Industry news

News in brief

• The Government has confirmed changes to make it easier for landlords to directly receive the housing benefit element of Universal Credit where tenants are two months in rent arrears, also apply to the private rented sector. Although initially announced as part of the Autumn budget, concerns were raised by the Residential Landlords Association that payments would still rely on their tenants’ consent but this proved to be unfounded following clarification from the DWP.

• Housing charities Crisis and Centrepoint, have both warned the Government that its controversial policy to withdraw the housing benefit element of Universal Credit from 18 to 21- year-olds will cost the taxpayer more money to enforce than it saves the public purse. Due to a host of exemptions in who the cuts can be applied to, the charities say less than five per cent of claimants are losing money. But they also say the policy is creating huge levels of stress and uncertainty for many vulnerable young people and it should be scrapped as it is contrary in spirit to the Homelessness Reduction Act, due to be implemented from April this year.

• Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show it has spent more than £100m in just over two years on administering reviews and appeals against disability benefit decisions made by the department. In addition the Justice Ministry has spent ‘tens of millions’ on the appeals, about two-thirds of which were won by the claimants. Neil Heslop, the chief executive of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said: “To spend this amount on admin fighting to uphold flawed decisions that shouldn’t have been made in the first place is staggering. Thousands of disabled individuals have had to fight to receive support to which they are legally entitled.”

• A report from the Demos thinktank has identified more than a million benefit sanctions (or deductions in payments) have been imposed on disabled claimants in the past ten years, suggesting that DWP officials are imposing unrealistic and unfair standards on vulnerable people who are out of work. Sanctions are typically applied where benefit claimants miss or are late for an appointment, or fail to apply for a sufficient number of jobs. Sanctions reduce their benefit payments and in many instances are applied without prior notice. Of particular concern was a finding that unemployed disabled claimants are up to 53 per cent more likely to be docked money than claimants who are not disabled.

• The Resolution Foundation has warned that Britain’s poorer families face another three years

Grenfell Tower is likely to be demolished after forensic teams finish their work at the site later this year. The site of will then be turned into a memorial to remember those who lost their lives in last year’s fire. Image © Natalie Oxford

of stagnating incomes with the country at risk of the first sustained rise in inequality since the late 1980s. They say continuing cuts to working-age benefits worth £14bn are damaging prospects for eight million low and middle-income households as they offset gains from the national living wage. Torsten Bell, the thinktank’s director, said: “This parliament risks seeing the first sustained rise in income inequality since the 1980s. But the story this time around is less about the rich soaring further away, and more about poorer families falling further behind as they bear the brunt of welfare cuts.”

• Landlords and letting agents who refuse to let properties to tenants on housing benefit could be breaking the law after single mother Rosie Keogh won a compensation case for sexual discrimination against an agency who blocked her application for a tenancy to a flat in King’s Heath, Birmingham in May 2016. Ms Keogh was supported in her claim by Shelter. She argued that as more women than men are reliant on housing benefit, it was discriminatory to impose blanket bans on tenants who needed assistance from benefits to pay their rent. The letting agent admitted unintentional discrimination and settled out of court with £2,000 compensation.

• The Labour Party has announced it wants to strengthen the rights of tenants to keep a pet in their properties as part of a package of proposed animal welfare measures. Many rental agreements insist on no animals being kept or they impose strict conditions. Labour wants a default right allowing tenants to keep pets unless there is evidence their pet will be a nuisance. The National Landlords Association says its members should have the right to refuse tenants with pets as long as they justified their actions, including in cases where properties were simply not geared up for animals. But chief executive Richard Lambert added that "tenants

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who keep pets do tend to stay for longer periods of time, and there are a few simple steps that landlords can take in order to mitigate the perceived increased risks" - including insisting on larger deposits.

• The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower is expected to resume its public hearings in late March, some two months later than originally expected. In an update the inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick revealed it has received over 267,000 documents and anticipates this could rise to 300,000.The inquiry team has written to the core participants proposing that evidential hearings – where the inquiry will start hearing from witnesses – could begin in May and no later than 4 June. Meanwhile Labour councillors have protested that they have not been granted core participant status separate to the main Conservative group.

• Grenfell Tower is likely to be demolished after forensic teams finish their work at the site later this year. The site of will then be turned into a memorial to remember those who lost their lives in last year’s fire, after the RBK&C council said it would put the community at the heart of decisions over its future and had no other plans for the site. The death toll from the fire rose to 72 at the end of February, after Maria Fel Pilar Burton, a 74- year old who was rescued from the 19th floor of the tower, died in hospital.

• Hackney Council in east London has set up a wholly owned lettings company to allow it to acquire and manage homes on the London Living Rent (set at one third of average local incomes), saving tenants hundreds of pounds each month in comparison with market rents. The company also plans to undertake some lettings at open market rents in order to cross-subsidise the lower level of living rents, but has said it will offer longer tenancies with greater security.

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