25 Years in the UK Housing Sector

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It is 25 years since I graduated as a housing professional. I had spent a year in a local authority housing office and seen how tenants lived. I heard housing officers in private conversation call the tenants ‘scum’. 

Admittedly, the then crop of housing applicants 25 years ago were very different from the tenants of an earlier generation, who were then vetted on whether they were working and ‘respectable’ and could be relied upon to keep net-curtains sparkling white, but still it seemed a reprehensible judgement on people who may not have had the same opportunities as their judges. I could not view their lack of opportunity with quite the same callous attitude.

I then moved into Housing Advice and soon realised that my reasons for embarking on housing, to help social tenants, was misguided to say the least.

I met many landlords who did appreciate the good fortune they had enjoyed (though usually combined with very hard work and a lot of disappointments) and with a desire to help their tenants. I saw tenants go into private sector accommodation with nothing and landlords buying bedding, crockery, pots and pans. These were invariably taken with the tenant when he moved. 

Yes, I came across some landlords who really didn’t know what they were doing; that argued that their accommodation was ‘self-contained’ when it was a single room and a shared kitchen with a water boiler.

You will all be laughing, because you know that self-contained requires more than that. This fairly intelligent landlord did not.  He may have been reasonably pleasant with his tenants but showed them no respect as he made a profit from them without offering them any kind of decent facility. Fortunately, those days have gone – except for those under the radar.

When I started in the profession 25 years ago, local authorities could not meet the demand for local authority housing, which had virtually ceased in 1980 following Mrs Thatcher’s accession to power. Housing Associations were funded to increase the supply of social housing and are now major providers of housing, but they could not keep up with a growing demand. Other measures were necessary.

‘Inside Housing’ has a page every week which highlights the issues from 5, 15 and 25 years ago. 25 years ago, an item was that the Government ‘expected councils to rely on the private sector to house homeless people’; this imposed a huge demand; landlords were expected to take tenants without a good housing record (the Council did not want some of the most challenging), deposits or Guarantors. 

Innovative authorities came up with schemes to provide some protection to the landlord without the tenant (unemployed, drug-user, alcoholic) being required to provide money.  Bolton had one of the first, the Bond Board, which is still operating today.

Over the subsequent 25 years, the legislation has made private renting more and more onerous for the landlord; the legislation has become more complex. The 6-month tenancy and assured shorthold tenancy are being forced out of existence, though this is a tenancy that suits many tenants and is rarely acted upon if a good tenant is in the property.

Private sector landlords have been maligned as ‘Rogues’, castigated for having the gall to ask for rent, insulted, properties ruined and always seen as the ‘baddie’.

Private landlords have played a huge part over the last 25 years in providing decent homes for families; for providing shelter for some that good sense indicates should be avoided. 

If the private rental sector shrinks, the loss will be felt, and the Government will be to blame.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon

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