Friday, 14 August 2009

No-one Should Have To Live Like This

According to new research published in May 2009 by the City Parochial Foundation and New Policy Institute, the proportion of households in London living in temporary accommodation is ten times higher than the national average and five times higher than the English city with the second highest rate. The London borough of Newham, where I live, is amongst the worst performing boroughs on issues such as the number of unemployed adults, children in workless families, low-paid residents, infant deaths, premature deaths under 65 and households in temporary accommodation. It scored lower overall than neighbouring Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

This got me thinking about my friend Smudger, who suffers from a rare neurological disorder that requires intensive medication and prevents him from working. He had been living for months in temporary accommodation, paid for by the council, which had no heating or electricity. This was because the landlord was trying to get him moved out, but he was forced to endure living in a property that was unfit for habitation because of the very real prospect that the council would wash its hands of any ‘legal duty’ to help him if he left voluntarily. During February's cold snap, this was particularly gruelling. And it certainly wasn't helping with his medical condition.

After a long battle, eventually through the courts, he was moved by Newham council into a new property, which was poorly furnished and cockroach-infested but that the council decided was a “suitable offer of temporary accommodation”, so he therefore felt unable to refuse. Soon afterwards he discovered that his landlord didn’t even own the flat that he had been given - a check with the Land Registry showed that no-one did, but the council hadn't bothered to enquire into the suitability or legitimacy of the 'owner'.

So eventually Newham’s Homeless Persons Unit moved him again, into a new flat round the corner from me, that at first seemed far, far better. However, when he arrived on the first day of his tenancy with a van to move his possessions, he discovered that the new landlord had changed the numbers round on the doors of the flats in the block and was expecting him to move into a property that was a partial building site, with electricity and gas supplies that were dangerous and with no furniture. I saw him today and he told me he was been sleeping on a concrete floor for a week.

There is a number of reasons why Newham council is prepared to accept substandard housing, unscrupulous letting agents and exploitative, Rachmanesque private landlords in its provision of temporary accommodation. Having disposed of so much of its council housing, waiting lists for properties are long – for a bedsit it can be between 7 and 8 years. Most local Housing Association accommodation is also allocated from the council's waiting list and so the allocation policy is the same as for council housing. As a result, Newham currently has the largest housing waiting list in London and the highest number of households in temporary accommodation.

Greedy private landlords and their crooked agents know that the council is therefore desperate for whatever temporary accommodation it can get its hands on and, as Smudger has discovered repeatedly, that it makes few, if any, checks on the quality of the properties it is prepared to offer. With rents in the private sector typically between £350-400 per week, tenants are often trapped in substandard accommodation that they are unable to escape from.

But it doesn't have to be this way. If the council was prepared to use its purchasing power to drive up the quality for temporary accommodation, by demanding a written agreement from landlords about minimum standards, encouraging tenants and local community groups to report breaches of these standards and then enforcing them vigorously, the quality of life of local people who often spend years in ‘temporary’ properties could be improved enormously.

All it has to do is face up to the slum landlords.

End Child Poverty is providing free campaigning training on 18 September at Stratford Advice Arcade. For more information e-mail

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a small private landlord. I am shocked to read your article.

I have offered a couple of properties to Newham Council for temporary housing. In order to give the property to the Council, it has to meet a long list of regulations (i) CORGI gas check (ii) fire proof doors (iii) fire extinguishers (iv) NICEIC electricity certificate (v) fire blanket (vi) window restrictors (vii) carbon monoxide alarm (viii) net curtains (ix) lamp shades and so on. They even wanted ugly strip tube lighting in the kitchen.

This list is even more extensive then renting to the private sector.

The Council visits the property before accepting. They insist the property is in good decorative order including new painting and flooring. BTW they tell the landlords, don't expect the carpets back at the end of the tenancy!. Which I think is terrible, the tenant should a moral duty to take care of the property. Just think of the environmental costs of dumping carpets into landfills.

As for heating, I have to buy a British Gas 3 Star Cover for the boiler. So I have no idea why your friend had no heating or electricity.

I was also asked to provide evidence of ownership and insurance certificates. (BTW the cost of insurance for temporary housing is sky rocket).

BTW. Landlords have no control on who the Council put in temporary accommodation. I was upset when they put an alcoholic.... and he kept throwing beer cans at the neighbours garden. So I will not offer my properties to Newham Council in the future.

You say "With rents in the private sector typically between £350-400 per week" - sounds like West End rates to me!?.

As a private Landlord, I driven the quality of housing stock up e.g. double glazing, combi boiler, fitted kitchens... so some of the comments are unfair to Landlords who are making a difference.

Tenants are also demanding the highest quality in accommodation. If my property is not up to scratch, they will go to another landlord. A smart kitchen is a must in today's rental market.

But I also want to provide at the lowest rent possible.

Yet my efforts to keep rental costs down are frustrated by tenants who trash the property. I have no idea why tenants have no respect for their home. They think their rents entitles them to do this?. They don't realise that another tenant has to live there after them.

I had a property that had been refurbished. A nice smart kitchen and a lovely bathroom, new carpets, new furniture. The letting agents found a family (on DSS), but after only 8 months the place was looking like a slum. So why do tenants do this?.

As a Landlord, I put a lot of love and effort into turning a place into a lovely home. Yet I can only describe as what some have tenants have done as vandalism.

I did my best to patch up the place, but even then, it had lost its original new sparkle and was a little shabby. I had to spend thousands of pounds to fix things.

They stood on the cooker door, broke the toilet pan, stole the fridge, curtain rod pulled off the walls etc... I had to order a skip to take all the broken things away. Aside from the financial costs, it also impacted the environment.

I never got a penny for the damage caused.

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