Macca and Martha‘Oh, I’m looking after my girlfriend’s dog again while she’s at work’; ‘I think that cat lives next-door and it keeps coming in every time I leave the backdoor open’ – just two of the excuses I routinely used when I had both a canine and feline companion when living in rented accommodation and the owner of the property turned up unannounced. Keeping quiet about one’s benefits was one thing – ‘No DHSS’ was something landlords were allowed to state in the same way they’d once infamously stated ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’ – but pets were the ultimate no-no. That said, I lived in three different premises with my cat and dog and wasn’t officially entitled to have either of them whilst living there. Some landlords were more tolerant than others. A landlady I had over 20 years ago insisted on collecting the rent in person and would call every Thursday evening at the same time; but she didn’t just take the money at the door; she’d come in, sit down and natter. Throughout this weekly endurance test I’d have to make sure the cat was out and I’d ask a friend to sit in the kitchen with the dog, bribing him with treats to prevent him from barking.

Potential damage as well as the noise – and possibly odour – of animals appears to be one reason private landlords have always had a downer on them; and, to be fair, there are plenty of irresponsible pet-owners who don’t empty the litter tray and don’t take the dog out for a walk when it needs to do its business. As a pet-owner myself, I was permanently conscious that I wasn’t adhering to my rental agreement by having them and did my best to guarantee they didn’t disrupt the lives of other tenants; but I would’ve attended to my pets’ needs even if I’d bought the property, and the dog barking whenever the doorbell rang would still have been something I’d have attempted to discourage. Not all pet-owners are so conscientious, of course, and I suspect these are the ones to blame for the rest being tarred with the same unfair brush by the majority of landlords.

According to the latest stats released by rental platform Goodlord, just 5% of landlords today allow pets to be kept by tenants renting their properties; when one considers just how essential pets can be in providing the lonely or the socially-challenged with companionship, it seems especially mean. Landlords will tend to fall back on the reasons already mentioned if they’re opposed to pet ownership on their property, and if faced with a choice between a tenant with pets or one without, they’ll usually opt for the latter every time. And even money can’t swing it. A story emerged recently that a far-from skint prospective tenant offered a landlord £3,300 a week for a penthouse apartment for which the landlord was asking £3000, simply because the prospective tenant in question had four dachshunds and figured offering to pay more than the asking price might override any objections; in the end, the landlord accepted a lower offer from a pet-free tenant instead.

However, all this could be about to change. In the past couple of weeks, a white paper has been published to address some of the issues faced by renters. The long-overdue abolition of the contentious ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions is proposed – this is the system whereby a landlord can give notice to a tenant to leave the property without first providing a reason for the eviction – and not before time; 22% of renters who left their homes in the past twelve months did so without it being their choice. But the Renters Reform Bill also attempts to allow tenants the right to have pets in their rented homes, the first time this will be enshrined in law. No longer will landlords be able to specify those with pets will be barred from renting from them; and, as someone who spent the best part of 20 years living in rented accommodation with one pet or another – and being acutely aware of the risks I was taking – I cannot help but welcome these changes. Considering the boom in pet ownership spawned by the unique conditions of lockdown – and the belated realisation of what a difference a cat or dog can make to those abruptly deprived of social interaction with other people – this is something that needed to be addressed.

If I’d been threatened with eviction whilst a pet-owner, I would’ve found somewhere else to live rather than part with my four-legged friends, and a survey by the Deposit Protection Service recently revealed 30% of pet-owning renters had done precisely that of late. This bill nonetheless includes a caveat for concerned landlords, all the same; reports indicate Housing Secretary Michael Gove plans to grant powers to landlords so they can request their pet-owning tenants have insurance in the event of any damage done to the property by their pet, something that has eased the worries of the National Residential Landlords Association – particularly as landlords are limited when it comes to the amount of a deposit they can hold onto as insurance against pet damage; the Tenant Fees Act of 2019 restricts that amount to five weeks’ rent. NRLA representative Chris Morris said, ‘Our biggest concern has always been that the law, as it currently stands, prevents landlords requiring insurance to cover the significant risk of pets creating damage to a property. We welcome reports that the Government has listened and responded positively to our concerns.’

