Local Housing Allowance and Housing Benefit not of interest for Majority of Private Landlords
Many local authorities, housing associations and charities designing strategies to try to get private landlords to let to tenants on Local Housing Allowance are very fond of doing surveys of landlords.
(Readers of this blog will know how critical I was of one particular survey of landlords that, last year, was used to make some astonishing claims for the impact on homelessness in London of the current changes to Housing Benefit / Local Housing Allowance .)
Doing surveys is better than doing no surveys at all (usually!) but these surveys can be limited in value.
Typically the surveys I have seen solicit the views of landlords who the authority already has a relationship with, those few landlords who are accredited with the council (which is usually not many) and perhaps those members of landlords associations who live in the local area.
From the base of responses from these groups, strategies and initiatives are sometimes devised.
Again, all well and good, but the trouble with this approach is that it misses out the views of the majority of landlords who, right now, want nothing to do with tenants on benefits or the town halls.
For most landords, “tenants on benefits” and the various incentives the council provides for landlords are simply “off their radars.”
To illustrate this, a landlord “tenant find” website I know has 100 live properties listed in the London area – all uploaded by landlords.
When uploading properties to the site, the landlords are presented with a box to tick if they accept tenant of benefits. Not one landlord ticked the box. In Greater Manchester there were 20 live properties. Again, it is the same story – no one has ticked the box to say they accepted tenants on benefits.
Well Meaning but Wrong Strategies
Until local authorities understand how to reach landlords like these and find out what they are thinking and why they are so suspicious of the whole Housing Benefit / Local Housing Allowance system, they will be missing out on the big picture.
And if they believe the survey results unquestioningly and even worse – use them as a base to construct strategies for their local private rented sector, “local letting agency models”, social letting agencies and PRS Access Schemes etc – they will undoubtedly devise bad strategies.
Bad strategies for the private rented sector are not a small matter. It is wasteful and bad for society, not least because the PRS is now so big – indeed, as I explain below, it is probably already bigger than the social housing sector.
Given the size of the PRS, it is time strategies for the private rented sector stopped being a footnote on local authority planning documents.
Private Rented Sector Bigger than Social Housing Sector Now
The English Housing Survey, which is published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, indicates that for the first time since the mid 1960s the private rented sector (PRS) is now larger than the local authority / housing association sector.
The latest survey is for 2009/10. At that time there were 3.7 million households in social housing, compared to 3.4 million in the private rented sector – a difference of just 300,000.
A year earlier, the same source found the respective figures were 3.8 million (social housing) and 3.1 million in the PRS – a difference of 700,000.
So, it’s a fair bet to say that if the trend of those years continued into 2010/11 – and there is no reason to think that it hasn’t – we must have already reached the point where the PRS is the larger.
Private companies selling to the private landlord should also afford the private rented sector more space for the development of robust strategies that meet customer needs. In particular, we think this is true of mortgage lending banks and building societies where provision of buy to let mortgages is still so heavily concentrated among a few players.
Next week we will look at the reasons why the PRS has grown so big and why social housing (and owner occupation) continues to decline.
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