Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Bedding Down

As from April, there’s going to be a rush for ‘bijou’ and ‘affordable’ one bed flats (aka substandard hovels) and there’s no point calling Kirsty and Phil. Impoverished claimants are being forced out of ‘too large’ social housing, or lose money (and they’ve no money to spare.)

It should by now slowly dawning on even those who routinely call claimants ‘scroungers’ that the incoming bedroom-tax bomb is going to cause so many problems. But I caught one idiot (an expert in his own field, but like many academics, moving on and appointing themselves as experts on everything) saying: Why not just move? My friends must move when they have another child and need a larger place.

But an enforced move into the private sector from social housing when claiming is very different, mainly because of the availability, even in different towns and cities of certain types of housing. Also people must find the money for vans, pay for storage, and find deposits (social housing rarely requests a deposit from tenants.)

Now, I know that developers do not possess psychic powers, but frankly, they are not building homes fit for claimants turfed out their previously stable addresses. Investors in housing are unlikely to care what claimants need, as they don’t even care what private owner occupiers want in the home they acquire enormous debt to buy.

The Private Rented Sector has many peculiarities, and one major weirdness of the buy-to-let boom was the proliferation of twat-flats (or as I call them, Dovecots). Manchester is extremely well-served for one bedroom urban flats; nobody’s sure why, but the developers of dovecots and conversions made homes for a perceived clientele that never really existed. They imagined that enormous hordes of young professionals would pay extraordinary rents for shoeboxes, and bedroom-taxed ex social tenants on benefits won’t afford the rents.

Meanwhile, Glasgow is full of two bed flats, fit to burst actually, but one bedroom tenements and other properties are scare. It’s sobering to remember that old style flats might have two bedrooms, but were crammed to the rafters with occupants like the Monty Python ‘Meaning of Life’ sketch.

Here’s my point. Times have changed, with blended, multi-generational families, needing space for homework, privacy, or silence when sleeping in the day due to shiftwork must be catered for. Simultaneously, claimant tenants (many in work, FYI) need a one bedroom flat when downsizing.

So, why not build what people need, including what they want? Why is nobody asking? And while we’re on the subject, why not build homes featuring what people need, like drying facilities, sound-proofing and storage?

There must be greater variation in any development. Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham etc are rammed with sweeping vistas of identically unsuitable one and two bad flats, with nothing bigger. We are increasingly relying on a private sector that builds for easy profit and not with regard to comfortable, sustainable homes. So when suddenly changing the rules, governments should be mindful of the available housing supply. And also, let’s find out what tenants need, and also, and importantly, let’s build what they want.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Petition to End Letting Agent Fees.

Quick new post: excellent e-petition. Hope it makes a difference!

Also - not every browser allows reader to see the links I post. Sorry about that! Here it is in text form so that non firefox users can copy and paste into their browser:


Monday, 19 November 2012

Heading For The Bunker

They say that in the event of a zombie attack, the safest place to hide is in a supermarket, where survivors traditionally congregate for the final showdown. This being the case, I have located the closest supermarket via the quickest route. Why?

It’s going to get ugly out there.

This blog is about the private rented market, but recent setbacks in social housing are hitting everyone, and will have a terrible impact on the private sector.

Have you ever been homeless? I have. Waiting in the neighbourhood housing office is one of the most demoralising experiences life can throw at you. But at least applicants know they’ll be safe, eventually: assessed, placed in a B&B if necessary (a situation I narrowly avoided) until allocated a nice, safe place in social housing.

Won’t they?

I mean, vulnerable people are at the top of the queue for social housing, and would never be batted back into bear-pit of private housing, and then have to face moving again after just twelve months.

Will they?

Except new regulations mean that councils, instead of placing homeless families in social housing are being encouraged (or bullied) into fulfilling their responsibilities by using private landlords. Social housing will be reserved for ex-service personnel and ‘positive contributors’ to society.

Also: here comes the bedroom tax, where people in social housing with a ‘spare’ room (even if saved for step-kids, or shared care of young children) will get less housing benefit or move. Not the bankers who caused this mess then, but those crafty people with a spare bedroom. Damn their selfish ways.

Homeless tenants will be shipped to other cities, where private landlords who love, love love! claimants will welcome them with canapés and champers.

Housing people away from work, schools, family, and making people pay to move when DWP Crisis Loans (covering deposits or moving costs) have been abolished, thereby driving claimants into the prickly arms of payday loans. Oh – and in London especially, rents are sky-rocketing away into space. Did I mention the benefit cap, which will drive anyone claiming, out of London? And claimants are often in work, now, as wages are so low.

And then…

There’s the Universal Credit roll-out which merges housing and living costs into one payment, ignoring the needs of those who are (frankly) not bright or with chaotic lives. When people don’t have enough money (and it will take a brave politician to grasp the reins and say: benefits are much too low) then they must choose between food, energy and rent. It all comes in one payment. In arrears.

Reality is inconvenient. The benefit cap was bought in after Lying Lord Fraud repeatedly banged on about ‘families claiming £100k per year.’ There are thought to be at most, a fleeting amount: those legendary 100k claimants number fewer than five, maybe less (or none). Most already had several children, and probably rented high cost flats in London when employed and but lost work.

It’s an omnishambles. A clusterfuck (sorry: profanity is utterly unavoidable here). A disaster. A catastrophe. A nightmare.

