Housing the Homeless in the Private Rental Sector
Under s25 of the Local Government Act 1988 housing authorities are allowed to give financial help (incentives) to private landlords who offer up their properties for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. They offer a number of incentives such as:
- The authority paying the costs of leases;
- Making small one-off grants (“finders’ fees”) to landlords to encourage them to let dwellings to households owed a homelessness duty;
- Paying rent deposits or indemnities to ensure accommodation is secured for such households;
- Making one-off grant payments which would prevent an eviction.
- Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to provide financial assistance to meet a shortfall in a person’s eligible rent and the housing authority consider that the claimant is in need of further financial assistance. Such payments are governed by the Discretionary Housing Payment (Grant) Order 2001
Whilst there is no limit set on the amount of financial assistance that can be provided, authorities are obliged to act reasonably and in accordance with their fiduciary duty to local tax and rent payers.
The statutory underpinning of homelessness is contained under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. The definition of homelessness comes in two main groups: statutory, non statutory and single homelessness. Agencies in the voluntary sector tend to support those who are non-statutory or single homeless.
The Act also sets out the powers and duties of housing authorities where people apply to them for accommodation or assistance in obtaining accommodation. Under s189 of the Housing Act 1996, a homeless person will have a priority need for re-housing if s/he is vulnerable as a result of:
- Old age;
- Mental illness or learning disability (mental handicap) or physical disability;
- Having been looked after, accommodated or fostered and is aged 21 or more;
- Having been a member of Her Majesty’s regular naval, military or air forces;
- Having been in custody or detention;
- Ceasing to occupy accommodation because of violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out;
- Any other special reason.
In deciding what accommodation needs to be secured, housing authorities will need to consider whether the applicant has any support needs. Housing authorities will therefore need to make arrangements for effective links with the following to ensure that a joint assessment of an applicant’s housing and support needs can be made where necessary.
- Supporting People team;
- Social Services;
- Primary Care Trusts;
- Criminal Justice Services;
- Voluntary and community organisations.
When determining , local authorities should take into account all of the individual’s circumstances with the courts saying that local authority housing officers are the experts in making such assessments. This is not a medical test and a doctor’s view isn’t conclusive. Judges will however be wary of overturning vulnerability decisions, as they are effectively subjective judgments.
LOCAL AUTHORITIES INVOLVED ON MY BLOCK
I knew local authorities were involved on our block because of the rapid turnover of tenants but when I asked my local council all they did was to ask me as to why should any landlord have to tell anyone else who he/she was sub-letting to, private or otherwise. They also quoted Data Protection!
Despite their response, after some more digging I established that the Housing Department were using the block and whilst the Social Services Mental Health Team and the Learning Disabilities Team were also able to secure properties, I was unable to get a break down because of ‘client led’ databases.
So this was what was happening. Our landlords were handing over their properties to the councils to house the homeless and to make matters worse, due to reciprocal arrangements between councils, if one of them is short of accommodation, they will ask other councils for help! So far, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Westminster have all used our block but its only due to being asked for help from the tenants who have problems that I have established this.
SETTLED ACCOMMODATION ON AN ASSURED SHORTHOLD TENANCY
Where a housing authority has a duty under s.193(2) to secure accommodation for an applicant (‘the main homelessness duty’), the Secretary of State recommends that the authority considers, (where availability of suitable housing allows), securing settled (rather than temporary) accommodation in the immediate or short term. For example, an offer of accommodation under the housing authority’s allocation scheme or a qualifying offer of an assured shorthold tenancy from a private landlord would bring their own main homelessness duty to an end if accepted by the applicant.
An offer of an assured shorthold tenancy is a qualifying offer if:
- It is made, with the approval of the authority, in pursuance of arrangements made by the authority with the landlord with a view to bringing the authority’s duty under s.193 to an end;
- It is for a fixed term within the meaning of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1988 (i.e.not a periodic tenancy);
- It is accompanied by a written statement that states the term of the tenancy being offered and explains in ordinary language that there is no obligation on the applicant to accept the offer, but if the offer is accepted the housing authority will cease to be subject to the s.193 duty.
Note: The s.193 duty will not end with acceptance of an offer of a qualifying tenancy unless the applicant signs a statement acknowledging that he or she has understood the written statement accompanying the offer.
A housing authority may only discharge its housing functions under s206(1) Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 in the following ways:
- By securing that suitable accommodation provided by them is available for the applicant;
- By securing that the applicant obtains suitable accommodation from some other person; or
- By giving the applicant such advice and assistance as will secure that suitable accommodation is available from some other person.
LEASEHOLD LIFE’S EXPERIENCE
People become homeless for a myriad of reasons but for us it was the placing of tenants with drink, drugs and anti-social behaviour with entirely the wrong landlords that created so many dangers which can be read about here. The involvement of more than one council and ourselves being kept out of the loop entirely only added to the problems.
Whilst myself and my partner were left alone to deal with many of the resultant situations, it would be unfair and wrong to conclude from my other articles that all landlords and tenants are bad. It’s the combinations I have written about which are so damaging and dangerous to all concerned. There are a number of good landlords who have been at the receiving end of some simply horrific actions from tenants, ultimately forcing some of them out of the market (and these aren’t necessarily tenants with the kind of problems we have experienced!).
I agree with the observations made by Kate Faulkner, one of the UK’s leading property experts in her well-balanced opinion piece in issue 49 of the Landlord & Tenant Buy-to Let magazine. She says, and I quote “it isn’t right that politicians expect people in a vulnerable state to be housed by the average landlord with one property. This is why rogues can step in with high fees and not abide by the rules.”
It is however much more about breaking rules. Landlords who are unfit to be operating as such not only breach all the covenants of their lease but also their legal requirements under legislation.
On a Positive Note
Having said all that, despite the severe impact on both our physical and mental welfare at the time, we have reaped the rewards of our actions. Some of the ‘rogue’ landlords have sold up, and those remaining seem to have got our message which is ‘if you rent out a flat on this block you do it properly!’ We also have some really great tenants here, some of whom have been here for a number of years. All this has led to much more of a sense of community.
As Kate concludes, “The PRS can work and some landlords/agents do well with all types of tenants but it can’t replace the need for social homes”. If our experiences are anything to go by then it most certainly can’t!