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’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.