Back in August 2020 I wrote about the problem that nobody in officialdom is counting illegal evictions.
We noticed this when compiling our report, published a week later, “Journeys in the shadow private rented sector”, when we were trying to procure some reliable data from respected sources, only to find that there weren’t any out there.
An extraordinary omission, given how devastating the problem can be, something also highlighted in another blog written by one of our fledgling TROs John Luke Bolton in November.
We know that government is currently drafting a new law, at the moment titled “The Renter’s Reform Bill”.
Most related laws carry more prosaic titles, such as “The Housing Act” or the “Landlord and Tenant Act” but not this baby……..”The Renter’s Reform Act”…..that’s a hell of a promise in the title alone.
A chance to completely change the renting landscape in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 15th January 1989, when the Housing Act 1988 barged through the door like an unwelcome, drunken neighbour and his mates at 3am in the flat above, smoking cigars and shouting obscenities.
The MHCLG have been talking to a wide range of stakeholders about different things they would like to see in the proposed law, including the promised abolition of s21, no fault evictions, something Theresa May chucked over her departing shoulder like one of Henry the Eighth’s chicken bones but which so far have yet to be nibbled at.
Safer Renting’s approach to this is very specific. We don’t see this as a Tenant’s Charter. Its not going to contain philosophical pronouncements about what’s fair and reasonable. Its legislation and will be full of boring mentions of “Section 5, subsection 3 (b) etc. That’s what law is like.
Our response so far has been to promote recommendations along the same lines, detailed tweaks to existing legislation that will plug gaps exploited by criminal operators who make renter’s lives a misery. We wrote about that here.
We are particularly concerned at the absence of data on illegal evictions and rumours we have heard from a few quarters, that the main available data being relied upon will be a recording system known as H-Clic, the database introduced with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 that records various factors driving homelessness application.
The trouble is that the widget that records illegal evictions is confined solely to “The number of households owed a homelessness duty”, when so many illegally evicted households aren’t owed a homelessness duty.
They are owed a homelessness prevention duty and they are owed a homelessness relief duty but that isn’t the same thing and it isn’t what is recorded.
H-Clic figures for London in the second quarter of 2020 are just 40 cases, when Safer Renting have dealt with a similar amount in roughly the same period, from just our 7 partner London boroughs, let alone 32 boroughs, in fact, checking our database, the percentage of our referred cases who would be owed a homelessness duty upon illegal eviction is just 6%.
There is an old joke about a police officer talking to a drunk under a street light staring at the floor.
Officer “Can I help you sir?”
Man: “I’ve dropped my door keys”
Officer: “Oh, maybe I can help. Where did you drop them?”
Man: About 100 yards away over there”.
Officer – confused: “Then why are you looking under this street light?”
Man: “The light’s better here”.
Relying on H-Clic alone to tell you how bad illegal evictions are is exactly like that.
The majority of our illegally evicted clients don’t go anywhere near a homelessness unit, for a variety of reasons and out of concern that legislation might be drafted based on inaccurate figures is a serious worry of ours, so we have started a project to count illegal evictions in a meaningful way, supported by the GLA and Dr Julie Rugg, helping us make sense of the grey fog out there.
The project comprises 3 parts:-
· Finding out how many cases are going through advice and advocacy services such as Shelter, the CAB, Law Centres Network. (Shelter have already been really helpful so far)
· The local authorities, including EHOs and licensing teams who see illegal evictions regularly but aren’t necessarily counting them.
· Cases going through civil and criminal courts.
We are working vigorously to ensure that we eliminate any double counting.
The more myself and our policy officer Molly Delaney dialogue about the nuances, the more nuances we find and realise that this is probably exactly why people haven’t been counting them and whilst we have been patting ourselves on the back for being probably the only clever dick crew out their counting illegal evictions with some accuracy, we have suddenly become aware of our own shortcomings. We, like so many organisations, record illegal evictions by address, not by the number of displaced households.
So a landlord who illegally evicts 14 households from a single HMO, goes down as a single illegal eviction, rather than 14 households, individuals and families both, urgently and unexpectedly scrabbling around to secure a roof over their heads and avoid sleeping in the park as a result of the eviction.
Such glaring oversights, which I’m sure any organisation are similarly guilty of, arises for no more complex reason than the data recording systems being used. Is anyone really going to log 14 cases on their system and regularly update 14 different sets of notes? You’d be there all day just data inputting.
Out of those 14 households you wont necessarily be dealing with all of them. Some wont want assistance, whilst others require more intensive support.
I’m not advocating entering such gobsmacking figures on every referral but whatever system is being used can and should be tweaked to allow it to record multiple evictions from a single address, allowing the system to record accurate figures whilst releasing the caseworker from data inputting hell. Time that could be better spent actually dealing with the problem.
These are just some of the problems in practice that we have ahead of us, although we are being ably supported by some key people in the task, which isn’t funded yet by the way…..if anyone has any cash. We work evenings and weekends.
But to end on an impassioned note. This is soooooooo important. Everyone you talk to is seeing a rise in illegal evictions since lockdown began. We all see it daily but anecdotal evidence isn’t sufficient to inform or affect policy changes and trying to build a picture that withstands challenges and is suitably and academically robust is turning out to be a task whose complexity we didn’t envision when we decided to do it.
Having said that, we do see light at the end of the tunnel and see it can be done. You just have to be clear about the realities of a specific headcount, in the same way that the annual street homelessness headcount is going to miss some people.
H-Clic is hard data but it is very limited hard data. Like looking through a toilet roll tube at a Jackson Pollack from 3 feet away.
by Ben Reeve Lewis