It’s time for the tenant to put some heat on the landlord

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!

 

NOTE

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

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17 thoughts on “It’s time for the tenant to put some heat on the landlord

  1. I work for a large social landlord in London and find this article utterly offensive in part and utterly true in others. Social landlords are desperately trying to protect their income during these welfare reforms which will as you rightly say will put some out of business. But not only that, the less income the less maintenance work can be done, the less building can be done. In turn both tenants and staff suffer in difficult financial times.

    I find it despicable that some social landlords are instructing their housing officers to force access into people’s homes under various ruses when they really want to talk about rent. I agree it is completely bad practice. I wish you would name and shame in your article as the landlord I work for prizes customer service above all else including income collection (and trust me our arrears figures suffer because of this).

    My job is benefits advice; I am the only advisor for 16’000 homes and deal with individual cases of tenants in real hardship. As part of my job I help tenants with budgets and financial advice. I am very sensitive when asking for this information and only do it if the tenant agrees. It often ends in tears as the tenants are so hard up and find it difficult to talk about their financial situation but afterwards tenants feel very happy for the support. I always apologise the intrusive nature of financial help IE people show me bank statements to show me their income and outgoings. They are NEVER forced into this and it is ALWAYS handled with the upmost respect for the tenant. I wanted to share this as I don’t want all social landlords to be demonised by the behaviours of the few.

    Its interesting you talk about violence from the tenant as I know there’s a lot of work being done by housing networks on the impact of welfare reform on anti social behaviour behaviour. I myself have just filled out a survey about my perceived level of threat due to the reforms. I think this is something which will come to the forefront as time passes.

    I agree completely with you that social landlords should have done more to challenge the reforms. Had I been in a more senior position at my provider I would have rallied around and done as much as possible to prevent these reforms. It seems those in senior positions did what they could within restraints, such as providing feedback. I know in the supported housing division of our business we have campaigned with other providers to make sure our tenants are exempt from bedroom tax and benefit cap due to the nature of the accommodation they are in. We are the ones holding the power as the government need us, they do not have enough housing and rely on us to keep their homeless statistics in line with targets. Without us where would councils house people? We should have exercised our influence more.

    I do find it upsetting when you say ‘its time for the tenant to fight back’. Social landlords are not in the business to evict people or have fights with their tenants, we are bodies made up of people who have chosen to work for charities and not for profit, to do something amazing with their work life. I am not romanticizing this, I spent years in the private sector and feel fulfilled in the work I do now. It is truly a shame when the behaviours of the individuals and the landlords you talk about it in your article stain the reputation of the rest of us.

  2. jessicaruthpage, I am a tenant of an large ‘social’ landlord in Liverpool and I find your comment utterly offensive. Social landlords are putting there finances before the well being and finances of there tenant.

    Its debatable about the quality of customer services of large landlords, I can only speak about my own, its very very poor! We tenants are human begins, so its time that social landlord treat us with respect. We tenants are not the Cash Cows from social landlords to exploit.

    If social landlords claim to be ‘charitable’ then they would of done more to get rid of the bedroom tax and work with us tenants to get rid of it! So what is it going to be then profit before people or people before profile?

  3. Chris Connor, I appreciate your comment and understand you may have had a bad experience, all I am asking is that all social landlords don’t get tarred with the same brush.

    The point I was trying to make was that ultimately social landlords are not private businesses and not trying to make a profit out of tenants for shareholders etc. They make a surplus which is ploughed back into the business.

    Whilst some of them definitely have flaws, and definitely should have done more to oppose the tax the majority of the staff I work with view their tenants with respect and treat them decently.

    Anyone who has been treated badly by their Housing Officer should make a formal complaint to the association or their MP to stamp out unacceptable behaviour.

    1. Jessica

      Thank you for you comment and I agree with well over 90% of it. I didn’t have to read between the lines to see how heartfelt it was and that same issue IS shared by the vast majority of individual housing professionals from Hsg Asst to CEO yet on a corporate basis and operational business such sentiment is not coming through and landlords are rightfully fearful of arrears and what this means yet are simply passing on that fear by trying to frighten the life out of tenants. This is not the social housing I recognise as a vocation and not a job and I was reluctant to publish what I did and not just because landlords are my clients but because there is overwhelming evidence to support what I say and it needs to be said

      Social landlords have been complicit in the bedroom tax, have not challenged reforms anywhere near enough, are inept at anything resembling customer service and have at times buried their heads in the sand and not seriously considered what the welfare reforms mean. Instead we see mass panic over arrears and the early figures of non and part payments of the bedroom tax shortfall are much higher than anyone imagined. This is more acute in the North as twice as many working age tenants are affected than in London by the bedroom tax (22% London and 43% in NW and in Yorkshire) and that is very unusual in housing as you will know. The benefit cap by comparison has 47% of all those affected living in London and in part london landlords are playing catch-up to the impact of the welfare reforms.

      I have no doubts about your sincerity or integrity or ability in any way at all yet one welfare officer for 16,000 tenants? Does that really show a committed approach from a social landlord?

