The plight of the bottom 30 percent – landlord or social worker?
By Carl Agar
At least 30% of today’s Private Rented Sector (PRS) in England and Wales comprises of homes with tenants on low income.
Many of these households are families, individuals and couples who are classed as ‘vulnerable’ - either through ill-health, drug or alcohol dependencies, homelessness, or other factors. Most are on income support and in receipt of other benefits, and there are times when they are in need of a great deal of support.
In the past, these households would have been supported by the social housing sector. They would have been able to access not just housing but also various forms of assistance from various council departments - and would often have a support worker to help them with their housing needs, as well as ongoing tenancy management.
However, over the past decade or so, social housing provisions have been slowly but surely withdrawn due to political decisions and austerity measures.
It is the private sector which has been left to pick up the slack – with absolutely no handover and some frankly disastrous results.
Statistics from the Competitions and Markets Authority, published last year, show that the number of homes in the PRS has doubled to nearly 5 million since 2002. Many people in those homes live below the poverty line. In fact, such is the shortfall in social housing that around one fifth of the poorest 10 per cent of households in England have been left with no option but to rent privately.
Put simply, the private sector landlord is not set up to deal with the kind of support levels this part of the market needs. Reluctant landlords are being forced into a ‘social worker’ like role with no training and no understanding of how to support their tenant.
The situation is only being made worse by further poorly thought out initiatives such as Universal Credit, which has placed a further strain on the relationship between landlords and tenants. The government’s poor roll-out of the system – which officials themselves admit has left many tenants waiting weeks or months before receiving their re-assessed income - has caused financial hardship to both tenants and landlords .
I don’t believe the current situation is by design. It feels more like an unintended outcome to lots of different factors accumulating over the past decade.
Yet if landlords operating in this market don’t adapt, and don’t bridge the support gap left by the shrinking welfare state, they put their asset and their livelihood at risk. And the fact is, this is a growing market, and we don’t always get to pick perfect professional working tenants.
The reality is that landlords will have to change how they do things to prop up their vulnerable tenants - and the wider housing market.
And I for one would like to see the government spend more time and effort supporting the PRS to do so – and far less time and effort dishing out tax-payer pleasing penalties.