Tag Archives: housing benefit

Benefit Tenants – The Reality of When It Goes Wrong

You may remember a few months ago I told you the story of Joe who turned up on the doorstep, courtesy of a friend, with pennies in his pocket and a cat called Bill.

His accommodation story has now ended; after being awarded the local housing allowance of £67 a week and various promises of being able to afford the £33 a week top up, Joe received his benefit and managed to spend the lot. Various texts, telephone conversations and letters ensued to which he replied with protestations that he’d been to the bank and paid up. He progressed to a raft of excuses relating to poorly relatives and his own mental health issues, ending up at the “nobody likes me any more, I have nothing to live for” attitude. Eventually, he admitted he’d spent the lot.

But what on? He didn’t look like he was into drugs, drink or gambling but consistently never had any money. Eventually, even the cat got fed up of him and left the house last week and hasn’t been seen since. His housing worker and friend finally persuaded him to give up the room, leave the telly I’d bought and the keys and take up a work offer abroad before I submitted court papers under a Section 8 notice.

On clearing out the room I found out what he’d been spending his money on – SHOES! Pairs and pairs of shoes but none worth having despite us having the same foot size.

Eviction Looming

The current case we’re working on is that of 3 friends all claiming LHA who moved into a 3 bed house. Within a month they’d fallen out with each other (having been friends for over 20 years) and one of them left after the fixed period; they couldn’t find a replacement because they weren’t talking to each other and can’t leave because no other landlord wants the remaining two. They now have their Possession Order dated for next week and their benefit payments have been stopped.

I recently watched an interesting interview with Vanessa from Property Tribes and Kent landlord, Fergus Wilson. He said in one of the videos (you may need to watch both) that he doesn’t believe it’s up to the PRS to house the poor and needy (or in my case, mentally needy). At first I was shocked but after listening to his reasoning and based on my own experience, I’m actually starting to agree that the majority of the PRS landlords are simply not geared up to handle the social issues which accompany those tenants who don’t have a support network and are not mentally or mobility impaired enough to qualify for Supported Housing.

Those landlords like me who are happy to take a chance on someone claiming Housing Benefit are left out in the cold. When Joe’s rent was eight weeks’ in arrears I followed procedure and applied to the council for his benefit to be paid directly to me. At the same time, I emailed the council to find out whether they would act to home the 2 sitting tenants upon receipt of the Possession Order, the expiry date on the Order or when the bailiffs turn up to evict them. To date I have received absolutely no response. (But I’d rather say “Sweet F.A.”.

So, what will bring the plight of those not bright or able enough to hold down a tenancy in the PRS to the attention of the Government? The councils are fully aware of the scarcity of housing and prioritise need based on a banding system but even those people at the top of the waiting list spend their days with their fingers cross to find a secure base to call home. We’re based in Eastbourne and are lucky to have numerous promenade shelters and benches overlooking the sea . Perhaps when these are full and the octogenarian tourists from Up North, on their morning constitution, trip over the unfortunates and their empty cans of Special Brew, someone may raise a cautious hand in protest.

Keeping The Faith

Will I take a chance on a housing benefit tenant again? Of course I will. I like diversity in the HMOs and someone needs to be at home to put out the bins, let the plumber in and give a damn about the house. In fact, I’ve just offered a tenancy to a lovely 28 year old girl with a muscular disease who is currently sofa surfing which exacerbates her condition. She used to work in an office, shared a flat with a friend and was then struck down with this ongoing illness. Suddenly no one wanted to offer her a tenancy after her friend sold the flat. She’s ill enough to qualify for a PIP (Personal Independent Payment) and ESA (Employment Support Allowance) but not ill enough for Supported Housing. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place – that goes for both of us.

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Review of Britain’s Benefit Tenants

Last night Channel 4’s Britain’s Benefit Tenants had my partner and I screaming into the sofa cushions at the naivety of the characters:  one of whom was the optimistic landlord who invested his hard earned pension pot of £40k into a Hartlepool terraced house he’d never seen before. Looking forlornly at his due diligence homework courtesy of Google, he realised he’d cocked up.  Fighting his corner was the lettings agent from NGU Homelettings, David,  chasing rent arrears from a lady who refused to answer his efforts to contact her so he could “prevent her eviction”.  One of his other cases were two drugged up brothers who were finally being evicted after a year and were oblivious to their dog peeing against a cupboard fondly labelled as a family heirloom.