This will hit not in April, when Discretionary payments will ease the transition, but October 2013, when this runs out (just in time for an impoverished, homeless Xmas). Until then, I am heading to the bunker with ammo and tinned goods. Let me know when it’s over.



Sunday, 11 November 2012


I moved again recently, and claimed back one set of fees from one absolute arsehole of an agent, who, when encountered in the street, laughingly explained: ‘It’s just a game we letting agents have to play.’

No. That game of yours is making you a fortune by ripping off and duping vulnerable people. It isn’t a game. They should be tried for extortion: one agent imprisoned will soon stop this egregious practice.

So now for the next lot. To summarise, I explained fee they were insisting upon before letting the place was illegal. I quoted the relevant legislation, and referred to the excellent campaign by Shelter (see links below).

They insisted it wasn’t a ‘premium,’ that they had taken legal advice and that I had to pay. I gritted my teeth, paid and almost immediately wrote offering them the chance to pay me back without going to court. They refused, insisting the ‘admin fee’ (expressly forbidden in the legislation) was fair and lawful. So I begin court proceedings. A waste of my time, but more than anything – that of the already over-stretched court system.

I heard nothing, until getting a call one afternoon and my, but they were shirty. No apology. No explanation. Just a terse and frosty (borderline rude, actually) statement: ‘We’re paying you back. Do you want money off the rent or a refund?’ I was in a café and could hardly hear. I reminded them that they would also need to pay back the court fee, which didn’t go down well.

And then they were gone. How utterly graceless. Even after attempting extortion - they had quite brazenly and shamelessly tried to extract money illegally via an implicit threat (pay up or lose the property) but still had the audacity to be annoyed that they had been caught out.

No there are only two possibilities. One: they didn’t know about the legislation (but I had pointed it out, and provided the relevant links etc, and they claimed to have taken legal advice.) They were also obviously old enough to know better. The second possibility is that they genuinely knew nothing about the fact that premiums (charges, reference fees, renewal fees, admin fees etc… etc…) are illegal, which makes them at best untrained and at worst incompetent. I wonder which one it is?

They kept this up to the very last minute, and narrowly avoided court (which I had been looking forward to, because of their rudeness and contempt.) Fortunately for them, they paid up.

But you know what: an apology was richly deserved, and would have meant a lot. Meanwhile our lovely landlady still has to deal with the company who charge her for the privilege of messing everything up, starting with the inventory.

I should be grateful: at least the charges are illegal and in Scotland I can claim them back. In England and Wales, the agents are growing increasingly powerful and shameless. More on that soon. Meanwhile, that agency is, I imagine still charging illegal fees to less informed and unsuspecting tenants. Who will claim them back. And around it goes…

Monday, 5 November 2012

We Don't Have The Energy

Choosing an energy tariff is the hardest thing in the world ever. Harder than knitting, baking soufflés, achieving cold fusion, or time travel. Even the noble prime minister got confused, but then he is very thick indeed.

Energy is increasingly problematic for tenants, because of yet another emerging con perpetrated by letting agents. When new tenants move in, they try and charge for ‘contacting utility firms about the new occupant’ (no thanks, we did that.) They also try and shackle tenants to one specific supplier, with some making this a term and condition. I suspect it’s unenforceable, since the mantra is ‘choice.’ Why do they do this? Because they are paid commission – even if it’s not the best deal, a practice due to end when agents are regulated into submission.

Tenants do badly when it comes to economising on energy. Many homes, even in the upper price levels are poorly insulated (a Finnish friend was amazed at draughty Scottish homes.) Some councils run schemes which pay for loft and cavity wall insulation, which require landlord’s permission. Why would they refuse? Bizarrely, some do: they are grouchy and uncooperative, seeing improvements as an intrusion.

For private tenants, it’s as if energy saving happens over our heads: we are in extremes bequeathed money-guzzling ‘White Meter’ heating, which we cannot remove. The fact of occupants moving in and out randomly of HMO’s every six months impedes energy saving, economy or switching to lower tariffs.

The fashion for badly laid laminate floors created hurricane-force draughts, and it’s not like tenants, unsure of whether they can stay for longer than six months, will find it cost effective to pay for carpet, curtains and other measures which would make a home warmer.

Also - I am baffled: why are there not more schemes for placing solar panels on roofs (where they work – not all areas bask in the sun) wind turbines and even boreholes for underground heating? Why can’t buildings, especially social housing use natural resources?

Meanwhile, with claimants (including those on a low wage) forced to share houses until they are thirty-five, the situation can be even more fraught, with full out war on anyone co-tenant perceived as wasting energy castigated, ostracised, and asked to leave shared homes.

I know of one HMO where the self-appointed Alpha Male tenant restricted everyone to just two hours central heating in any given day. In a draughty house in Scotland during one of the worst winters on record, his word was law. The place was freezing, and fellow residents were forced to spend evenings wrapped in quilts. On the other, a former fellow housemate was found with an ancient electric heater on full during a heat-wave ‘…as it was nice having warm toes..’

The short-term nature of renting, makes tenants powerless to make choices due to the insecurity of frequent moves. How do you shop around when occupancy is transient and tenuous, and the chances of a house-meeting to sort this out is unlikely when people are working away or enduring shift work? I wish I knew, I really do.