The Renters Reform Bill will also extend the so-called Decent Homes Standard into the rented sector for the first time, apparently guaranteeing renters the right to a ‘safe and warm home’; as someone who has never rented property with central heating, I look forward to a winter in a ‘warm’ home, though how this bill will make my home warm is a tad vague. Anxious landlords receive additional eases to their concerns with a promise that the bill will enable them to evict antisocial tenants or renters who are wilfully failing to pay rent in ways that are far easier than the rules currently in place allow. But tenants are liberated by the changes too; rogue landlords will face unlimited fines if they don’t live up to the standards expected of them. ‘This is all part of our plans to level up communities and improve the life chances of people from all corners of the country,’ said Michael Gove. ‘Too many renters are living in damp, unsafe and cold homes, powerless to put it right and under the threat of sudden eviction. The New Deal for renters will help to end this injustice, improving conditions and rights for millions of renters.’

Considering 4.4 million households constitute the private rented sector, finally tackling some of the iniquities prevalent in the system is one of those rare occasions when it’s possible to applaud this Government for actually doing something good. The Decent Homes Standard places a legal obligation on landlords to improve properties in such an insanitary state that they affect the physical and mental health of tenants; this will also cut the best part of £3 billion’s worth of Housing Benefit a year that finds itself in the pockets of these rogue landlords, as well as sparing the NHS from the £340 million it annually forks out for in order to treat the ill-health of tenants hospitalised due to the dire conditions they’re living in. Also, disputes between tenants and landlords are to be kept out of court by the intervention of a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman – what a wonderful word that is, Ombudsman (one of the few Scandinavian ones to have settled into modern English, apparently); he will settle such disputes quickly.

But it is the section of the Renters Reform Bill covering the ownership of pets in rented accommodation that will probably register with the most people. For far too long, the healing effects of domesticated animals on their owners has been effectively criminalised by the renting system; the odd bad apple in the barrel shouldn’t brand all pet owners as ‘problem tenants’ and it’s about time this antiquated discrimination was finally outlawed. Looks like that time has come.

© The Editor





If the Labour Party hMoggas excelled in the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot discipline of late, we shouldn’t forget the Tories are just as expert at this particular event. Whereas Labour’s vote-winning idea of reclaiming the Red Wall is to embroil itself in a Lewis Carroll-like nonsensical strain of Identity Politics (guaranteed to woo Brenda of Bristol back to the fold), the Conservative Party cannot help itself from alienating the members of the electorate it borrowed in 2019 by reverting to type, pedalling an outdated Home Counties view of the vulnerable as a drain on the nation’s resources. They don’t need to do it anymore, for they’re no longer dependent on the patronage of the Murdoch Empire to secure them a majority; yet the default position remains falling back on archaic assumptions that the prejudices of the traditional Tory shires must be catered to at all costs. Following in the clumsy footsteps of Iain Duncan Smith, another beneficiary of inherited wealth by the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg has enhanced his reputation as ‘Minister for the 18th century’ at the party’s annual conference with a casual dismissal of the needs of those who always stood to lose the most from the aftermath of the past year and-a-half.

At a point when National Insurance increases, rising energy prices and inflation are poised to dig deep into the piggy banks of the people least able to afford them, Reese-Mogg has been especially indelicate by issuing the far-from helpful advice that benefits are not ‘an insurance scheme’ during a conference debate on the cuts to Universal Credit; and when such statements emanate from a man not exactly familiar with the harsh realities of juggling household bills every month, they serve to reinforce the antiquated stereotype of both the uncaring Tory and the underclass dole-scrounger – despite the fact that upwards of 40% claiming benefits are actually in work. The impending end of the weekly £20 ‘Covid boost’ on Universal Credit has been criticised by some within the Conservative party, with an estimated 80,000 people on the cusp of poverty as a consequence, many of whom have been unable to earn a full wage for the past eighteen months due to lockdowns and Covid restrictions.

