Despite signs of economic growth in the UK, the housing market remains overstretched and competitive, making it increasingly difficult for people to get on the property ladder or even keep up with existing rent commitments. Unemployment and low wages are major issues keeping communities at a standstill, and for those fortunate enough to have work, soaring rents in areas such as the capital are forcing even the employed to seek financial help in the form of benefits.
Number of Employed Benefits Claimants Rising
In December 2013 the National Housing Federation reported that there are 310 employed new claimants of Housing Benefit daily, with the bill coming to £1.7m per day, and these are just the figures for working claimants – the government paid out a total of £635.7m in Housing Benefit during the 2012/2013 financial year. The NHF’s ‘Home Truths’ report blames a severe housing shortage for the rising rents which currently consume an average of half a person’s income and are predicted to take up 57% in ten years’ time.
The Tenants on Welfare Debate
Statistics like these raise the debate among landlords as to whether or not to let their properties to people on benefits. The National Landlords’ Association published figures in December 2013 that indicate only one in five private landlords lets to those claiming benefits. In January 2014 The Guardian reported that one landlord, Fergus Wilson, who issued eviction notices to 200 of his 1,000 tenants because they were on welfare, stated: “With tenants on benefits the number of defaulters outnumbers the ones who pay on time”. He continued, controversially: “Single mothers on benefits have been displaced to the bottom of the pile; sympathy for this group is disappearing. There aren’t enough places for people to live”.
A spokesperson for the campaign group, Priced Out, responded to Mr Wilson’s comments: “Evicting tenants because you’re suddenly upset about new government policies is unbelievably heartless, and could lead to more people deciding not to claim benefit for fear of losing their home, and sinking further into poverty”. Both sides of the debate clearly have serious and valid points to consider.
Mr Wilson expressed a preference for eastern European tenants who he has found “to be a good category of tenant who don’t default on the rent”. He also claims that it is impossible to get rent guarantee insurance for tenants on Housing Benefit, which covers the rent if tenants do not pay. There is hope for low income and unemployed tenants, however, with some private landlords still happy to accept those on benefits.
Seaford Letting Agent Has Alternatives for Benefits Tenants
According to a Seaford-based Letting Agent, “if potential tenants do not meet our required income or credit checks, our landlords may agree to having guarantors underwrite rent liabilities”. It is unlikely that only Letting Agents in the Seaford area might be willing to negotiate, so new or moving tenants should remain positive that by meeting other criteria, such as a good landlord or character references, they may still be able to find a new home despite receiving benefits.
Whilst most will appreciate another of Mr Wilson’s points that private landlords are running a business, the above-mentioned Seaford Letting Agent demonstrates that with a minimal investment of compassion and humanity those hardest hit by the economic consequences of the recession can still be accommodated – and with provisions in place to cover defaults just as with non-welfare tenants. It is important to remember that claimants of benefits are all individuals, just like landlords, and that a person forced to top up their income through welfare can still be a reliable and responsible tenant.