We housed a homeless family back in the flat they’d just been evicted from. Landlord decided he’d get more from a nightly let

One homeless family was actually given the flat  [for temporary accommodation] that they’d just been evicted from. They’d been long-term tenants in that flat. Their landlord evicted them, because he worked out he could get more money if he offered the flat to the council on a Nightly Lets basis. When the family turned up at the council as homeless after the eviction, the council offered them the same flat they’d just been evicted from – this time as temporary accommodation at a higher rent.”

This is the first in a series of articles I plan to publish based on interviews with a council homelessness officer I’m working with. This officer has worked in a number of different council housing offices in London and Greater London in the last 20 years and still works as a frontline council homelessness officer in and around London.

This officer interviews homeless people when they go to their local council for housing help, decides whether that council has a duty to house people who are homeless and must help find accommodation for people if a council does have a duty.

These days, this officer finds the job depressing and almost too difficult to contemplate. Antidepressants and sick days are features of this person’s life. Going without a job and the income isn’t possible, though.

The officer will remain anonymous in these articles.

—————————————————

First article:

Watching voracious landlords screw every pound they can out of homeless families and councils

This first article is about the problem that homelessness officers have finding temporary accommodation for homeless people who desperately need a place to stay that day.

In the interview transcript below, the officer talks about two major problems.

The first is nightly lets /nightly paid accommodation. The officer explains how money-hungry landlords make flats available to councils for homeless families on a night-by-night basis only, rather than for longer-term, more secure lets. The nightly lets options can be more lucrative for landlords. Landlords can also evict families more easily when a flat is let on a nightly basis.

“Nightly lets – you’re talking mostly about the crappiest accommodation in London, or outside of London,” the officer says.

The officer describes one case where a family who’d just been evicted from a flat they’d lived in for several years went to their local council for help – only to be placed straight back in the flat they’d been evicted from on the very same day, at a higher rent. The landlord had realised he could get more money by letting his flat on a nightly basis. He evicted the family and offered the flat back to the council as a nightly let for a higher charge:

Says the officer:

“There was a family that had been evicted from their house. They were [in] private rented. The landlord’s served a notice [to evict the family] – “[he’s said] oh, I want the property back.”

The family were evicted about 9’o’clock that morning. They came into [the] council.

The officers said, “we’ll give you temporary accommodation.” The accommodation that was given to them was the very house that they were evicted from that morning.

Basically, the landlord’s realised that he can get more money for this property as a nightly let. [He’s decided] “I’m going to evict these people.”

He’s obviously gone to the council and said, “here’s a property that’s going to be available on this day. You can have it as a nightly let.”

They went to that flat. Imagine how pissed off they were. They’d been packing all their stuff up for three weeks and put it in storage.

They’re like, “where are we going?” [The council is like] – it [your new temporary accommodation] is very close to where you were living before… and you’re going back there, with the same landlord who evicted you.”

The second problem is competition between councils for urgently-needed temporary accommodation for homeless families. A pan-London agreement is meant to control bidding wars for temporary accommodation between councils and set rent limits across boroughs. These limits can be breached, though.

After speaking with the homelessness officer about this, I rang and emailed eight London and Greater London councils to ask whether councils ever outbid other councils for temporary accommodation, or were outbid, or breached agreed rent limits. Only two councils responded, which surprised me (Southwark, which said No and Hackney, which said Yes). I’ve posted those responses at the end of this article, along with the names of the councils which did not respond.

Here’s the full interview transcript from the interview recording made on 22 September 2017:

This is how homelessness officers on the ground describe nightly lets and bidding wars:

On voracious landlords getting as much money as they can for nightly lets:

“Nightly lets – you’re talking mostly about the crappiest accommodation in London, or outside of London.”

I’ll tell you a story about that [nightly lets]. There was actually a family that had been evicted from their house. They were [in] private rented. The landlord’s served a notice – “Oh, I want the property back.” The family were evicted about 9’o’clock that morning. They came into [the] council.

The officers said, “we’ll give you temporary accommodation.”

The accommodation that was given to them was the very house that they were evicted from that morning. That’s a true story.

Basically, the landlord’s realised that he can get more money for this property as a nightly let. [He’s decided] “I’m going to evict these people.”

He’s obviously gone to the council and said, “here’s a property that’s going to be available on this day. You can have it as a nightly let.”

“They’ve [the council] have gone, “Yeah, great.” Nobody’s quite put two and two together – you know, that this family over here has been evicted and over here is a property we can put them in… and it’s the same address…

They went to that flat. Imagine how pissed off they were. They’d been packing all their stuff up for three weeks and put it in storage.

