People in touch with the Welsh Tenants will have heard of our concerns regarding under-occupation. It would appear the much feared response by landlords to this agenda have begun, with landlords drawing up plans to increase and improve their procedures to swiftly take action against tenants who fall victim to the change brought about by the Welfare Reform Act which became law on the 8th March 2012.
Many tenants in Wales both employed and un-employed, will be impacted on a multiple of levels, be that changes to their income support or the under-occupation measures that come into force in April 2013 or any other of the measures being introduced.
In a recent visit to Mid Wales Housing Association chief executive Shane Perkins, responding to tenant’s question relating to under-occupation stated, ‘Be assured, we will evict tenants who fail to pay their rent, we have no choice’. The comment followed a presentation by myself outlining the risk tenants faced as a consequence of the under-occupation tax coupled with the report that up to 25% of tenants below the age of pension credit in the social housing sector in Powys are under-occupied.
We too, have also raised concerns that landlord’s who normally use discretionary Grounds 10 and 11 to seek to gain possession of a home, will begin using the Ground 8, a mandatory ground for eviction which requires the judge to grant possession when a tenant falls into 8 weeks or more rent arrears or, has a patchy and inconsistent rent payment history. While many judge’s don’t succeed to the request preferring to suspend possession, this will mean that more tenants will be unable to exercise their right to mutual exchange because the majority of policy’s state that you cannot exchange until arrears are cleared. The issue raised its head again this week via an Inside Housing article that polled a sample of 20 landlords. The poll found that 35% of those polled will either use ground 8 more, or are reviewing their eviction policy as a consequence of the risks posed on their business plan models by the welfare reforms.
The Welsh Tenants are working with partners in the sector to identify more comprehensively the risks, while seeking to provide solutions to the under-occupation impacts. Our report ‘Priority Move-On’ identified that 47,000 tenants in Wales are at risk with a potential 5,000 tenants already in serious arrears in the social housing sector and thereby facing the threat of eviction which could cost local authorities in the region of 27m against savings to the treasury by introducing this measure of 22.8m.
There are several solutions that the sector can explore, including websites such as homeswapper or working with us to encourage downsizing within the existing stock, though working with credit unions to set up jam jar accounts to help facilitate arrears repayments, landlords themselves taking some of the hit because of size criteria of some of the properties they provide, lodging and priority move-on. Our goal is to develop a voluntary approach that reflects the particular circumstances here in Wales.
If landlrods move towards the use of ground 8 as a first resort! tenants throughout Wales have stated that they will resist. As a consequence of listening to tenants, we will be urging all our 320 member groups in Wales to demand that landlords sign a declaration, maintaining the current moratorium, that landlords would pursue possession on a discretionary basis only and refrain from using ground 8.
Any steps to change the current moratorium will fundamentally impact on the participatory culture tenants have developed with their landlords and truly test the sectors ability to work with tenants to shape the decision’s they make! I fear that if they don’t respond to our concerns, that will be the flint that sparks the touch paper for wide spread and co-ordinated protest by the tenant’s movement here in Wales.
A series of ATTAIN meetings are planned throughout May to discuss recent developments visit our website for a list of events and dates.