Council Schemes for Landlords and the Private Rented Sector are not making an Impact
Back in July, the Guardian newspaper published a piece of research I had just completed which showed how councils and housing associations are failing to engage private landlords with their various schemes.
I thought it worthwhile to reproduce the piece in full here – but the article with comments can be found online here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2012/jul/31/private-landlords-council-support-schemes?newsfeed=true
“In a desperately difficult housing market the housing solution that’s often put forward is the private rented sector (PRS).
Of course, the PRS has many drawbacks, but it’s not my intention here to look at the pros and cons of the sector as an answer to the crisis. I suspect its suitability (or not) will be a major talking point when the Montague report, which looks into the barriers to institutional investment in private rent, is published.
Instead, I want to look at private landlords’ willingness to work with councils to address the housing crisis.
The background is that most parts of the UK, and London in particular, has a problem of a lack of housing supply.
The latest statistics from Shelter show that there are almost 37,000 households in temporary accommodation in London and 10 times as many on council waiting lists.
We know that council-run accreditation schemes have been marketed to landlords for a long time and at some cost, but the number of landlords signed up remains stubbornly low. There are a range of lease schemes in which a landlord can get a guaranteed rent from a local authority or housing association for a number of years. There are a variety of rent and deposit guarantee schemes, often designed to ease the risk that landlords perceive in letting to people in need of temporary accommodation.
Yet too often these products have failed to be promoted to landlords.
Lack of Impact Amongst Landlords
At LettingFocus, we asked 40 private landlords who are on our mailing list and who have properties in 12 London boroughs to find out whether they were aware of such schemes and what they thought of them.
Only two out of the 40 landlords had ever joined an accreditation scheme. Another two landlords were members of a landlords association. Only four out of the 40 were aware of local authority or housing association schemes such as rent or deposit guarantee schemes, even though all but two of the boroughs offered them.
Once we explained what these products involved, there was a strong interest from landlords, especially for lease schemes, with landlords particularly attracted to the chance to enjoy guaranteed rent, reduce voids and eliminate letting agency costs.
Two of the landlords had tried lease schemes already and one had tried a deposit guarantee scheme. They reported a reasonable experience, although both said they took too long to set up. They also said that local authority staff often did not seem to understand the time pressures that private landlords were under. Information was also sometimes considered incoherent or contradictory.
It is a great shame that so many private landlords seem willing and ready to offer accommodation to vulnerable households but local authorities and housing associations are unable to engage them. The result is that many vulnerable households end up in expensive emergency B&B accommodation or moved out of the borough altogether.”
The piece drew some strong support from one outspoken council worker who added these comments online in response….
“Councils have so much to bring to the table but they don’t know how to do it and PRS landlords don’t know what we’ve got or how to get it. …… It is a lack of understanding but it is driven by an entrenched public sector mindset that few can break out of……… If you say ‘This is what the council does’ and then expect landlords to work with you it won’t happen and yet this is what I see so many councils doing. They want to get on board, they see the need for it but they just dont know how to go about it because they can’t shake off the traditional and habitual role……… I think it is the speed that frightens local authorities. PRS people can come up with a good idea in the morning and just get on the phone and make it happen by afternoon but councils have to hold meeting after meeting for months, form project groups etc and it takes an age……..I know lots of people who do frontline people-facing work like myself who are full of energy and enthusiasm for PRS/Public partnerships but it gets squashed out of them by the weight of tradition and office politics.”
Over the next two months we will be doing further research into what local authorities offer private landlords and how they do it.
We hope to publish this in the autumn.
To assist this work, we would like to hear from private landlords about what your experience with local authorities and housing association has been like.
And we would also especially like to hear from other council and housing association workers too – you can, of course, do this in confidence if you prefer. Our email address is listed below.
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