When the Counihan-Sanchez family discovered that their elderly mother had received a needlessly worrying letter from Network Stadium (her landlord) warning her of possible cuts to her benefits, they were shocked. Not only had Mrs Counihan passed away a number of days previously, she was also a pensioner and therefore should never have been sent the letter in the first place.
Brent Housing Action decided to investigate whether others had received similar letters, either from Stadium or other landlords, and discovered that this wasn’t an isolated incident. We decided to confront Stadium using their own tactics, and took a giant version of their ‘warning’ letter up to their head office, which resulted in them offering to meet us to discuss our problems further… and since, then, we’ve been collecting some information on the way that they approached the benefits changes, including the facts below (which are taken from a meeting with residents in late 2012).
- 60-70% of Stadium’s residents are housing benefit recipients. As the Government moves to paying tenants their benefits directly, Network Stadium has to collect 60-70% more in rent from people who are not in the culture of budgeting or paying their own rent. (Foreseen problems are residents not paying their rent, but prioritising spend on other things, residents not having a bank account or have one without an online function, individuals who are unable to use or access a computer)A landlord can only apply for direct payments to come straight to them if the resident falls 8 weeks into arrears and is vulnerable. This approach only remains until the resident clears their arrears and then the direct payment reverts back to the individual.
- Network Stadium was anticipating a drop in rent payments as a result of the changes (which came into effect from April 2013)
- Stadium described the changes as a significant risk and stated that they would support residents and protect their r interests as a business.
The housing sector predicted an increase in evictions. Network Stadium planned to respond to this in the following ways:
- Investing heavily in training staff
- Investing heavily in information, advice and guidance
- Sending information to raise awareness with the 12 weekly rent statements
- Home visits for the vulnerable and disabled.
- Creating a strong rent payment culture e.g. new sign up procedure in place. Information is on the website
- Employing two Welfare Benefit Advisors; one exclusive for Network Stadium and one to be shared across the Group.
- Working with Brent Law Centre on a proposal for free independent debt advice for our residents.
- We don’t want to evict or take people to court but we will do if we must and will do it quickly.
- Organisation Coactiva is analysing our residents so we know who will be personally affected and then we can target them with the support they require.
- Holding Income Surgeries across our neighbourhoods offering support and payment plan options.
- Sending direct letters
- Phoning residents between 6.00 – 9.00pm to discuss.
- Starting to reduce tenancy terms with tenants
- Introducing sanctions e.g. residents can keep their parking space if they stay on track with their rent payments.
- Will start to incentivise those who pay their rent within the terms of their tenancy Working with Staying First.
- Also supporting resident with employment, training and digital inclusion.
- What our social landlords are saying… (brenthousingaction.wordpress.com)
- ‘Cack-handed’ Eviction Notices reach Harringey Residents (brenthousingaction.wordpress.com)