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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #298

Ben on a chair

Lights, Camera, Action!

For the 5 months it took to film last year’s ‘Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords’ for Channel 5 I cracked the same on camera joke.

Whenever we came out of a scuzzy building the shooting director would ask me to tell the camera what I thought of the conditions, to which I would reply with a serious face:-

“If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d be turning in his grave”.

The joke never made the edit.

New documentary coming

Last week I was filming with BBC1 and used the same line but this time the shooting director nodded earnestly and said “Good stuff”, so I’m hopeful if the editor is half asleep when doing his job that I might just sneak that nonsensical quote in at last.

This latest programme is about family homes being converted into multiple, tiny studio flats and HMOs, something I deal with every week in London but read this week in the Wakefield Express that they have the same problem there.

The usual Councillor Blah, Blah announcing:-

“Small terraced houses in our area are all being turned into HMOs and it’s causing real issues”

And a couple of weeks back the Guardian followed the Newham crew around and reported on a rat infested and illegally overcrowded properties in their district as well.

Newham’s Russell Moffat was quoted in the piece saying:-

“Licensing leads us to these properties and then we are able to put in the safeguards necessary to protect people – like an automatic fire detection system, fire doors on key rooms, emergency lighting,”

I know Russell, if ever there is a TV programme on rogue landlords its either him or me who is in it. In fact we were both presenting 2 weeks ago at a conference in London where Russell was providing the stats for the Newham initiative. He sent me his powerpoint slides and they make interesting reading.

The benefits of licensing properties

Since the introduction of borough wide licensing in 2013 Newham have made over 1,200 prosecutions.
Measured against figures prior to 2013 Licensing has increased their enforcement by a factor of 10.

Licensing all properties naturally leaves the unlicensed ones standing out like a sore thumb and when they target them they find that they are 4 times more likely to have category 1 hazards that are a danger to life and limb.

In December Newham have to seek permission of the Secretary of State to continue their across the board scheme.
Lets see, in a post Grenfell world, what the SoS does in the face of such success.

Gambling letting agents

The Kent Messenger this week reported on a lettings manager Lee Grace of Croydon, who used £45,000 of tenant’s money to fuel his gambling problem, one tenant having handed over £13,438 which never made it into the agency bank account.

The courts had no problem banging him up for 18 months.

I have to confess I don’t get gambling at all. Why would anyone get a buzz from throwing their money down a drain?

The front window of a betting shop near me has posters proclaiming “Gamble responsibly” and I wondered the other day whether we would ever see posters advising “Inject Heroin responsibly” or “Drink your daily bottle of Vodka responsibly”. Isn’t the logic just as daft?

But then again HMRC makes a fortune from gambling and alcohol taxes, so best to treat as just a bit of fun eh?  Whereas smackheads are disgusting and depraved aren’t they?….oh and smack isn’t taxed by the way, which might explain the double standards.

Housing First initiative

Homeless link ran an article that piqued my interest and it is relevant for landlords,  on the international housing model for people with multiple and complex needs, called “Housing First”.

Essentially it’s a kind of tenancy sustainment initiative but which cuts out all of the pre-stages of night shelter, hostel etc before a person gets a home of their own, hence the name. You get them in as fast as you can and do the support after the home is found.

Can’t it work in practice?

In anticipation of next year’s Homelessness Reduction Act the scheme is attracting a lot of attention among my colleagues in homelessness, desperate to know how they will cope but all of the homelessness crews I have spoken to have trouble with seeing how it can work in the way it should in areas where rents far exceed the OBC and so many landlords and agents won’t take people on benefits anyway.

Homeless link are understandably enthusiastic but are finding that many service providers aren’t following the model and its only adherence to the Housing First methodology that works.

The article’s author Jo Prestidge says:-

“Moving away from the specific approach reduces its effectiveness, and providers will not achieve the same success as services with high fidelity to the principles. This in turn, calls the model into question and as such, the efficacy of those projects that really do work to the principles.”

Stumbling at the first hurdle

I read through all the principles and arguments, which I get 100% but to my mind and those of the homelessness units I talk to about it, the biggest stumbling block is the first principle, getting the house.

Many local authority procurement teams are signing up landlords that the enforcement teams are prosecuting, such is the desperation for anything at all.

A classic example

One of my clients at the moment is working full time but on very low pay, so he gets benefit top ups. His landlord wants the property back for himself following a relationship breakdown and offered an attractive sum to help his tenant relocate but despite having the money to move, nobody will take this working tenant on because of the benefits he is receiving and his low pay.

Proposed changes to the private letting sector

Whilst Jeremy Corbyn is out to win the hearts of disgruntled and fed up tenants everywhere with some exciting rhetoric the Chartered Institute of Housing has been quietly examining the announced Tory proposals for the PRS to see how they might change the lives of those same renters. Read about it here.

The article ends with:-

“Taken together these measures represent a really positive step forward to improving the experience of the many millions of people living in the private rented sector”

But the tenor of the piece as a whole is far more cautionary, with references to local authority enforcement teams being already “Stretched to their limit” and a general tone of “It remains to be seen”.

You see this a lot, where the article and headline go in different direction. “The collar and cuffs don’t match” as my mum used to say of women with dyed blonde hair.

What made me smile this week

Playing pound coin ping-pong with corner shops, palming off old round coins as the deadline loomed and the look on their faces when you handed them over.

On the last Sunday afternoon I got one in change for the Sunday papers. I glanced up at the triumphant and mischievous smile of Mike, our local foul-mouthed Hindu newsagent. Grabbed a Kit-Kat and said:-

“I’ll have that as well Mike”, whilst handing back the coin to a scowled response.

As I walked out the door I jingled my change and found another lurking in my pocket so went back and got some chewing gum, to an even deeper scowl and some choice, 4 letter words.

He knows I never buy chewing gum.

See ya in a fortnight.

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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #298


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