Sometime around October 2020 we became aware of murmurings from different official quarters about how bad the situation might be with illegal evictions, something that had previously troubled few organisations in any great technical detail but which we thought was an important development, given the government are working on the Renter’s Reform Bill in the background.
Our chief concern was that if the data looked like it wasn’t the sizeable problem that anyone who works in housing enforcement, housing advice and advocacy knows it to be, any subsequent government policies to deal with the problem might be drafted on the basis that its only the odd case here and there and not worth troubling with.
The only place where such data is properly collected is on a system called “H-Clic”, which is the statistical mechanism used to compile figures from approaches made to council homelessness units and subsequent duties owed.
It is obviously limited in scope, for instance it doesn’t include anyone not eligible for homelessness assistance, because they don’t have recourse to public funds, who wont show up on H-Clic and we know, at Safer Renting, that a huge proportion of the people living under criminal landlords, in the worst possible properties, with the least protection are often from migrant communities, not owed much in the way of statutory homelessness duties.
It is impossible to know how many of these households might be subject to illegal eviction because nobody counts them. They are invisible to our society, which suits Pritti Patel just fine.
So with only H-Clic to go on, we were alarmed that this might be the only data relied on to tell society how widespread illegal eviction is and set out, without funding, to use our skills, knowledge and contacts to reach out to other places than just the local authority homelessness units to find the figure that would paint a better picture of the problem.
We were propelled in part by Safer Renting’s data in the first few months of 2020 lockdown, that showed at least a 40% increase in referrals and conversations with the numerous people we knew in the business who were saying the same thing at that time.
Landlords were not adhering to government urges to be patient and reasonable and were simple going down the shortest route.
Luckily we have had amazing encouragement and support from Dr Julie Rugg, the GLA crew and people like Simon Mullings and Marina Sergides from HLPA, helping us reach out to lawyers BUT……………………we are hitting a weird barrier.
With the GLA’s help we have compiled a survey for local authority homelessness and enforcement teams, to try and get a record of who they see and how they record it. Job in progress but Safer Renting caseworker Molly Delaney and myself, who are doing the heavy lifting have had numerous meetings with Law Centres, CABs, Shelter etc, asking the same questions, “What are you seeing” and we are hitting a brick wall, nobody is seeing anything lately, in stark contrast to earlier in 2020.
In the first few months of 2020 lockdown, housing rights types were seeing illegal eviction sky-rocketing but since the pre-xmas lockdown kicked in, it’s gone dead.
We get our referrals from EHOs and licensing officers visiting properties and discovering hideously overcrowded and unlicensed HMOs, where much illegal eviction activity goes on but in the past 4 months referrals have dropped off alarmingly, which corresponds with the information coming back at us from the various organisations we have been speaking to.
Few people are seeing much in the way of illegal evictions. They were at the start of lockdown but then it was like somebody turned off a tap.
Are rogue landlords developing a conscience and granting forbearance? I doubt it, figures were going through the roof from spring to summer. and rent arrears are only getting worse
The one unifying factor we can see, is lockdown itself, the closure of walk-in offices and the self-isolation practices that prevent housing frontliners from carrying out the property visits where these cases would normally be discovered and advisers from seeing clients who fetch up in an emergency.
I honestly don’t think for a single minute that our usual suspects are seeing the light, turning over a new leaf. It seems more likely that due to the big last lockdown, those being illegally evicted simply have nowhere viable to go, phone contact and email not being very effective.
Why would so many agencies report a massive increase from March 2020 that just died off suddenly in the lead up to Xmas?
This is exceedingly alarming on two fronts,
a) illegal evictions will be going ahead but just not being picked up and
b) a terrible time to start counting illegal evictions for us when the usual agencies are operating skeleton services.
How many households are being illegally evicted but for the want of anywhere to report their problem are going completely under the radar and just making their own arrangements?
The police don’t count incidents, homelessness units only count those owed some form of statutory duty. Law centres aren’t seeing an increase, neither are CABs and despite the worrying uplift between March and September 2020, neither are we now.
For organisations like Safer Renting, who are created for and specialise in, dealing with illegal eviction, it is the most extraordinary phenomenon, to deal with hundreds each year, see a rocket going off from March 2020, spiking at a 40% increase and then nothing….nada. the tap gets turned off.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still getting them but nowhere like the numbers we would see in ordinary times and neither is anyone else that we’ve spoken to.
I have been doing this job so long and have had my perspective warped so much as a result that when they start coming out of the woodwork in proper numbers I shall feel inordinately relieved. At least we will know about their existence but at the moment, it feels like Termites are eating away your foundations but you cant see them.
Where are they going??????
by Ben Reeve Lewis