Remember the good old days, when landlords were professionals, and tenants were secure: no computerised protocols or ‘affordability assessments.’ You found a place within your budget; prices were stable (if they went too high the rent officer would intervene) so nobody really cared if tenants were in work. Letting agents were rare.
But one reader’s situation exemplifies recent changes, notably the appalling ‘bedroom tax’:
‘I lost my job at the beginning of the year and was already renting the house I'm in now and had some money saved that would last me a year if used to top up my housing benefit (I'm in a 2 bedroom house as my son stays with me on the weekends) as they will only pay out for a one bedroom property. 6 months later and still no job so I am thinking I need to move whilst I still have some money left to do so (hiring a van etc) but as you no doubt know the big agents won't take people on benefits (I was respectable 6 months ago but not now apparently?) so I am looking at private landlords.
Thing is they seem to want a guarantor which I cannot get (although I have just found out my sister is still on the mortgage of her ex-husbands house so that may be viable), I suggested I could pay over £400 deposit to make up for it and they could get references from the larger agents I have used in the past and always been a good tenant but still waiting to hear.
Basically I am really worried as there don't seem to be any jobs and if I can't get a cheaper house at all will I be kicked out onto the streets? I seem to be being punished for something that I cannot get around or help.’
Many thousands of tenants will confront such an impossible situation over the next few weeks: no longer allowed to remain in a two bed place, no matter how cheap. If they do remain, they face financial penalties, and are already paid at starvation levels. Desperate, they turn to friends or relatives (whose own financial stability is precarious) for help or somewhere to stay. Frantically, they seek work where there is no work to be had. And are then thrown out of their houses.
This reader contacted me, without self-pity. He was truly worried he would be homeless. I suggested investigating whether his council have a scheme (some do) where accredited landlords house tenants claiming benefits, sometimes accepting any deposit in stages. Social tenants did not pay upfront deposits of perhaps six weeks rent, unlike private tenants, which is a nightmare when forcibly relocating.
I asked my correspondent to stay in touch. He did, and has some positive news. He’s still being forced out (it’s not like he’s a hogging a valuable six bed council house) but he’s found a home:
‘I approached a landlord, who is in a partnership with a group of well known solicitors in my area, with my predicament and they said they couldn't promise anything. Saw 2 houses last Friday and one was better than the other so I approached them on Monday with an offer of paying a large deposit (they only wanted £99 with a guarantor) and they could get references from all my previous landlords. they agreed.’
He makes the point that councils might temporarily cover rent on two places if claimants move into a cheaper home.
But it used to be so straightforward: no meaningless and easily sidestepped credit checks, no massive deposits, no guarantors, no vast array of referees. Although far from perfect, renting seemed better then – easier, with rents at one quarter of income, not two-thirds of earnings as is common now.
So this passes for good news these days: an impoverished man was compelled to provide his landlord with a large loan (that’s the reality of any massive deposit) in order to keep himself off the streets. The son he cares for now has no bedroom. His life was disrupted, money wasted on removal fees and other expenses.
Hooray, and pass the bubbly.