Social housing must end high numbers of evictions

Social landlords in the UK evicted 20,544 tenants last year, according to official figures. That’s around 55 every day.

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This prompts some questions: Where did 20,544 tenants go next? Was there an impact on homelessness and housing options? What was the overall cost to the housing sector?

The disappointing answer to all three questions is the same – no-one is recording the impact of social housing possession activity, so no-one really knows.

Other than the obvious cost of court fees (£28m), there is no official record of staff costs or social impact. There are guesses and estimates but in a sophisticated world, these aren’t good enough.

Unsurprisingly, 96% of the possessions are for rent arrears.

What is more worrying is this is before the full roll-out of universal credit where, according to sector rumour, rent arrears could treble – at least for the first year or two. The likely upscaling on possession actions would be alarming.

In 1996 the focus of attention by social landlords on breach of tenancy was anti-social behaviour.

Legislation and regulation responded by the creation of a toolbox of potential remedies designed to help social landlords deal with the scourge of anti-social behaviour and its associated costs.

The sector was able to use introductory tenancies, injunctions, ABCs, demoted tenancies and extensive use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Not one of these remedies was aimed at possession – despite this ultimate landlord power remaining in place.

Instead, the actions were designed to deal with the problem by getting the landlord and tenant to solve the issue by leaving the tenancy in place.

Strategically, this come under the heading of ‘tenancy sustainment’. Some recent sector research revealed ‘many’ social landlords ‘now adopting’ tenancy sustainment practices.

This is a good thing but still not strong enough.

Every social landlord has a responsibility to sustain tenancies and should be looking at a wider toolbox to enable them to translate the concept into an obligation.

If ‘possession is the last resort’ is commonly featured in most rent arrears policies, why is it followed by a lengthy step-by-step guide on how to evict the breaching tenant?

Tenancy sustainment must be a corporate strategy, not just frontline practice.

In a competitive marketplace, commercial organisations have many different ways of policing and managing indebtedness.

Last year, social landlords started 77,733 claims in the possession courts (213 every day), 61% of all claims. Many tenants reach financial settlements with commercial companies ‘out of court’. And this isn’t a reflection of strong-arm tactics. The strongest arm possible is the threat of losing a home.

Today’s scourge is a financial one.

There needs a fresh look at the social landlord toolbox to widen the scope of potential actions that could feed into an inevitable revision of the pre-court protocol once universal credit fully hits the streets.

An example would be to extend demoted tenancies to a rent arrears breach to allow a different conversation with the tenant and more flexibility in dealing with the debts that inevitably surround possession cases.

Perhaps 20,544 evictions are too many.

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