When it’s speculated that over £1,000 could vanish from the household income of the most affected, the Tories don’t do themselves any favours as saviours of ‘hard-working families’ when some of their Honourable Members engage their mouths without considering what comes out of them might sound like to the less privileged. The latest Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey claims the loss of the £20 uplift will be made up via a mere two hours additional work – a theory she obviously won’t be called upon to test out in person; meanwhile, the ongoing death toll of rejected disabled claimants declared ‘fit for work’ continues to cast a toxic shadow over a system that those with the power to change seem unwilling to change, perpetuating the perceived lack of empathy Ministers tend to exhibit towards those most in need of help. At the same time, the resumption of landlords being able to evict tenants who have fallen into rent arrears courtesy of lockdowns finds one-third of renters unable to keep up payments laying the blame squarely at the door of the pandemic policy.

Those who happened to be between jobs at the time of Lockdown Mk I weren’t eligible for the furlough scheme if they had voluntarily left their previous position rather than being laid off by lockdown, heaping further pressure on individuals and families sucked into a cycle of debt that wasn’t their own doing. Robert Jenrick, the former Housing Secretary, had said in May that no one should lose their home as a result of the pandemic, yet as soon as the ban on bailiff evictions ended that same month, people began losing their homes. 555 private and social landlord hearings in the county courts of England and Wales were observed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism during the summer, with 270 of them ending in an outright possession order and 88 of those orders citing the financial impact of Covid as the main factor in falling behind payments. There was such a backlog of hearings that most lasted barely ten minutes, which is hardly adequate time to contest a case or to decide someone’s immediate future. Despite the fact that the MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee last year could see the direction the wind would take come the end of lockdown and recommended the law being changed so that judges would have discretion when it came to a fair and fitting verdict on each individual case, the Government ignored their advice.

A married couple recently profiled on the BBC News website had just become first-time parents on the eve of the first lockdown and went from a monthly income of £2,000 when both were in full-time work to surviving on £150 maternity pay during the interminable wait for a Universal Credit payment for the suddenly unemployed male breadwinner. Their rent stood at £450 a month and the inevitable happened during lockdown, with them eventually reaching £4,000 in rent arrears; served with a Section Eight order – giving a landlord grounds for repossession if the rent arrears number two months or more – the pair are now preparing for eviction. They are not alone. The swift turnover of hearings at the nation’s county courts – where possession orders can be stamped and certified in less than five minutes – makes for sober reading when it comes to the fate of those suddenly plunged into society’s relegation zone, few of whom fit the irrelevant old image of the ‘lifestyle choice’ scrounger of George Osborne’s imagination.

Another case covered in the BBC report concerned a woman whose usual job as an agency-employed executive PA was curtailed by lockdown; residing at a one-bedroom property in Hammersmith with a monthly rent of £1,600 meant her slide into rent arrears of £24,000 didn’t take long, though the case going against her at the local county court also left her having to pay £604 in interest as well as her landlord’s legal costs of £3,000. This individual has since found another job, but her credit rating is now as bad as the aforementioned married couple, who no longer have any savings to pay a deposit for a new home. The average rent arrears in the cases observed at the county courts by the Bureau of Investigate Journalism in July and August was around £6,500, though some far exceeded this amount. Naturally, the situation is also a headache for landlords themselves, with some tenants exploiting the crisis and playing the Covid card even when the pandemic has no bearing on their arrears, leaving courts often unable to distinguish between the ones who can’t pay and the ones who won’t.

As with every element of the inevitable fallout from closing down the economy for months on end since the spring of 2020, the already-delicate housing crisis was destined to ricochet through countless lives once payback time arrived; but such scenarios can be cruel levellers. I recall a TV report on Spain’s economic crisis in the wake of the financial crash of 2007/08, wherein many holding traditionally well-paid, middle-class jobs such as teaching were just as likely to be found sleeping on the streets or squatting in derelict properties as the more conventional casualties of capitalism one would sadly expect to be in dire straits. When people play by the rules, toe the line, pay their taxes, work hard and provide the backbone of the orderly society they venerate, some form of reward is anticipated, and that doesn’t necessarily have to translate as extreme wealth but simply not having to worry about their home being repossessed or never having to claim benefits. The Government on whose watch such people plummeted down the social ladder needs to remember the shock to the system these valuable members of the electorate have suffered will linger for a long time, and the way it publicly articulates its opinions on their predicament ought to be handled with care.