After the programme, I dismounted from my high horse and remembered the following:

  1. My ex husband and myself also bought property (pre 2008 ) – unseen and unresearched – based on NGU Homelettings advice and investment potential for which they levied a hefty armchair and refurb fees.  My excuse?  I thought my ex husband knew something I didn’t.  His excuse?  The same as the landlord who bought the property in Hartlepool in a street where no one wanted to live – on paper it was a strong investment.
  1. As I was screaming into the pillow “You’ve waiting HOW long to evict the tenant?!?” the unswerving, magnanimous David excused the delay by saying something along the lines of  “It’s better to keep someone in the property and have a chance of them receiving Housing Benefit to pass onto the landlord”. To be fair, he worked hard at trying to get that something or anything out of the tenant and I admired his patience.  After all, he doesn’t have the luxury of quiet, clean, risk free tenants waiting in the wings to snap up one crappy, trashed house after another in a street where even the trades fear to tread.

On the subject of crap, did you see HOW much the tenants left behind?  Again, David shrugged his shoulders and decided it could have been worse – at least they didn’t nick the copper.

Three Lucky Benefit Tenants

A few weeks ago an opportunity came up for Nadine, Anthony and a friend to move into a proper house after accepting that they would be 150 years old before any kind of social housing would be available.  I’ve said before in a previous post that perhaps living in a room long term as you grow old could have a negative effect on one’s mental health. But with no job (or likely to ever have one) and relying solely on welfare, they knew most agents would balk at allowing them to rent any of their landlord’s precious abodes, despite the fact that they’d managed to save for a deposit and the first month’s rent.  Their prayers were answered when a client of ours bought a lovely 3 bed house, handed it to us to manage and declared that Nadine et al sounded fabulous (although we did have to encourage Anthony into a clean T shirt before he met her).  The landlord is now in possession of long term, reliable tenants and the tenants are ecstatic to have room to swing the proverbial cat.

But the crap they left behind!  I love these people and would stand up in a court of law to defend their honour.  However, after the fifth trip to the tip with their unwanted possessions I was ready to kill them.  I have come to realise, when you’re on benefits anything free/gratis makes your heart leap with joy even if you don’t need it.  I know Nadine would trawl the charity shops far and wide looking for something to bring home – clothes, pictures, lava lamps and a very weird set of elephants.  None of them have a car so there was never going to be a hope in hell that they could get rid of their hoard.  I spent a very wet and windy day sitting in the car listening to Tom confess his latest sexual exploits as he helped me take the detritus to the tip.  And it wasn’t the smelly mattress which made me gag.

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Happy HMO Tenants – And How To Keep Them That Way!

With the tantalising onset of summer, comes happier moods and none more so than in my “mature” house.   They’re still recovering from Simon’s outburst last month after he turned the whole house into a gibbering wreck, became paranoid that they were all against him and, as I later found out, had hounded them all into submission with his constant bullying.

This is a house I go to at least weekly, if not twice weekly and the tenants have been with me 7 years – so how the hell hadn’t I seen the destruction that was being wrecked by one person?  Because they were terrified of getting him into trouble with me.  There had been constant weekend parties, late night weed smoking, music playing and what felt like hundreds of strangers running amok through the house.

The tenants are in their 40s and 50s and usually not afraid to speak their minds, but what has come out is the systematic abuse levied by 24 year old Simon telling them that he “had rights” and “could do what he wanted” whilst appearing completely angelic to me.  He’d trashed the garden with BBQ parties and stolen all the kitchen equipment upon his eviction.

To help dissipate the atmosphere Simon left behind, the tenants asked if they could finally do up the garden.   Remember, this is their HOME, not a temporary place to stay until a Council house comes available as they’ve given up on that idea.  As benefit claimants, they don’t have much money and each pound not spent on necessities is a pound closer to saving for clothes or cider.  So, yesterday afternoon, we took a trip to the local garden centre with a budget of £40 and I sat in the car whilst they spent a happy hour choosing plants and compost.  To be honest, it was a bit like taking out a couple of aged relatives as they had a domestic half way round the bedding plant section after failing to agree on Salmon pink or white geraniums.

Back at the house, spent and happy here is the result:

Gardening

We’ve since taken Chris, a 62 year old who enjoys listening to Radio 4, has a penchant for brown clothes, walks his ex-wife’s dog and, quite frankly, has “had enough of bleedin’ wimmin” – we love him!

Moral of this story:

(1) Don’t underestimate the damage one bad tenant can do in an HMO and,

(2) long term HMO tenants are happy to take responsibility for their environment – so give them some cash to make it home and let them choose the household items that make them feel they truly belong.

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