Some disturbing news hit the pages of The Guardian yesterday – tenants participating in the trial of what they describe as ‘the government’s controversial benefit cap’ are being sent eviction letters suggesting they may need to leave their homes within 14 days because the welfare changes mean they “may not be able to afford the rent”.
The letters referred to by The Guardian are being sent out by Genesis Housing Association – who operate a large number of properties across Brent – and tell tenants that Genesis are taking what amounts to preemptive action to evict those who are likely to fall in to arrears as a result of the cap. The Guardian article quotes Harringey as saying they are ‘astonished by the premature threat’ of eviction, and labels this behaviour (which the article hints, but does not confirm, goes beyond Genesis alone) ‘unacceptable’. It is a little galling to hear that a borough colluding in the implementation of such a cap would be quite so surprised that a policy whose only purpose is to continue to prop up money-grabbing landlords at the expense of poorer families was so unprepared that it’s partners may act in a similarly unfeeling way… but we digress.
The Guardian article states that ‘a spokesperson for Genesis at first denied that letters had been sent out. When confronted with the text of the letter, the social landlord, which manages about 30,000 homes across London and south-east England, said there had been a “cack-handed attempt” to explain the situation in Haringey to “some clients”. “That letter should not have been written that way. We are working with tenants in Haringey to help them out of arrears.”‘ While there is little better than an organisation admitting its own actions are ‘cack-handed’ (great terminology), the underlying issue here is horribly serious.
The overall gist of the letter is that, as Genesis (along with many other Social Landlords) has a large portfolio of privately-owned properties under its management, any rent arrears caused by the benefit cap will leave a large hole in the Genesis budget – without any impact on the level of rent they are due to pay to the private landlord. Like any good profit-making company, Genesis are not interested in subsidising the rent of their tenants when families fall into arrears, especially when Genesis will remain responsible for supplying private landlords with their monthly rent. The answer? Genesis are looking to offload properties back to private landlords when the prospect (that’s right – not the reality, just the thought) of rent arrears comes into play.
This has HUGE implications. Whether other Social Landlords have the same idea now, or begin to follow the same path once tenants fall into arrears, the effect will be the same. If these properties are passed back into the private sector, there they will remain. The net result of all of this will be homeless families AND a decrease in the level of social housing stock available into the future. Did we mention that the Right to Buy discount went up to £100,000 in the recent budget? The combined effect of these disastrous cuts with a sell-off of council housing not seen since the Witch (sorry, Thatcher) reigned could – will – spell disaster for the future of social housing in England. We’re not going to stand by. Are you?