It is time for social tenants to step up and show social landlords just how much power tenants have and put substantial amounts of pressure on social landlords to change their current way of working and especially with regard to arrears and welfare reforms. This post looks at what tenants should be doing to pressurise landlords and also why.
I am not affected by the bedroom tax and I could easily trot out figures such as the average bedroom tax deduction in a year is about £700 while the average eviction costs the social landlord about £7000. Yet despite an eviction costing the landlord ten times as much in monetary terms that is little reassurance to the bedroom tax tenant as in proverbial terms their respective head is up their backside. It is also in part very easy for me to say the cost figures don’t give any credence to the mass evictions some fear.
The real fear of many tenants and those opposed to the bedroom tax is the fear of eviction. Losing one’s home, the family home out of being unable to afford the bedroom tax shortfall and that is an understandable fear whether or not it holds any practical validity.
Social tenants seem to fall into two camps on this. The first group landlords like to term as ‘cant payers’ are frankly petrified as the prospect of losing their home and landlords heavy-handed tactics we are witnessing such as red-inked letters warning of eviction and numerous phone calls, text messages and personal unannounced visits reveal. The second group landlords term as ‘wont-payers’ are becoming ever more defiant because of the red-inked threatening letters and the proliferation of calls, texts and unannounced personal visits often demanding entry on the basis that this is a tenancy audit visit or some other pretence to quiz the tenant and get them to complete a financial statement of means.
Assessing who is a cant payer and who is a wont payer, which is what landlords say they are doing is a ridiculously hard and highly subjective task in any case. Yet this either or view is also highly disingenuous of social landlords to hold to this line as their tactics taken to determine this are heavy handed in all cases. The real social landlord strategy is let’s frighten the hell out of all tenants so that (a) those that pay are cant payers who actually do pay or (b) those that genuinely can’t pay and don’t pay or part-pay are all wont payers....and so we step up the heavy-handed tactics with even more threatening letters and phone calls.
As a result social landlords have achieved the opposite of their intentions and they have made more can’t payers into resolute wont payers. They have also given ‘just’ cause to the many tenant activists to promote their message of don’t pay.
Social media is ablaze with tales of housing officers (now called income officers?) turning up unannounced on so-called tenancy audit visits and demanding:
(a) entry into the property claiming they have legal rights to entry, which they have not and,
(b) while there going through a statement of financial means with tenants for which they also have no rights.
This often results in tenants stating the officers said if you can afford Sky TV you can afford to pay rent and many similar comments. Housing officers are clearly being instructed to blag their way into people’s homes and instructed to get as much financial detail from tenants in order to prepare any legal actions.
This, in effect, is harassment and coercion by the social landlords. At best these are shameful and offensive tactics and some reports I have read I suggest are clearly harassment in its legal sense. What is clear is that housing officers are being instructed to act n the tenant’s ignorance of housing law and their rights and that has to stop. As an aside I wonder how long it will be before we read articles about housing / income officers being assaulted by tenants (and frankly I’m surprised the landlords PR machine has not already issued some!!)
The huge number of stories across social media and beyond means this is more than mere isolated incidents and anecdotal evidence, though doubtless social landlord’s spin machines will portray it that way. I have heard tales from HOs and other housing professionals I know across the country being ‘schooled’ in how to get their foot in the door of tenant properties and similarly ‘schooled’ in telling tenants they have rights to ask about their financial situation which of course they do not! Also had first-hand tales from support workers who are being told to misadvise or not advise the tenants they support of their rights in this area and instead being reminded of who employs them – the social landlords. I wonder how long it will be before SP commissioners decide that social landlords have too much of a conflict of interest to employ support workers and insist that only non-landlords hold SP contracts?
This is a trend of let’s play on tenant’s ignorance of the law and their rights and frighten the hell out of them so they pay and its time tenant’s were made aware of their rights. In overview: –
- A landlord has legal right of entry into your property for a gas safety check of which they must legally give you at least 24 hours notice. Tenants should allow access for this and if felt necessary ensure someone is with them when this goes on.
- Landlords have powers to do ‘tenancy audit checks’ but no legal right of entry into your property and good practice says they give you a week’s notice.
