Greedy landlords create housing hell

Simon Carter

As Tory party leaders David Cameron and George Osborne prepare another vicious government cut to housing benefit in their ‘year of hard truths’ it’s reported that Fergus Wilson – one of Britain’s largest private landlords – says he will not accept any more applicants who rely on housing benefit to pay rent.

“Rents have gone north and benefit levels south”, said Wilson, who has recently sent eviction notices to 200 tenants. He added that ‘private landlords are running a business’. Yet the government has insisted that cuts in housing benefit will drive down rents.

In December 2013 the National Landlords’ Association published figures showing that the number of private landlords letting to people on benefits halved to only one in five.

This is increasing pressure on low income families many of whom are losing council tenancies because of the government’s punitive ‘bedroom tax’ and therefore have to seek accommodation in the private sector.

This dire situation will inevitably worsen when the much criticised Universal Credit is introduced, squeezing incomes still further and switching housing benefit payments along with all other entitlements to claimants, once a month, instead of directly to landlords.

Those families still with a roof over their heads in the private rented sector increasingly have to endure sub-standard housing. In this largely unregulated market sector an estimated one million homes fail to meet basic standards of safety, warmth and repair.

A report by IPPR North think tank also says that private properties are the most expensive to rent yet are in the worse condition. They add that tenants’ fear of eviction allows landlords to get away with slum-like accommodation.

As well as one million sub-standard privately rented homes there were 217,000 council houses in 2011 which failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard.

Instead of forking out £9.3 billion a year in housing benefit to private landlords there should be rent controls and strictly enforced accommodation standards to ensure decent housing for all. £9.3 billion a year directed instead toward a crash house building programme would begin to eliminate the current housing shortage crisis.