[Ben Reeve Lewis has changed his mind about devolution …]
It’s been a week of opposites for me. Last Friday and Saturday I gave talks to seriously minted up landlords at the Property Investor’s Show at the Excel Arena in Docklands.
While on Tuesday I gave a talk to Camden Federation of Private Tenants on the problems of being a TRO and what needs to happen in the Private Rented Sector, most of the members struggling on in the PRS shambles
At the Excel Arena I was unexpectedly approached by a cheerful, pretty young woman who struck up a conversation with me.
Sorry, I thought you were someone else …
I knew something was going on as I am long past the age when pretty young women come up and start talking. In fact now I think back I never was at that age. I always had to go up to them, and when I did their eyes would glaze over and they would start looking nervously around for their best mate, or the police, I was never sure which.
This lady with a smile both on her face and in her voice said cheerily “Have you ever thought of buying a house in St Lucia?” to which I cheerily mimicked “Well I would if I wasn’t paying 71% of my take home pay on my F***ing rent” and we both tossed back our heads and laughed gaily as her eyes glazed over and she started to look nervously around for her best mate, or the police, I wasn’t sure which.
Frazzles and I had the good fortune to spend 2 weeks in St Lucia a couple of years back (She works in travel so we get free holidays now and then, see pic) .
What we saw there was pretty reminiscent of modern Britain. Villas and terraced homes owned by the well-heeled, sited next door to the houses of the locals which would have drawn the attention of our government’s beds in sheds taskforce.
But soft, maybe tenants like me don’t have to decamp to the West Indies in order to have a life. Wales is far nearer and a lot of tenant friendly stuff has been happening there.
I have been writing a lot about what is going on beyond the Severn Bridge but happily it was all encapsulated for me on Nearly Legal this week by David Smith.
I’m not going to go into detail about the Wales plan to licence landlords, I’ve already written about this robust and radical initiative that I quite like but Dave makes some very pertinent points about the role of devolved governments and how effectively they operate independently of Westminster, especially when he says’:
“Devolution offers a laboratory of social and legal change.”.
And even more pertinently suggests:
“Whilst one can wonder at the developments in the devolved regions, it must surely make the Westminster policy-makers and civil servants reflect on English law and policy, and possibly its impoverishment by contrast”.
I have to confess, until I read Dave’s piece I had always been a bit scathing of devolution, considering it to be merely a manifestation of anti-English chippiness but I have changed my view.
Why can’t England be devolved?
Westminster seems more concerned with the UK’s image in the world as a whole and ignores what is happening in its own garden.
I don’t even blame the Con-Dems for this; it is a problem endemic of all governments who take an English, nay, even London Centric view of life.
My sister assures me that as well as being mouthy cockneys and insouciant French by background, we are also an 8th Welsh somewhere in the mix so it gets my vote.
Scotland is doing it too
While Wales is busy “Strapping one on” as the phrase goes, Scotland are also getting in on the act in attacking letting agents fees that have been unlawful but entirely ignored for a number of years.
With all this going on in the devolved countries, local governments listening and responding to the needs of their communities in housing terms, Westminster is looking more and more like Private Godfrey from Dad’s Army, a bumbling irrelevant poltroon, lost in hazy memories of cucumber sandwiches at mid-war picnics in Pangbourne, like Mrs Lopsided in Ealing’s ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’.
“What can we do as tenants to assist the introduction of licensing” I was asked by one delegate at Camden Fed. “Get your support behind Wales” was my reply because if they can operate it successfully in the magic land of my beloved Laver Bread the buggers-at-the-base-of-Big-Ben can’t say it doesn’t work.
What about rent capping?
Popping over to Wales Online I read that under devolved powers given in 2006, Wales could actually introduce rent capping if it chose to.
Annoyingly the article doesn’t go into detail about how those powers work, which my more legally minded self (plus the self that is too lazy to look it up) would like to know more about. Any readers who can illuminate me feel free.
Speaking as a London tenant I would say that rent capping is becoming a much more pressing issue than any concerns that it might disincentivise investment in the PRS. People are being driven into hunger and poverty partly by out of control rents.
The Guardian ran a piece this week about how record numbers of people are relying on food banks to feed their families.
Upad spells it out
At the same time the latest LSL survey reported on Upad reveals that nearly 100,000 tenants are in more than 2 months arrears. Upad is an industry insider but even they say:
“There is no full proof way of guaranteeing your tenants won’t fall into arrears but – making sure the rent is a sensible proportion of their income prior to the start of the tenancy is a good start”.
At last, people are making the connection that unaffordable rents end up damaging the landlord too.
Of course I’m sure what Upad really mean by that is “Don’t rent to people who don’t earn enough”, in which case those low to middle income earners who aren’t eligible for the dwindling stock of social lettings have to sleep on the street.
If rent capping were introduced and if it were to result in a shortage of housing stock I can’t see it making much difference as many working people can’t afford the rents anyway so they are still homeless, so WTF? as my daughter texts me.
On an up-note I have recently had the pleasure of meeting Heather Kennedy from newly formed Hackney tenant’s rights group Digs and read her excellent debut on the Guardian Housing Network about the role of tenants groups in tackling the problems of the PRS.
Like me she finds flaws in Shelter’s rogue landlord campaign, highlighting the lack of resources that councils have to deal with criminal allegations brought in daily by tenants.
With a rallying cry not seen since Mel Gibson’s ‘Freedom’ speech in Braveheart she says:
“Not until tenants are allowed to define their own campaigns and solutions will we begin to see the deep rooted change to the private rented sector we so desperately need.”
Way to go Hev, I heartily agree.
No Pickles please
And finally I read with more than a little amusement on 24 Dash that the old Dale Farm protestors are planning to evict Eric Pickles from his eyrie at the CLG offices at 1pm on 19th of October. The article doesn’t say how they plan to achieve this but they are apparently intent on giving Pickles a “Taste of his own medicine”.
So, if you reading this at lunchtime on the day of posting, make yourself a cup of tea and switch the lunchtime news on.
You may see the unusual sight of a an assortment of ragged people laying a trail of mars bars on the ground leading from the front doors to a waiting police van, hoping to tempt the normally shy and retiring creature into the light where they can slap him with a Warrant of eviction. Maybe even just make an edible warrant – he won’t be able to resist.
Ben Reeve Lewis