Welfare Reform Minister, Lord Freud, spoke at the National Landlords Association conference in the Midlands on 31 October 2012. He was concise, thoughtful, engaging and positive about the contribution of the private rented sector. He outlined the government’s philosophy behind the welfare reforms and said that the mass exodus of landlords and huge population shifts that some had forecast had not materialised.
There was much consternation from landlords, many who spoke felt that the responsibility agenda (tenants receiving direct payments) was utopian. A number of contributors complained that some of their tenants could not cope with budgeting and presented anti social behaviour problems. Welfare cuts – particularly the total welfare cap of £500 per week per family – would mean they could not afford to pay their rent. “Where would they go?” asked one perplexed landlord. The minister sympathised that this type of citizen should not get away with such feckless behaviour and it was time they were dealt with. “But where will they go?” repeated the landlord several times. The minister acknowledged that if they were homeless, the local authority had a responsibility to deal with them. The landlord retorted that the likely result was that the local authority would rehouse them in the private rented sector in temporary accommodation at even greater cost. A wasteful, expensive merry go round. The minister didn’t think it would get that bad. I don’t think the civil servants had given him those sorts of illustrations.
The exodus of landlords and population shifts he mentioned related to London. These haven’t materialised yet because most tenants reset their housing benefit claims in March 2011 and have 9 months transitional relief from March 2012, maintaining their benefits at historical rates. The cuts will affect them from January 2013. That’s when we’ll see the mass exodus and population shifts, I fear.
I asked him whether he was aware that Article 4 directions banning shared housing were directly contrary to his department’s wish for people up to 35 years of age to take shared accommodation and if he would explore this with colleagues. He said this sounded concerning and he would look into it. So I’m going to write to him to follow this up. He seems like he can be a reasonable man – I hope he’ll see reason over this and we might get a shift in policy. I want to see local authorities lose Article 4 powers with regard to permitted development rights on sharing houses (see my earlier blog on Barking).