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Our roundup of news items over the past week. Items this week include the worrying expansion of the ‘sex-for-rent’ industry currently plaguing the PRS, we look at the impact of the UC cuts to renters and the expansion of the Welsh Tenancy Hardship Fund.

NRLA  survey reveals damage of benefit cuts to renters

An NRLA poll has revealed that 1 in 10 private landlords renting to Universal Credit claimants have experienced at least one tenant having difficulties paying their rent due to benefit cuts.

In October 2021, the Government cut Universal credit by £20 a week following an increase of the same amount in response to the pandemic. Following this benefit cut, a poll revealed that 9% of landlords with at least one tenant in receipt of UC experienced difficulty due to the cut.

The NRLA warn that this is only the beginning and that problems will be exacerbated by the freezing of housing cost support. The freeze will mean benefit support is available for fewer tenants in the coming year.

Ben Beadle, Chief executive of the NRLA said:

With households facing a cost-of-living squeeze, it is vital that the benefits system gives the protection that tenants deserve. That is why the Chancellor needs to end the housing benefit freeze as a matter of urgency. Without this many tenants and landlords face an uncertain future about how to keep tenancies going.

Change in timescale for DWP arrears payments for UC

Some good news however is the news that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are expected to reduce the timescale for repayment of arrears on Universal Credit (UC) next month.

It looks as if the timescale will be reduced from around nine weeks to approximately seven days – a significant difference.

It will only apply to new rent arrears applications and direct rent payments. Expect more details soon.

Welsh Hardship Fund eligibility criteria expanded

The Welsh Government has expanded the eligibility criteria for the Welsh hardship fund meaning more tenants who have rent arrears will be able to get funding.

The scheme originally only applied to tenants who had accrued arrears before 30 June 2021, however, this has now been extended to December 2021. Tenants are eligible if they have at least two months’ worth of rent arrears due to the pandemic.

The scheme has extended its eligibility criteria due to the furlough scheme ending in September 2021 as well as the discontinuation of the Universal Credit uplift.

Further information can be found here

Government Promises to ‘shift the odds in favour of renters’

In a recent parliamentary debate, the undersecretary of state for housing Eddie Hughes declared that the new reforms to the housing sector will deliver ‘a better deal for renters’.

Hughes described the current housing market as:

Millions of responsible tenants are living in homes in the knowledge that they could be uprooted at a moment’s notice and with minimal justification. That is not peace of mind; that is simply wrong.

Hughes also said abolishing no-fault evictions, or section 21s, would be the centrepiece for raising house standards within the PRS to drive out rogue and unscrupulous landlords. This will be part of the reform package that is set to be published this year. While the full package has not been revealed yet, abolishing no-fault evictions has always been a top priority for the Government.

However, organisations within the industry such as the NRLA are concerned and have asked for clarification on the replacement to section 21.

Propertymark says Tax loophole on second homes closing is welcome but long overdue

Propertymark have this week criticised the Government for taking too long to close the tax loophole where second homeowners in England avoid paying council tax by using business rates. The industry body has also said that this reform has not gone far enough in dealing with the current problems within the PRS.

Property mark are concerned that this lack of intervention may put off prospective investors within the industry, with short or holiday lets being the economically appealing option. Compared to the Scottish and Welsh Government counterparts, Property Mark argued that England is lagging behind and must now look at medium to long term planning in order to curb ‘Airbnb domination’.

One policy being put forward to the English Government is the policy currently favoured by Scotland, who have approved plans to set up mandatory short-term licensing in Edinburgh by 2024. Wales on the other hand is considering a different approach: whereby they extend the powers of local authorities to apply council tax premiums and a requirement for planning consent for short term lets.

Shelter reveals that 59,000 women were targeted for sex-for-rent in past 18 months

Shelter have reported this week that around 59,000 women were offered homes in ‘sex-for-rent’ arrangements. They also reported that men are still advertising properties by offering sharing beds or other ‘jobs’.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said:

It’s sickening there are landlords who think they get can get away with sexually exploiting female tenants in need of a home.

In addition, with the pandemic causing financial issues to many of the most vulnerable in our society, Shelter is concerned that this trend will only be increasing in 2022.

These sorts of arrangements are illegal and Websites potentially face fines of up to £50,000 for hosting such ads, while individuals can be punished by up to seven years in prison.

Snippets

Newsround will be back next week.

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