- Landlord may get a court order for entry if they suspect the tenancy is a crack den for example and may need urgent and immediate access if the property is about to collapse or on fire or some other obvious reason, yet outside of such circumstances they have little or no legal right of access.
- Landlords have no legal right that I am aware to ask of your financial situation and your finances are your private business. If a landlord wants this as they do to aid in evicting you and now asking for on the pretence of part of a tenancy audit visit then make them get a court to ask for a statement of your means.
- Landlords gave data on your property to Councils as part of the bedroom tax decision making process yet they had no obligation to do so a paragraph 20 of the A4/2012 HB circular makes clear. So ask them in writing what information your Council asked of them and when and what data they supplied – the two standard questions most Councils are refusing to answer as this aids tenants appealing against the bedroom tax decision. Tell your landlord (correctly) that you need this information as part of your appeal against the bedroom tax decision.
- I am surprised no tenant has thought of suing their landlord over this. The landlord provided data when it didn’t need to and could choose not to provide and the tenant has been adversely affected by this release of (non-validated) data from landlord to Council.
- Write to your landlord stating that as potential legal action such as eviction processes may begin shortly then the tenant insists on all correspondence from the landlord to tenant is done in writing. In the same letter ask for a copy of the landlords rent arrears policy and procedures so you can decide if any such eviction is an eviction by oppression.
- Write to your Council if you have concerns your support worker employed by your landlord may have a conflict of interest in supporting you if you sense any such conflict.
What the above sets out is akin to a work to rule yet in this case the tenant works to the rule of law. It is the tenant merely acting on their rights, the same rights the overwhelming evidence I have seen suggests landlords are seeking to deny to tenants on a systematic and planned basis.
It is time for the tenant to exert and exercise the powers that they hold and that is, at present, the number of them. It is perfectly legitimate as well as direct action in showing your landlord you are not letting them walk all over you in terms of your legal rights. Come October when the tenant begins to receive Housing Benefit payments directly then the scope of tenant power increases dramatically as the tenant is in control of the payment of rent and not the landlord.
In summary social landlords do have legitimate financial worries and I have said the heavy-handed approach will not help in that and early figures on non-payment and part-payment of the bedroom tax shortfall are way higher than I anticipated and landlords have real serious worries over survival and some will go bust and get taken over by the larger ‘super’ HAs. Yet I have been sitting on the fence for some time with whether landlords are and have been complicit in the bedroom tax and welfare reforms, as well as being inept and incompetent in challenging them. I am now off that fence and due entirely to the heavy-handed and at times harassment that landlords are now giving tenants which I find truly and deeply offensive.
It is time for tenants to wield the power they have and give social landlords a taste of their own medicine and this is entirely brought about by landlords own actions and so they deserve such actions and pressures from vulnerable tenants who have been shafted by the welfare reforms. Social landlords have been kicking the tenant when the tenant is down with these offensive heavy-handed tactics and it is now time for the tenant to fight back. Don’t say you didn’t deserve it as you did social landlord!
Some social housing professionals will assume that I say the above because of the social landlord losing their ethos or their charitable aims and roots or some other such idealism and naivety. That is hugely wrong and its because social landlords who are a social business have been inept at business and managing the welfare reforms most of which are still to come as well.
They have treated their customers – the tenants – with absolute disdain with these offensive heavy-handed tactics and that is rank ineptitude and incompetence in business terms. Whether it is because the landlords are holding on to the last vestiges of power they have always had or any other reason can only be explanation but not excuse.
My criticism of social landlord is not a political position it is an economic and apolitical one and they have been bloody stupid and naive. God help social housing itself which is the real issue under attack with the welfare reforms which should have seen landlord and tenant united against it yet merely saw landlords trying to pass the buck and financial risk onto tenants. Now because of that initial mismanagement and ineptitude social landlords have in business terms stupidly ramped that ‘them and us’ situation up with this offensive heavy handedness.
The landlord declared war on the tenant which inevitably will mean the tenant wages war on the landlord. A sensible and coherent policy on challenging the welfare reforms from landlords would have prevented this yet that was about as evident as statistical truth in the coalition