Designed to increase the amount of rented accommodation, it created a class of landlords for whom the main attraction was the guaranteed income stream. The last thing they wanted was a tenant with a job - they'd have to collect the rent themselves. As unemployable drug-users and lowlife move in, so other houses in the street become harder to sell and prices fall - at which point in steps a private landlord to buy the property and move in more benefit recipients. A nice feedback loop, which I observed at close range, selling my late fathers house on a rough estate in County Durham. Bea Campbell wrote a long piece about this phenomenon, focusing on Newcastle and Sunderland, in the Observer some ten years back.And I'm presuming that it was Labour who changed them back again, doubtless with the best of intentions, and with results like this :
A north west London landlord was asked to house a single mum arriving from Nigeria and was told it would be her, plus one child, although it was later established that there were four children in the property. The tenant started off well and passed over the rent for a couple of months - then it stopped, building up arrears of around £3,000 which is where it stood when we were contacted by the landlord to evict her as he wanted her out to get a more reliable tenant. She was successfully evicted and, in this case, the money was eventually paid back although it did take a very long time and, unsurprisingly, it put the landlord off letting to housing benefit tenants again. The tenant in question? Well she went on to be re-housed by her local council!How do you just 'arrive from Nigeria' and start claiming benefit ? I digress. But I have a feeling that despite their travails, mass immigration plus UK benefits must have produced many housing benefit millionaires among landlords in London and other large cities.
The law was brought in to empower tenants and make them feel part of the buy to let market place and there are many good tenants, however, there are still a large number that are not so conscientious. I wrote to Tony McNulty MP at the department for work and pensions at the end of 2008, expressing my concerns at the way the system currently works and it took him nearly 3 months just to acknowledge my letter and then his response was to insist that safeguards were in place to ensure it worked properly. I beg to differ.This one's impressive :
An Ealing landlord emailed to say her tenant had started to claim housing benefit but had lied about how much she was receiving and when she was being paid so, after a few months of not receiving her rent, she rang Ealing housing benefit direct to find out what was happening. Due to the data protection act, they were unable to pass on any information but, as she was owed the equivalent of 8 weeks rent, she was able to apply to the council to be paid directly which she duly did. However, the tenant used her 30 days to object and, soon after the rent was paid over by the council, she left the flat without notice...
As the landlord in question quite rightly pointed out to Ealing council, her tenant had embezzled £2,600 of tax payers’ money and the tax payer loses out on many counts. Their reaction? They just laughed and said it happens all the time.
A tenant in receipt of housing benefit does not pass it on, waits for the landlord to apply to the council directly, waits 30 days for their objection to be heard and, as soon as the money is paid directly, they leave without notice. The council recognises that their system is being abused and yet it is not regarded as benefit fraud.
"Today, a landlord told us a tenant is withholding rent and sending it to Kosovo to fund the building of a house," says Shamplina. It is almost you-couldn't-make-it-up territory.
Mind, some of the tenants who do stump up might present other problems :
"The most common cases appear to be organising gangs looking for an easy money making scam. They take out a tenancy and then sublet to multiple occupants. The worst case we have dealt with was a three bedroom, one bathroom, semi detached house in North London which was found to have had 53 occupants, all illegal immigrants. They were mattresses literally littering the floors from wall to wall in every available space. The sanitation issues were stretched to say the least."
"Another case was of a lady who had a lovely two bedroom flat in Victoria. Her tenant paid six months rent up front but she later discovered that 18 sets of bunk beds had been put into her property and was being used as a youth hostel. A website in China was offering students visiting London accommodation at £20 per night"