RTBe is asocial housing management by fear

If you are or have ever been a social tenant previously you will never again be granted a housing association property. That stark impact is a significant consequence of the Housing & Planning Act 2016 that passed into law last week.

The Housing & Planning Act includes the policy of the right to buy extension to housing association tenants, or RTBe, which ensures that you will never again be offered the security of a housing association property.

RTBe is a flagship government policy and for the HA tenant to be eligible for the ‘right’ to buy you need to have been any form of social tenant for ten years, hence if you were a council house tenant for 8 years in the past you become eligible for RTBe in just two years as you meet the 10 year criterion which is cumulative.

Housing Associations despise the right to buy, with good reason, and their hostility to extending the right to buy to HA tenants in the RTBe is a matter of record.  If you are a prospective new HA tenant rest assured the HA involved will check out your previous social housing history and if you have any you will be rejected because of it as you become eligible for the RTBe more quickly.

Taken to the nth degree this also means that a woman who has fled domestic violence and abuse after 10 years also becomes eligible for the HA property and can and will be refused it being allocated to her and her children.  The policy can and will lead to bed blocking in DV refuges as if you can’t move women and children on from a refuge then you can’t take new cases in!

This consequence only came to me recently as part of a landlord tenant dispute I have been able to see and scrutinise all the documentary evidence.  This is an ongoing dispute between Riverside Housing Association and 33 social tenant households in Maidstone, Kent.  The tenants have formally constituted a group called STARC (Social Tenant And Resident Community) to fight Riverside who have issued no fault eviction notices to the STARC tenants so they can remodel the building and double their income from it as probably a homeless families unit though Riverside is keeping its cards close to its chest and tenants in the dark.

Maidstone council minutes reveal that homelessness has increased dramatically there, much of it dumped there from London councils and the council cannot house all its homeless cases within Maidstone as consequence.  The council also says, quite staggeringly, that 40% of its homeless cases are in employment too! The remodelling of this 33 flats for a homeless families unit would see Riverside double its rental income and also halve the cost the council is paying for B&B temporary homeless provision. The homeless families unit makes perfect sense if only it wasn’t for those pesky existing tenants eh!  The same tenants that Riverside is seeking to banish to the private rented sector.

Yet Riverside must first evict the current longstanding tenants and many have been there since the building opened some 7 years ago.  Riverside has repeatedly and knowingly lied and deceived the STARC tenants over their plans.  There are many extremely asocial and some legally questionable actions of Riverside in their determination to increase the bottom line by shafting existing social tenants.

Many of the STARC tenant are key workers and Riverside currently charges them 30% more in rent now then they charge Riverside tenants in central London. Much more detail in this ongoing dispute can be found here and many within housing will feel as ashamed of being called a ‘housing professional’ as I was when I researched this case.

starc facebook

There is so much more I could say about the disgraceful actions of Riverside in this case yet the dispute is still ongoing and the first S21 Notices start to expire at the end of this week.

That does mean Riverside believe the correct form of tenure is AST despite most tenants being there for over 6 years, and there are no arrears of ASB or other issues at play here either.  Regrettably, this treatment of tenant as impediment to corporate greed along with some spurious legal thinking as to tenure and tenant rights appears to be a trend with asocial landlords such as Riverside.

Some of the factors this case reveals will affect all social tenants:

  1. When, and not if, tens of thousands of social tenant households get evicted with the reducing overall benefit cap (OBC) from this autumn they too will never again get a housing association property because of the RTBe.
  2. If you have a relationship breakdown  -a common issue of new HA tenants – then you too will have little chance of getting a housing association property ever again due to this 10 year criterion.
  3. Coupling points 1 and 2 above, when the OBC reduction hits from the autumn my home city of Liverpool expects a minimum number of 1950 households evicted (and as many as 3500) yet those who are now social tenants, about 47% in my figures, will not have the option of being rehoused with a housing association and Liverpool and indeed Merseyside has no council housing
  4. Temporary homeless accommodation permanently anyone?  Liverpool currently has just 111 benefit cap cases so go figure how much of an increase in evictions this will mean when The OBC sees it go to 1950 to 3500!
  5. Factor in 3 years and more of the bedroom tax (and with DHPs for it soon to be removed and paid only to benefit capped households); the farce that is Universal credit with direct and monthly benefit payments and all other so-called reforms and many current social tenants across the country will be evicted through one or a combination of these policies – and they will never have a social tenancy ever again at least with a housing association because of the latest policy of RTBe that was designed by the housing associations!

In short every current past and potential future social tenant is very much at risk of never again being granted a housing association tenancy due to the RTBe and so will have to put up with the ravages of the very insecure private rented sector for good.

Be good for your landlord dear tenant as they now operate housing management by fear – and indeed the STARC case has many such elements of tenants scared to ask about repairs and in fear of a retaliatory eviction notice should they do so.

When the first STARC tenant said this to me, and a number of the have that they were fearful of asking for repairs I didn’t just feel ashamed of being a housing professional, I felt unclean.  In over 20 years in housing I have never felt so dirty and so ashamed.