© The Editor




There are times when that most basic human necessity – to have a roof over one’s head – becomes a crisis that demands action. The years following the devastation of housing stock during WWII air raids was one such time, even if many of the dwellings destroyed by the Luftwaffe were poor, insanitary slum residences that had already been condemned. Those homes of similar quality to survive the Blitz staggered on through the 1950s and into the 60s, however unfit for human habitation they might have been; unsurprisingly, most were situated in high-density urban areas and were home to people on low (or no) incomes – the kind of dilapidated hovels often captured on campaigning documentaries of the era, the kind infested by bugs, vermin and rising damp, boasting inadequate facilities, outdoor privies and tin baths in front of the fire.

Whilst the big money went on designing New Towns, the rest of the urgent housing needs were solved by ‘Large Panel System Building’, the revolutionary production line process whereby the components for (primarily) tower blocks were cast off-site and then assembled on-site like Meccano. It was a fast and – more importantly – cheap method of re-housing that those re-housed from Victorian slums understandably regarded as luxurious, suddenly finding themselves in shiny new flats with all mod cons. This was the last gasp of the great – and, on paper, laudable – social housing project spanning the first quarter-century after the War, and it took a disaster to curtail it.

In May 1968, Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower block in Newham, East London hit the headlines when a gas explosion provoked the collapse of one side of the building. Because the block had been open for just a couple of months, only a tiny handful of its apartments were occupied and the death toll was restricted to four people. But the shocking image of the damage done I would imagine sent a collective shiver down the spine of those living in identical flats comparable to the impact the Grenfell inferno had on those whose streets in the sky had also been redecorated in flammable cladding. Ironically, the planning regulations that eventually came into force as a result of Ronan Point have been stated by some as saving Grenfell Tower (opened in 1974) from collapse when it was ablaze. While Ronan Point may have effectively ended the era of the tower block as a solution to a housing crisis, many of those erected prior to 1968 – and those built immediately afterwards, which had been given the go-ahead beforehand – were also riddled with defects reflecting the speediness of their construction and the poor quality materials used.

As a child, I had an auntie who lived on a huge housing estate comprising interconnected low-level blocks of around half-a-dozen storeys; virtually isolated on an island surrounded by busy roads, the estate was nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ and was a sprawling, aesthetically ugly concrete jungle of a home. It had only been built around the same time as Ronan Point, yet even in the early 70s I remember it seemed to be falling apart, plagued with all the problems that came with the LPS process. My auntie’s flat had the permanent unmistakable odour of damp flowing through it that was as pungent as the stench of piss in the lifts that carried visitors up to her floor. The whole rotten estate was demolished in the early 80s, after standing for no more than a decade. But the failure of such schemes, driven by ambition and destroyed by corner (and cost) cutting, seems to have led us to where we are now. Similar estates that survived were refashioned as a dumping ground for ‘problem families’ and antisocial tenants that nobody wanted living next-door. Social housing became a dirty word.

The news that the Government is to shake-up planning rules and regulations in order to fast-track the desperately-needed delivery of new houses has received a mixed response. Boris Johnson has attempted to alleviate the worries of those who cannot afford to own their own homes at a time when a post-lockdown ‘mini-boom’ has pushed house prices back up to their usual astronomical levels; he stated social housing would constitute a large part of his reforms. The lockdown has exposed not only the fears of homelessness amongst many renters whose landlords have not exactly been sympathetic to their furloughed tenants, but has also highlighted the cramped conditions families have had to endure in order to ‘stay alert’. The fact that the old ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’ requirement is now rightly consigned to history doesn’t alter the fact that many contemporary renters on Housing Benefit already have enough to worry about, still confronted as they are by the ‘No DSS’ bar, which is just as antiquated a form of discrimination, especially considering the DSS hasn’t existed since 2001.

