The Conference brought together council tenants, politicians and housing and legal experts to discuss the impact of the housing crisis and possible solutions. Find below Alice’s informative article on the Housing and Planning Act.

Article originally posted on the LSE BLOG – http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/homeownership-in-housing-and-planning-act/

Government plan to close Lambeth County Court will leave court users struggling to get justice

  • Government proposal to close Lambeth County Court will make it harder for those facing eviction to mount an effective legal challenge.
  • Proposal to close courts is based on ‘wildly optimistic’ estimates of journey times for court users.

 

People battling eviction proceedings in South London will face greater hurdles to keeping their homes if government plans to close down courts and tribunals in London go ahead.

Credit to secretlondon123. Used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lambeth County Court, London

Lambeth County Court, one of the country’s  busiest courts when it comes to housing possession cases  and evictions, is among 10 courts and tribunals in London slated for closure under the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ‘Estate Reform Programme’.

Under the MoJ’s proposal Lambeth County Court’s workload will be moved to Wandsworth County Court, leaving those who would attend proceedings at Lambeth facing longer journey times, and putting a greater strain on resources at Wandsworth. The proposal also fails to take into account the true length of time it would take those using Lambeth County Court to attend Wandsworth.

Stuart Hearne, the manager of the Cambridge House Law Centre in Camberwell, said:  “Taking someone’s home away from them is a serious legal sanction and anyone facing eviction deserves to be able to put their case forward and have a fair hearing.

“The current system is already under strain and closing Lambeth County Court will seriously affect access to justice for people in the local area. It will mean anyone who has to go to court to challenge an eviction order will have to travel further and face a court that is even more overloaded.

“The government’s proposal seems to suggest that closing Lambeth will only marginally affect court users, but in fact it will increase journey times quite considerably and make it more difficult for people to attend hearings that can dramatically affect their lives. The government’s estimates of how long it would take court users to attend Wandsworth County Court instead of Lambeth seem to me to be wildly optimistic.”

The government says court users will be only marginally affected by its proposed closures because London’s public transport system makes it relatively easy for people get to a different court.

But data compiled by Cambridge House – using the postcodes of court users, rather than the generalised data used by the MoJ – shows this to be an inaccurate assessment. For example:

  • A journey from SE1 5RB in Bermondsey that currently takes 44 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 36 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE15 6AX in Peckham that currently takes 39 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 45 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE16 2XH in Rotherhithe that currently takes 53 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 49 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE21 8HS that currently takes 40 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 15 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court.

The concern is that the closure of Lambeth County Court will lead to an increase in evictions and homelessness putting an even greater strain on already stretched resources.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Cambridge House Law Centre

Cambridge House is a south London charity based in the heart of the borough of Southwark. Since 1889, Cambridge House has stood up for those who lack the ability and capacity to protect their own rights. By offering free expert legal advice and professional advocacy services we ‘give voice’ to the most vulnerable people in our society, increase access to justice for those without the means to pay, promote social inclusion, tackle inequality and address gaps in statutory provision.

The MoJ’s proposal

The MoJ’s proposal documents for its Estate Reform Programme can be found here.

London’s Dispossessed: Local authority possession orders and homelessness in South London

Cambridge House receives funding from Leicester University to carry out research on housing in South London

The London housing crisis shows no sign of abating. Average property prices have reached nearly half a million while increasing numbers of people are being priced out of the rental market. At the same time social housing is in decline, and Government ‘reforms’ intended to cut the welfare bill such as the bedroom tax, benefits cap and recent withdrawal of tax credits have hit the poorest hardest. This has seen rising homelessness, displacement and overcrowding with central London becoming, according to Matthew Taylor in last weekend’s Observer, a no-go zone for below average income households.

Cambridge House image

Aylesbury Estate, London Borough of Southwark

Southwark where Cambridge House is based, is also undergoing rapid transformation as a result of Government policy and foreign investment. For the moment it remains polarised with areas of extreme wealth and poverty. The most deprived wards (Camberwell, Faraday, Peckham and Livesey) sit sandwiched between the recently regenerated south bank of the Thames (City Hall) and the leafy suburbs to the South. This however is set to change. Southwark Council one of the largest social landlords in the UK has been selling off run-down accommodation it can no longer afford to maintain. This has seen developers moving in to take advantage of the investment opportunities presented by estates such as the Heygate and Aylesbury situated less than a mile away from the river.

There is an emergent academic literature examining how the ‘new’ urban renewal is encouraging the gentrification of previously devalued council estates and its impact (Hyra 2008; Watt 2009; Lees 2014). However, less is known about who is at threat from eviction or homelessness or the effects on the individual. Further, there has been little investigation into how service providers should respond in order to best support vulnerable residents and adapt services to the challenges and requirements of living (or attempting to stay) in the capital.

Cambridge House is pleased to announce that it has recently received funding from the University of Leicester to help plug this gap. Working with Professor Loretta Lees an urban geographer who specialises in gentrification and urban regeneration and supported by Cambridge House Law Centre, the research will provide in depth insight into the experiences and circumstances of those facing the threat of eviction or who are already homeless in South London.

The research objectives are as follows:

  • To establish who is vulnerable from eviction and/or homelessness and why
  • To examine the personal impact of possession orders and homelessness on the individual
  • To determine in what ways service providers can better support those at threat from, or who are already, homeless

If you wish to find out more about the research or would like to be involved please contact  hwhite@ch1889.org

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