Ironies

The local MP in Maidstone is the Tory Helen Grant, who makes great play of being born and raised on the Raffles council estate in Carlisle which is now managed by Riverside.  She has forwarded an urgent request to Brandon Lewis and Greg Clark over this systemic flaw in the RTBe and oversight that means no chance of secure social housing for the STARC tenants ever again. The charade of the RTBe policy has seen government choose 5 of the 1500+ housing associations to pilot the policy and one of those five is Riverside!

Asocial and deceitful practices?

Riverside claim only 7 tenants are to be evicted yet they engaged and imposed supposedly independent consultants (Savill Libra)  – to speak with ALL tenants and on an individual basis.  Why would Riverside go to such expense to speak with ALL tenants if they only plan to evict 7 of them?!

These ‘independent’ consultants turn up unannounced and doorstep tenants at their homes … and also doorstep them unannounced at their place of work!!  Yet this outrageous behaviour pales into insignificance by comparison to many other horrors I have seen there.

Riverside’s corporate policy is to give every tenant served notice a right of review meeting, they even have a specific leaflet on this they sent to tenants.  There is no doubt this is corporate policy. Yet Riverside refuse to meet the tenants despite this being their policy and the deadline for meeting them was 11 May and has long gone.  Riverside’s Central and South Division not only have no regard for their tenants they don’t even have any regard for their own corporate policies!

State of disrepair at STARC properties?

As one example last November (2015) a window in the building, as if by magic, freed itself from its hinges and fell into the High Street below.  Thankfully it never hit anyone yet some 6 months later this window is still not fixed and the flat it belongs to houses a couple and young baby are now subject to water ingress through this window that Riverside claim to have fixed.

On the STARC Facebook page there is the ITV News report of this incident and is well worth watching too.

starcwindows

Not shown on the picture is another window in a tenants flat which is jammed permanently open and cannot shut.  Imagine the tenant’s heating bills over the last 6 months reader! Then there is the infamous ‘floating roof’ on the building – you what?  Just believe me when I say you have to see it to believe it. Though if you did see the building you would say how the hell does this place have a Fire Safety Certificate – again just one of the issues at this building that I remind you Riverside charge 30% more in rent than they charge their tenants in central London!

Oh yes the roof.  Riverside first issued S21 notices in January 2016 and after holding a ‘design workshop’ with tenants in September 2015 and its Divisional Director personally assuring tenants there would be no evictions!

In these January eviction notices Riverside said:

27jannotice starc

Note that it was necessary for the tenants to be evicted (note not decanted but evicted!) due to health and safety reasons with the roof.  These eviction notices were then withdrawn by the Divisional Director who also apologised to all tenants for how they had been treated by Riverside on 4 March 2016 in another letter.

4march withdraw s21 starc

Lo and behold Riverside staff scurry around the building on the morning of the 29 March 2016 re-issuing these Section 21 notices (and with no advance warning either.)

Then comes the ultimate shoot oneself in the foot letter of Riverside of 8 April which said that the roof repairs – which they used as excuse to evict (note not decant) tenants back in January 2016 – would now go ahead with the tenants in situ!!  So the original claim that tenants needed to be out in order for the roof repairs to be carried out ….?!

maidstone 030

What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive, Riverside.

Perhaps your Chief Executive read Sir Walter Scott as a wee lassie in Glasgow or perhaps her ” we would like to welcome new members in Kent to the Riverside family” message as part of her One Riverside corporate marketing plan was merely a Glasgow kiss to these new ‘customers?’

Who would want to join such an asocial and dysfunctional family?

Three quick points of summary.

First, the pace at which many housing associations are becoming ever more asocial by the day is an alarming trend and one that has no scrutiny or brake on it as for example the Severn Vale Housing Association decision to ban all under 36 in response to the SAR policy saw no condemnation from within the HA sector or from government as to the acute asocial nature of this allocation policy change.

HA’s have always been able to refuse any allocation even when they have 100% nomination rights with councils and so banning tenants with a past history of social housing tenure to prevent them ever becoming eligible for RTBe is an easy position to adopt and no one will prevent this from happening.  Laissez-faire private registered providers indeed and free from any semblance of public duty and social purpose.

Secondly, such trends place all social tenants at great risk of once leaving the social housing sector for whatever reason, be it voluntary or forced as in relationship breakdown or fleeing violence and abuse, of never being allocated a housing association property ever again and cast aside to the ravages of the insecure unregulated private rented sector.  The same Housing and Planning Act 2016 that contains the RTBe also contains regular reviews of social housing tenure and assures that more and more council housing is sold to pay for RTBe discounts of HA tenants thus seeing HAs increase their current 63% of all social housing provision and a greater percentage of social housing model becomes HA owned and with a greater chance of exclusions and bans.

The tenant as vassal and housing association as feudal landlord? A feudal landlord who is incentivised to evict as many existing tenants as possible to take away the RTBe risk and to charge the new tenant the next week far more in affordable (sic) rent than currently charged at a social rent level.