They’re like, “where are we going?” [The council is like] – it [your new temporary accommodation] is very close to where you were living before, strangely enough, and you’re going back there, with the same landlord who evicted you. Now you’re going there. You’re paying more rent, by the way.”

You got to laugh, but it’s tragic.

[It’s because] – if a landlord’s going to rent something as an assured shorthold tenancy, they can only realistically expect to get something around the local housing allowance rate that’s going to be affordable.

If they doing it as a nightly let, they know that the council will possibly have to top that up on top of the housing benefit rate. They know the council can get a bit extra as a nightly let. Also, they [the landlord] are not really signed up to any contract if they’re letting it on a night by night basis. It’s a bit like having a hotel room. If they don’t like the person that’s in there, they can say, “well, fuck off. Don’t want this person. Send somebody else.”

[A council] can be putting somebody in there, whether that property is in [the borough] or not. That landlord [can] decide he doesn’t want to deal with [that council] any more. It’s not hard for him to tell the person [in the flat], “I don’t want you here any more.”

He rings up [another London council] and says, “how about you?” They’re not going to say, “no, we haven’t got anybody [who needs housing] at the moment [laughs]. A council’s going to be looking for that property, so he’s in.

There’s not a lot of risk to the landlord.”

Bidding wars for temporary accommodation in London:

“One big issue especially in London which has a knockon effect to other areas is that every council has to go through this bidding war of trying to get temporary accommodation…

Every council has so many people [homeless people and households] coming in a day. It’s inevitable that the council is going to have a duty to provide some kind of interim accommodation for some of those people.

If it’s not long-term accommodation, it will be temporary accommodation over a long period. So, councils have to find this accommodation. But they don’t know how many people will come in that day and how many people they’ll have to house. So inevitably, a lot of these councils are looking for accommodation on that very day.

You could have nobody one day that you have literally nobody to whom you have a duty… Another day, you could have six or seven [homeless households], which is quite a lot if you’ve got to find six or seven homes for people. That’s quite a lot if you’ve got nothing at the beginning of the day, so if you’re starting from scratch….

You’ll have a borough that’s looking for these people, and then you’ll have, say, another council like Waltham Forest which is looking for homes as well and Enfield and Haringey…so they’re all looking for these homes on the day. You’ve got all these landlords that have these properties and they’re like – “how much are you going to pay for these?”

How does the council know the landlords that have properties? Are there people who approach the council…or do they go through agencies?

Both. You’ve got agencies… You obviously do also have individuals [who make flats available to councils] – like someone will say, “I’ve got a flat which I’ve inherited. Does the council want to use it?” Those are better in some ways… because if a council is approached directly [with a flat in that way] then that council’s going to have the dibs on that. They’ll to get a long lease for that. They’ll probably house somebody [in it] for quite a while.

[At the moment], it’s more the nightly lets [that are the problem]. You’re talking mostly about the crappiest accommodation in London, or outside of London.

They’re mostly [houses of multiple occupation]. Obviously flats. There are B&Bs for short-term. There are some councils that refuse to use B&Bs. There’s a law that says they’re not supposed to put families in there for longer than six weeks. Inevitably they do. Some councils actually move people on before that.

They’re very good at it, but these agencies are there. They have a load of properties and they will play a council off against another… and they know how to do that. So all these different councils will have this agency’s number and they will be ringing up and saying, “oh I want this flat,” and they’ll be like, “Okay.” In some ways, it’s first come first served.

If they know that someone like Westminster or Kensington and Chelsea, who obviously are rich boroughs, they are going to get more money off of them…

Most of it is [paid for by] housing benefit. The rest of it – if there is any shortfall, the homeless person may have to pay the shortfall. It does have to be affordable…

[Some councils] generally have more money. They’ve built up this money [the general fund]. You look at places like Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster – the big huge properties [so] lots more council tax coming in from those properties [and] less council housing to maintain. So, there’s more money coming in generally from funds, compared with say Newham, or Southwark, where you’ve got huge estates and lots of overheads from those…pay out huge amounts of money to maintain those…

So while housing benefit pays most of it [temporary accommodation costs], if the property isn’t generally affordable for the person you’re going to put in there then somebody’s got to pay for that, because it has to be affordable. That has to come out of a general fund.”

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I rang and sent questions to eight councils about issues raised in the interview above.

I asked if councils:

1) Were finding that landlords who provide temporary accommodation increasingly preferred to offer nightly lets

2) If councils competed with other councils for temporary accommodation across boroughs and raised offers to win flats for homeless households.

3) How council or tenants topped increased costs or rent shortfall between HB/LHA and nightly temporary accommodation rents.

