What should be addressed in a Housing bill?

Ray Barron-Woolford sets out his view of what a Housing Bill should deal with...

Photo credit: Tabsinthe via Foter.com / CC BY

As a life time housing activist I do support some aspects of the Governments Housing Bill. Such as tighter regulation of landlords with a database of ALL landlords being circulated by local Councils and Government; that will not only see fines for bad landlords, rising from £5,000 to £30,000, but also could lead to rogue landlords being struck off and banned from being landlords.

The scale of the fines should drive up standards and with tougher rules and fines that make it worthwhile for local councils to enforce which can only be a good thing,

I have long lobbied both the present Government, and the Labour party, through my advisory role on the Residential Landlords Association (I was on the board before resigning due to my political commitments).  Pushing for things to be done to drive up standards, bring in fair regulation and stamp out rogue landlords. On these issues, and I am surprised that as with most Government policy ideas, enforcement and long-term practice steps I have raised have been ignored.

Such as my idea and People before Profit policy; that housing benefit payments should be linked to landlords on a national data base. This would see public funds through housing benefit only going to licensed and regulated landlords who not only ensure property is well maintained and tenants treated fairly, but will ensure landlords pay tax. Far too many advertise without using an agent and then keep the cash away from the tax office. Even though most rogue landlords make a living exploiting the ever-increasing number of people who due to low pay and ever rising rent costs depend on housing benefits paid for by the hard-working tax payer. A miserable state of affairs costing a staggering £29 Billion in 2015 and is certain to rise by an average 3% in 2016. Even with the bedroom tax and the cap designed to reduce this huge part of the welfare bill.

As a Council tenant for almost 40 years, I have some positive aspect on the “Right-to-Buy”.  Entire Council estates have been transformed with leaseholders who care more about the estates than, in many cases, the Labour Councils who poorly maintain these estates. Leaseholders tend to be the backbone of local Residents Associations, estate play and youth groups and spend large sums of their own money on window boxes and cleaning. Whilst paying large sums in Leaseholder Charges to Councils who use this to improve and maintain Council homes and estates for all. These new estates have become real communities with huge range of different types of people leading to real diversity, community cohesion and so different from many of the sink estates around the world that end up places of misery, abuse, neglect and fear.

People Before Profit oppose the Right to Buy as many on the left do, and with 1.5 Million Council homes sold off, it is a position we should all support, Thatcher failed to replace each Council home sold with another and the cash from the sale of this 1.5 Million homes was and has been frozen under Tory and Labour Governments and my calls and Questions as to What became of this money, and Why more Council homes have not been built constantly go ignored.

What we should have done, and should do, with all future sales of any Social housing which have only been made possible via the tax you and I pay to the state is to build in a clause that states all Council and Social Housing can only be let out via the Local Council or Housing Association to people on low incomes and that the selling of such property can only go to people on low incomes. NOT LET or SOLD for private profit. This has to major advantages, it stops Social housing from being bought by “Buy To Let” Landlords and insures as property can only be sold and let to low paid workers, that the rents and cost to buy will always be low insuring everyone has equal opportunity to fair rent and if they chose to buy, alongside this must be rent control.

Since 2007 Rents increased by just 1% in Germany, 60% in the USA, but a Staggering 346% in the UK, how can this be right or sustainable? Rent controls such as have just one in to force in Berlin in 2015 in  Germany should be in the UK, Why and how has it been allowed that Landlords have seen property values rise by eye watering 500% and more over the same period and with interests rates frozen and Landlords’ given tax breaks , how has it been allowed that Landlords for example of a one bedroom flat in Surrey Quays  in 2007 who got £500 per month on a flat that cost £25.000 are today with the same flat worth £300.000m securing a rental of £1200?

Another aspect to the UK housing crises has been a total failure to do more to support self-builds, cooperative housing and to free up large three or four bedroom homes when families have grown and moved away. As well as, the failure to help older residents move into smaller but still home-like homes. The same concern is with housing for the Disabled and again my party position is clear, that instead of forcing developers to build a set number of “affordable” (and I use this word loosely due to the total abuse of its meaning ), builders are forced to build by the square foot.

This would insure Councils could expect developers to create the type of homes they need within their area, such as quality housing for pensioners who are currently in large three or four bedroom houses; thus providing homes that could improve quality of life for the pensioner whilst freeing up a larger home for a new family starting out. Address the disability requirements of a family whilst not having to spend large sums of public money transforming a house to cope or spending lavish sums of taxpayers’ cash via housing benefit in the private sector. Whilst a further aspect should be that the roofs of all housing are used for solar panels to fight climate change and address fuel poverty for all. If private home owners can get a state subsidy via the tax payer for panels on the roofs and income from the feed in tariff, why not the poor and the low paid?

My other aspect to a Housing bill, would be to scrap the criminalisation of the homeless! Are we nuts? How can it be just that we jail or evict people who occupy empty buildings, claim NO housing benefit and spend money in the local community where the building they occupy is located? It must be that by law all empty buildings must be given over to the homeless, housing charities, Colleges and Universities to offer secure low-cost short-term housing. Instead of the obscenity of using tax payers’ hard earned money to pay security firms to keep buildings that could house people empty!

Evictions have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Not just from a practical perspective, but also from a mental health perspective. I found it staggering, in a Freedom of Information request for a breakdown on rent arrears to Labour Lewisham Council, the number of people hit by the Bedroom tax.  Some £12 Million pounds was owed in rent arrears! Whilst over 3000 People had Bedroom tax bills they could not afford to pay and had to pay! As no smaller flats are available to move into! And the biggest causes of evictions, is errors in housing benefit! If a Housing officer had the power to sort this out and had a hot line to deal direct with Housing rent issues, these evictions and rent debt that in 90% of cases would be written off, as evicted tenants are too poor to pay.

We could end evictions and the misery it causes, as well as the other impacts seen in many affected areas. As even in the USA evictions lead to down value of homes that are in the same area as an empty, abandoned and boarded up building, leading to home owners facing negative equity and debt themselves. This is clearly an issue that can be so easily be addressed by thought and logic,

I hope my take on the Housing crises is one you share and I am proud that my political party does have a long history in standing up and defending social housing. As the party has such clear policy agenda on it.

Ray Barron-Woolford

Ray Barron-Woolford is a leading member of Lewisham People before Profit (www.peoplebeforeprofit.org.uk) and is very vocal on housing issues. His Twitter handle is @Raywoolford and he has a monthly programme on “Talk Radio Europe” 12-2 UK time on the first Friday of each month.  He has also published the following books; “Deptford”, “Food Bank Britain” and his latest book “Everything you need to know about Austerity but was too brainwashed to ask

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