  4. I think you will find, Jessicaruthpage. That you are in the minority. I belong to a few Facebook groups. With thousands of members. ALL, trying to fight the BT. Every single day, I read horror story’s. Appeals are rejected. And people don’t know where to turn. They are certainly, for the most part, NOT getting support from their Landlord. Who should be standing up to Government. Some people are actually starving. In order to pay the BT. And, on top of this, are now also, having to pay council Tax. People are terrified of being evicted and being homeless. Even, Disabled people, who’s houses have been adapted for their needs. There are NO smaller available properties. Especially, adapted ones. We didn’t ask to be in this situation. The state of the country is not our fault. The Government have MANY other ways of raising money, instead of attacking the poorest and most venerable of our society. They are so out of touch with reality!! AND, they certainly don’t care. They already have blood on their hands. People, driven to suicide. Through utter desperation.

  5. Jessica there has certainly been apathy by the Social Landlords in assisting and offering constructive help. Yes Social Landlords didn’t introduce the Bedroom Tax and yes you have told Government you are against it. However, HA’S could have done more to assist their customers. They could have worked with them, they could have added their voices to the protests that are taking place etc. HA’s had 18 months before Bedroom Tax was introduced why didn’t HA’s use this time constructively working as Lord Freud said “Appropriately and smartly” with their tenants instead of harrasing them with red inked letters, text messages etc. HA’s need to use everything at their disposal to help their tenants. If you are at a loss of how you can help try reading Joe Halewoods excellent blogs there are ideas a plenty within them!!!!

  6. Probably one of the worst blog entries ever posted in the history of online communication.

    Usually I find the misinformed ramblings of a moron midly amusing, but unfortunately not on this occassion.

  7. As the Chief Executive of a small housing association who like Jessicaruthpage always considered he was in this work for the best charitable reasons, I have enjoyed the intellectual challenge this blog has provided but am a little concerned at the change in tone which is seemingly being adopted of painting the social landlord as the bad guy who must be taken on and beaten in some way (a them and us situation). This runs the risk of the blog becoming simply a rant rather than an objective assessment of what is going on.

    It may well be the case that different associations will use different tactics and how those tactics are delivered by individual Officers within those associations will add another level of divergence. Big associations will almost inevitably have a different administrative approach to the problem than smaller ones. It is a pity that Chris Connor’s experience of the service he feels he gets from his landlord is poor but that is not really the point in this debate.

    For me being charitable means helping others to help themselves. The state does not pay us a rent, the tenants with whom we contract pay us a rent and it is the tenant who receives help from the Government (or not as the case may be). If the tenant chooses not to pay us their rent (for whatever reason) that is their choice and I respect their right to do this providing they understand that there are consequences. What I have tried to do in my communications with politicians is point out what I think those consequences of the Bedroom Tax will be, both financially and socially. One of these is if we don’t get the rent in we will go bust as an organisation, the result being the loss of 20 jobs in the local economy and the loss of local control over the housing stock which is likely to pass into the hands of a large (and possibly remote) housing association. I cannot see how this will benefit the tenants of our housing association, the vast majority of whom are not affected by the Bedroom Tax and who give us a very high satisfaction rating.

    Let “respect” for each other and the problems we face be the watchword for this debate. Let us not instead fall into the trap which the Government has neatly set for us of falling out amongst ourselves, instead work towards not only awakening the British public to the consequences of Welfare Reform but also ensure that if there is a change of Governement the new incumbants do not maintain the same misguided policy.

    1. I agree that smaller HAs have a better customer service level than larger ones for obvious reasons, or at least a better chance at providing a better service.

      I speak with CEOs both large and small and one problem they all have is just how weak in power terms the social housing sector is and even collectively with its umbrella organisations such as NHF and CIH or G15 etc landlords have little influence, and of course think they have more influence than they actually do like all sectors but very noticeably in social housing

      This is not about any lack of respect but it is about challenging landlords to do a helluva lot more and in terms of respect it is more about landlords having more respect for tenants and not the other way around. Some of the tactics being employed by social landlords are deeply offensive never mind disrespectful to tenants and some I know about are genuinely harassment – coercion not coercive – which is just not on.

      Landlords have been lazy in their thinking and have not considered the full implications of welfare reforms which in overview moves social housing from being about bricks and mortar to being about people and within that there are so many significant changes that have not been considered and especially by the larger HA, the smaller ones can see these issues more readily as they are closer to their tenants. Yet as ‘pollexfen’ will know social housing policy and practice and all other matters is dominated by the larger HAs to a great extent.

      Landlords need a radical rethink and current policies are very much shooting themselves in the foot

  8. Pollexfen – at last a reasonable point of view….Speye’s rants are getting increasingly and disturbingly unreasonable and tarring all social landlords with the same dirty brush. Completely agree with your comments, and those of Jessicaruthpage. I work for a major RSL and head up the income team, and we are absolutely doing our best to help and support tenants through this very difficult period – without the harassment etc that Speye mentions. Not easy for staff either…. anyway lots to do so will sign off.

