Immigration, Housing Benefits and Private Landlords
It seems the media are finally having a proper and mature debate about immigration – even the BBC is now doing it, without fearing that by even questioning the extent of immigration the dear BEEB could themselves be labelled as racist.
It has taken many years for all in the media to have a sensible debate about this big issue, but at least it is now happening.
Partly, this may be due to the fact that the Coalition (and Labour) both know that UKIP is snapping at their heels – and so the debate has finally been forced out into the open. (Am I the only one who finds it rather amusing when the PM sticks out his chin, as he seems to constantly do when he has any important point to make these days, and rather seriously and deeply, pronounces some grand policy to cut immigration, only for dear old Vince Cable to point out that the proposed scheme is totally unworkable in practice? In most things, Mr. Cable usually turns out to be right).
The odd thing is that experienced landlords often know a lot about immigration patterns and could help inform the debate, but unfortunately no one in government bothers to ask us for our views. In particular there is a lot of experience among landlords like me whose properties could be described as “bread and butter” properties in the inner city suburban postcodes.
Back 20 years ago we could tell the government how 80% of tenant applicants were British with the other 20% being mainly Irish or from Australia or New Zealand. Now, less than 10% hail from Britain. However, if you are a landlord who takes housing benefit dependent tenants in London, the percentage of Brits rises to over 50%, with the rest being mainly from the EU countries, especially from the more recently joined Accession States. (Note: This is anecdotal data from other landlords we know in London).
I say all this because I see Judith and Fergus Wilson, allegedly the UK’s biggest private-non-institutional landlords are reported in the press as saying that they will no longer take “Brits on Benefits” but will instead only offer their properties to working foreign migrants.
I would imagine the real issue that the Wilsons have is not wilful non payment of rent by the Brits on Benefits, but is really to do with the extra hassle they have to go through for housing benefit folk and the delays in payments that too often occur – which is to do with the administration of housing benefit itself, or the new Universal Credit*
The whole housing benefit system was never great – being clunky, paperwork heavy and with money paid in arrears and often late. It always caused problems for tenants, ironically, especially those in and out of work rather than for the permanently jobless.
But the Coalition cuts to rates, the caps, and the frankly mad decision to set payment of the benefits to the tenants as the default (not to the landlord) only made things much, much worse.
With a big pool of tenants available who are not dependent on benefits – many being migrants, one could begin to understand the Wilsons’ move. (“Here’s a tenancy agreement, you pay rent in advance and a 6 weeks deposit – no government involvement, easy”)
The fact is that the government has gone too far on benefits “reform”, so now they are reaping the consequences as even the more “charitable landlords” increasingly head for the exit.
To plug the gap, we now see ever viagra overnight more money being paid over from central government to the town halls in the form of special grants for emergency accommodation and for “landlord incentives”, in an ever more desperate attempt to shore up the whole failing system.
It looks like the madhouse, it is the madhouse. And the huge, possibly mythical family of Afghans in Acton who were getting £100K in housing benefits a year back in 2005 and who started the whole moral panic when the Daily Mail et al found and wrote about them – and which led to the cuts to housing benefits, have a lot to answer for.
It really needs someone like Vince to look at what is happening in the real world of the private rented sector and come up with some sensible policies that have a chance of working, then we may see another honest debate.
We know Margaret Hodge and Alison Seabeck are regular readers of this blog, amongst a number of other MPs. Please have Vince or someone who lives in the real world get in touch with me!
- For the uninitiated, Universal Credit is the new clunky scheme that was supposed to take over from housing benefit. Years late already and riven by unworkability of systems, it is probably only still believed in by Ian Duncan Smith. Expect it to soon join many other public grand projects in being canned and the hundreds of millions of taxpayers cash spent on building it to be written off.
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