Denying people a home because they’re on benefits is a kind of apartheid, says Jonathan Drake, but with the right approach the private rented sector can be part of the solution
LAST week it was announced that five of England’s leading lettings agents actively discriminate against tenants in receipt of housing benefit.
This is a shocking and inexcusable statistic and one that goes against the values this country claims to uphold, but one that sadly does not come as a surprise.
Everyone deserves a roof over their head and a place to call home. To actively prevent some people accessing a home simply because of their circumstances is quite frankly, apartheid in another form. That is why I am backing Shelter’s campaign launched in light of these findings, to stop the discrimination against renters on benefits.
At the lower end of the private rented sector market, ie. those properties that could be made available for people on benefit; the private rented sector, with some notable exceptions, provides poor quality, expensive and inappropriate accommodation.
At this end of the market the private rented sector only serves the needs of owners and landlords and not the tenants. The actions of some private lettings agents that Shelter’s investigations have uncovered only reinforces this. At present the private rented sector guarantees neither quality nor security. People’s lives are being held back as a result of this situation.
There is however another way. I believe in private renting for the public good and there is clearly a fundamental role the sector can play in tackling the housing crisis.
This needs to be a more strategic approach that is preventative and proactive in its nature and ensures the private rented sector provides high quality accommodation to those at the cheaper end of the market, including those in receipt of housing benefit.
At Salix Homes, through our private sector leasing arm, Salix Living, I believe we are showing how it can be done.
The model is simple – a social letting agency that leases and manages properties on behalf of private landlords at LHA rates. The results? Well, we are helping to drive up standards to provide good quality affordable accommodation; we’re providing more homes for those with a housing need; plus we’re tackling homelessness and potentially helping councils to make significant savings to their housing budget by reducing their dependence on B&Bs.
What’s more, the offer is proving attractive to private landlords, attracted by guaranteed rent packages, managed tenancies, consistent standards and access to funding.
Just this month alone, we have let properties to a single father and his young child – who is ex-armed forces and re-training for a job as a civilian; an elderly father and his disabled son; a couple in work; a young single mother, who works part-time, and her young child; a young single unemployed woman who is moving back to be close to her family and a young man who is in training on an apprenticeship.
A number of these are in receipt of some housing benefit. Can anyone really stand behind these people being refused a roof over their head before they’ve even walked through a lettings agent’s door?
The substantial increase in social housing stock that everyone talks about but is never delivered is a long-term approach to our housing crisis rather than a solution for now, which is what is needed. An expansion of the use of the private sector to meet the current demand is a solution for now.
Actions like those lettings agencies identified by Shelter only reinforce the need for a fundamental review of the private rented sector in this country with a focus on what it is actually for and what its role is in the delivery of decent housing in this country.
The private rented sector should be an asset in helping us eradicate homelessness and ensure a vibrant housing sector that offers a variety of opportunities according to your need and circumstances.
We need to take a more proactive approach in this country in ensuring the private rented sector provides high quality accommodation to those at the cheaper end of the market, rather than just leaving it to the market to dictate.
Shelter is right to highlight this issue and call for an end of such discriminatory practices. For anyone who disagrees, they really should look some of our tenants in the eyes.
Jonathan Drake is service director for Salix Living, the private sector leasing arm of Salix Homes