    1. Ella – how can anyone say they are doing their best? Think on that as it implies you KNOW you are doing the best you can and typifies the closed mind and conceit of a number of landlords when such minds should and need to be open as the welfare reforms are throwing up huge change and many unknowns.

      Not having a go at you or your landlord who does like to portray themselves very strongly as a listening one who is at the cutting edge of housing practise. How does that square with KNOWING you are doing the best you can? It doesn’t and can’t.

      I am glad my posts are in your view becoming increasingly ‘unreasonable’ and challenging as that is the purpose in part to directly challenge what Shapps called (unfortunately correctly) a lazy consensus. As I have explained I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing and seeing yet there is no doubt that some social landlords are harassing tenants and trying devious tactics to gain entry claiming they have legal rights to do yet we all know they have not. Raising awareness of this serves a mutual purpose as it hopefully prevents these offensive tactics and operations from continuing – In short the issues NEEDED to be raised for the sake of social housing itself.

      I have not denied that landlords are suffering from the welfare reforms and what impacts this will have which they are and that they still don’t know all of the impacts and changes this will manifest. So for any to say they are doing all they can is risible and inept. I have said that landlords haven’t looked anywhere near carefully enough at these, they have been woeful in terms of a collective challenge to them and now we see some very offensive practices which can’t be justified under any circumstances. There is plenty of evidence for all such points yet unfortunately the attitude is “we are doing all we can” which has to be a nonsense and has to be errant.

      Every landlord like every business should be seeking to continually improve even in good times yet in these austere times too many are saying “we are doing all we can” and not realising how arrogant that reads. You work for a very progressive HA (assuming the hype is correct and my contacts say it is) so to say “we are doing all we can” again is totally out of kilter with such an ethos.

      I for one don’t think that expecting landlords and any business to seek continual improvement is unreasonable, yet your comments suggest you do and complacency has set in – an all too familiar tale unfortunately. Perhaps tenants turning up the heat on landlords is revealing that landlords shouldn’t be in the kitchen!

  9. The key point that Joe is making here for the social housing sector is this, don’t underestimate the power that we tenants have and will have in the future as stakeholders.

    The future of social housing is now in the hands of the tenant, it would be very wise to cooperative and work with us tenants than declare war with us!

  10. Joe I received confirmation today from WMBC, (59 page document) will give you a brief idea of first page info

    “your case has been looked at again, taking into account of the information contained in your appeal letter. However it has not been possible to change the original decision. This is because the regulation make no provision to allow for separate bedrooms for members of a couple. In addition the third bedroom/box room is considered to be a bedroom.
    As the decision has not been changed, your appeal has now been passed to the tribunals service, which is independent of the local authority .I enclose copies of all the papers that concern the decision. The Tribunals service has been sent the same papers and will get in touch with you to explain what will happen next with your appeal.”

    Joe, as I have stated in previous comments I was recently diagnosed with a tumour on my pancreas, waiting to be admitted into hospital to have surgery to remove it, what will happen if I am in hospital and cannot attend any hearing, or is it possible it could be a while before any hearings will be held?

  11. I am finding this debate invaluable as part of my role is to give training to the Housing Officers. I have over the past couple of weeks decided that the training I am going to deliver is about behaviours, attitudes and approaches towards tenants. We have an external trainer who will do the facts and I will do training on the customer service and making sure HO.s are approaching the issue with sensitivity and in the right way.

    I hope at least that is some small compensation for those who are angry at social landlords. I am trying my best to exert the influence I have and I expect over my career to exert more influence and never ever be included in the group of organisations who have done nothing.
    Dare I say that conservatives thrive on divide and conquer and it is their trump card, it always has been. Just as I imagine they now enjoy seeing tenants fighting their landlords and landlords seeing non paying tenants as the enemy when in fact we would be stronger together. I think it’s clear I cannot talk for all social landlords and there are varying degrees of services. I only hope that social landlords, as time goes on, learn from the reform and sculpt out better practices in the process. Quite rightly as Joe has said having more than one benefits advisor for 16’000 tenants would be start.

    My main focus is shouting as loud as I can to the Executive Board about what’s happening on the frontline and what we should be doing to change. On top of that I can see the real term impact I am having on individual cases.

    1. Jessica – Yes there are varying degrees of service across the country – all of which is threatened by the welfare reforms as when landlords arrears increase which they inevitably will then services will have to be cut or cut back

      In 5 weeks time when the benefit cap hits the need for more than one benefits advisor will become stark as your locale is faced with 47% of the benefit cap cases for the entire UL whereas now with the bedroom tax there are twice as many in percentage terms in the NW and in Yorks.

      The debate which needs to be had by all social landlords is an honest and open one as the welfare reforms start to bite and landlords nationally will have to change tactic and be more aware of tenant issues and more conciliatory in arrears collection activities too.

      The welfare reforms are a bigger shake-up to social housing than RTB and anything else yet it is not fully recognised that way and it needs to be and quickly else more social landlords will fold or be taken over…and more and more tenants will see the landlord as the enemy which is not healthy at all

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