Thirdly, what a huge embarrassment for government policy and for the National Housing Federation who coerced all its members into hastily signing up to RTBe with just 6 days notice and did not tell them of the cumulative criterion for the RTBe deal it offered as part of that vote.  Not only did the NHF deceive its own members as this 10 year cumulative criterion only emerged when Riverside released this as part of the pilot programme, we also find that this aspect and inevitable consequence of the RTBe policy was never considered or scrutinised by parliament.

This is a classic example of the complicity of the National Housing Federation doing the current governments dirty work as its accomplice in chief! Then how embarrassing for Riverside being caught out acting in such an asocial manner and for repeatedly and knowingly deceiving its tenants – and even worse by its own incompetent hand as the eviction letters above so unambiguously reveal.

Riverside is one of the chosen few with government as the RTBe pilot shows too and if it wasn’t for their asocial actions and inactions I would never have thought of this RTBe inevitable consequence and never drafted that argument to Helen Grant MP on behalf of STARC and which was copied into Brandon Lewis the housing minister and his boss Greg Clark the Communities Minister.

What the ministers now do with this charade and effective banning of social tenants from social housing is anyone’s guess, though I suspect a counter argument such as housing associations will not do this as they are honourable or some other such nonsense as they have social ethos.  The fact that they ARE able to do this is the problem and added to that is a government and NHF history of not condemning the same allocation impropriety that Severn Vale have done.

I also expect the usual mutterings from many other housing associations who think the NHF’s farts smell of roses and would not have a word to say against them and of how dare I tar them all with the same brush, which is just a mere deflection and non-argument.  The fact that housing associations are ABLE to do this and to do this unchecked and without scrutiny is more than enough reason for concern for everyone involved in social housing or indeed what is left of it.

Finally, to those who genuinely do care for social housing then do whatever you can to ensure that the likes of Riverside, who are the epitome of an asocial landlord, lose this dispute with the STARC tenants and these shafted tenants do need donations and pledges of whatever you can afford to fight the multi billion pound leviathan that is Riverside.

The direct link to the STARC crowdfunding page is here and the rest of the facts of this case are required reading for tenant and landlord alike.

____________________________________

PS My first draft of this ran to over 8000 words, it could have been 11,000 or even 20,000+ and a magnum opus, and there is so much more to this that I have yet to release.  The full detail made me feel ashamed to be called a social housing professional, it made me feel dirty and unclean and while I sometimes use hyperbole in my writings, the above is very much an understatement of the chronically asocial actions and inactions of the deceitful Riverside.

It is way past time to merely just moan about how asocial housing is going and actions needs to be taken, from within and without social housing, as mere words are no longer enough.  Claimed social landlords do act as offensively and asocially as the private rented sector that the social rented sector is all too keen to villainise, so get over it housing people and get out of your naive bubble that this is limited to the PRS and this one case alone is testament to that.

I have details of many others and keep getting them sent to me and each of these, time and resource willing, will be checked just as thoroughly as this case before being released in the public domain.

Speaking with many others I am reassured that many outside of social housing are just as angry at the above as I am.  It’s to their eternal shame of those within housing that they only choose to talk amongst themselves as they would see this too, as well as get a real picture of what the social housing model has become rather than the rose-tinted version they see from only talking to one another.

But then you will get truly angry at just how complicit the great and the good of the NHF are and begin t realise just how many plausible options there are and have always been for challenging the current social housing hating government rather than the deceits and apathy we have only ever seen from the NHF and their puppet masters.

Psst, anyone know where I can get a few thousand lanyards labelled ‘unclean’ and with bells attached as the housing conference season is approaching?

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5 thoughts on “RTBe is asocial housing management by fear

  1. Joe as a tenant of that so called ‘social’ landlord, I need to say this to you shouldn’t need to feel ashamed to called a social housing professional. The staff, management and Group directors of Riverside need to feel ashamed to be refer to as ‘social housing professionals’.

    Riverside as only brought shame on itself!

  2. I cannot for the life of me understand how any HA, seeking to make people ineligible on the grounds of former tenancy length would get away with it?! The Severn Vale approach is just as shocking.
    This is pure discrimination for the benefit of the HA. Surely on the grounds of an appeal, it would not be able to be upheld?

    1. Understanding it is regrettably not the issue, the fact remains HA’s can find many excuses to get around practical issues such as nomination agreements and always have been able to as they are not public bodies and hence have no public duties in housing / rehousing terms that for example council landlords have.

      HA’s will of course not state this as the reason but this offensive outcome will happen in a policy that was … designed by HAs lest we forget.

      Legal advice I have received re Severn Vale is that this does not constitute (legal) discrimination, and while that seems perverse in lay terms, in legal terms it is not. As such whatever appeal mechanism is irrelevant.

      Interestingly as I say in this case Riverside has an appeal mechanism for their eviction cases yet despite this being corporate policy they refuse to even answer requests for such an appeal let alone have a meeting with the STARC tenants issued with eviction notices. That is just one aspect of how asocial Riverside is and perhaps the bigger question for Carol Matthews and the Riverside board is precisely how can officers ignore and override corporate policy in such a blatant way?!

      Surely on the grounds of appeal ….?!

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