Only Southwark and Hackney councils replied [answers below have been edited]

Southwark:

1) Southwark Council aims to eliminate the use of nightly paid accommodation by 31 March 2018

2) This does not take place as we have an agreed framework in place.

3) Customers apply for Discretionary Housing Payments from the Housing Solutions service

Hackney:

1) We acquire properties through various schemes, including nightly lets, leasing schemes and private lets. Demand means market rents have been increasing. The supply of properties readily available has steadily reduced.

We procure nightly lets and leased properties through a large number of suppliers who make properties available to us and other councils.

Nightly let properties are usually offered to councils via agencies who have approached private landlords directly and agreed to manage the properties on their behalf.

2) All London Councils have a collective agreement of publishing the rates that they will pay for a property in their borough for leased and nightly purchased properties – the Pan London rates.

The purpose is to ensure that a procuring council will pay no more than the host borough would. Paying above Pan London rates is known as breaching.

There are times where there is no option but to breach and pay over this set amount. This is usually when there is no other accommodation available and a client needs to be housed that day, but the only available accommodation is priced at over the Pan London rate.

We report this information to other London councils. When we move a tenant out of a property where we had no option but to breach, we will not renew the property unless the rent is at the Pan London rate.

3) Where the Council has been forced to secure accommodation above the agreed rate, the additional costs are borne by the council. Hackney will only charge the tenant the standard TA rent.

No responses:

Hounslow council – no response. Call made and email sent 27 September 2017

Lewisham council – no response. Email sent 2 October 2017. Did find this January 2017 paper on nightly lets and bidding.

Redbridge council – no response. Call made and email sent 2 October 2017

Barking and Dagenham – no response. Call made and email sent 3 October 2017

Lambeth council – no response. Call made and email sent 4 October 2017

Islington council – no final response. Call made and email sent 4 October 2017. Got a response saying press office would talk to the temporary accommodation team. No further response.

Tower Hamlets – no response. Call made and email sent 5 October 2017

Kensington and Chelsea council. No final response. Call made and email sent 5 October 2017. Got a response from the Head of News to ask who the article was for. That was it.

19 thoughts on “We housed a homeless family back in the flat they’d just been evicted from. Landlord decided he’d get more from a nightly let

  1. “Landlord decided he’d get more from a nightly let”

    Surely it wasn’t the Landlord who decided he’d get more from the nightly let, it was whoever set out the amounts councils are prepared to pay who decided he’d get more from a nightly let. This is just economic agents responding to incentives isn’t it? And as the latter part of your post shows, councils are considering changing the incentives they offer to Landlords to change the Landlords’ behaviour.

    • “This is just economic agents responding to incentives …” In a world view that reduces people to things that respond to stimuli then everything is permissible. And loathsome.

    • A vindictive government of Tory millionaires who see these poor people as political and class enemies of the establishment.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more there Trev. The number of times I have seen landlords raking in housing benefit for absolute shitholes does my head in. These people pay off their mortgages by offering the crappiest housing for the most they can get out of HB. And yet political aggression is saved for people getting their measly £70-80 weekly giro

  2. This is a surprise?
    The same councils abusing the eviction process by advising non paying tenants to wait for the bailiffs now finding out landlords aren’t willing to offer them long term tenancies.
    Who’d a thought it.

  3. Locally we have a benefit-landlord who used to be a milkman.
    He started renting bedsits to people mostly on benefits, ten years ago.
    One property led to another, then another…
    Now he comes round to collect the rent in a brand-new yellow Maserati.
    So some people have done rather well out of all the austerity and ‘welfare reforms.’

  4. Why do these people, probably unemployed immigrants, think they have a divine right to accommodation in London, while there are hundreds of thousands of working British people, who have to spend hours every day commuting into London from super distant homes.

    ”These days, this officer finds the job depressing and almost too difficult to contemplate. Antidepressants and sick days are features of this person’s life. Going without a job and the income isn’t possible, though.”

    Why ? have they an expensive scratch card habit or something??

    • Be cool on my site, Eddie. Everyone has a divine right to live in London. That’s the point. It’s cost that keeps us out. And the point about this person needing a job and having to stay in the one they’ve got should be obvious to those not born to fortunes. It’s about having to meet bills doing shitty and difficult jobs because someone has to pay those bills. These are exactly the ordinary working people you purport to admire.

    • Eddie, not all immigrants are unemployed you know. Many come here looking for work & end up doing the shitiest jobs that no one else wants. As for London, it’s always had immigrants, even Cockney culture stems from the French Hugonos (if that’s how it’s spelled) ! The Rich are our enemy, not the immigrants.

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