Of course, not all planning regulations were created to thwart and frustrate noble property developers; we’ve all seen the way some homeowners and landlords attempt to skirt around current rules, squeezing extensions into every available space, erecting endless dormers and converting garages into dwellings. Many are concerned any relaxation will be exploited by less benign builders and will push even more into miserable surroundings. A friend of mine rented a recently-built house on a shiny new estate around 20 years back and I remember being struck by the low ceilings and claustrophobic rooms; the small scale of the interior was as though it had been designed to house a family of Munchkins. That experience confirmed to me that the dimensions of new homes were undoubtedly smaller in the same way photographic evidence makes it clear how Mars Bars have shrunk over the years.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has expressed concerns that the reforms could lead to shoddy slum properties, whilst housing charity Shelter is worried social housing will be a casualty of what Labour has called a ‘property developer’s charter’; the proposed changes imply decisions over where to build will be taken out of local council hands and give more power to central government; and it goes without saying that central government will be less sensitive to local issues, risking provoking ‘Nimby’ protests, particularly when it comes to greenbelt land. However, the Local Government Association claims the housing crisis in this country is not due to the planning system but to the fact that nine out of ten approved planning applications given the green light end up not being built. What all this makes clear is that something needs to be done, but can we trust this Government to do it right?

The concerted effort to clear the streets of (and house) homeless rough-sleepers during the lockdown shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to instigate, but it equally shouldn’t take the eventual submission of Covid-19 before it becomes enshrined as official policy that no one should have to sleep in a shop doorway. At the same time, the place we know as home should also be a step up from a kennel. If the new planning regulations lead to a long-overdue building programme reminiscent of the ones that spanned the 50s to the 70s, great; but it is to be hoped the same mistakes made then can be avoided. Having somewhere to live needs to be recognised as a universal human right, but the quality of that living space matters too; the ministerial trumpeting that often accompanies ‘the creation of thousands of new jobs’ can come across as meaningless box-ticking if the nature of the work is deemed secondary to the simple fact the job has been created. We don’t need a housing version of Government coronavirus policy, whereby people are being kept alive whilst simultaneously being denied living.

© The Editor


Theresa May doesn’t want to be surrounded by Yes Men, and it seems she’s got what she wants. Not that she appears to listen to members of her Cabinet, anyway, whether or not they tell her what she wants to hear. Holding court in a Cabinet Office that must have had its walls removed and replaced with a giant sieve, the PM is presiding over a team that is behaving as though the collective responsibility her predecessor dispensed with during the EU Referendum still applies. Boris has been laying out his own personal manifesto via newspaper columns in recent weeks, yet Mrs May is keeping her Foreign Secretary on a very slack leash indeed. It’s a curious approach to take into the Party Conference Season, though policy promises have been raining down on the electorate during the Tory outing to Manchester, as though we’re on the eve of a General Election rather than living in the aftermath of one.

It goes without saying that what we’re getting is the usual series of suggestions designed to either attract or pacify a particular demographic that has so far been impervious to the charms of the PM’s shower. The youth vote, so crucial to the rise of Jezza, is one the Government are desperate to entice, yet even if many of Corbyn’s pledges might prove harder to implement when in office than in opposition, Mrs May is trying her best to lure The Kids into the blue corner. Don’t get me wrong – I wince whenever I hear the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant and curse the fact that the melody stolen from The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ is ruining what I think of as one of the best rock songs of the last 20 years; but the Tories trying to come on all hip ‘n’ groovy is still akin to a ‘Grime Night’ being held at a Home Counties golf-club.

Mental health is another issue the Government are keen to be seen doing something about; but, as was so memorably stated in ‘This is Spinal Tap’, money talks and bullshit walks. Throwing vast amounts of cash at public services being badly-run, whether the NHS or the social care system, isn’t good enough when the majority of the money is simply used to enhance the pension schemes and pay the mortgages of the careerist freeloaders clogging up the impenetrable layers of management that require a bloody great scythe taking to them instead of being reinforced like the rotten foundations of a stately home. But, of course, we’re in the quick fix territory of short-term solutions to long-term problems; the Government is showing the same amount of imagination as someone who gives you money for your birthday because they can’t think of a fitting present.

Another side to the PM’s character that is being highlighted during the current chaotic condition of her administration is her stubbornness on an unwelcome legacy from her predecessor’s regime – Universal Credit. The catch-all cock-up conceived by Iain Duncan Smith is supposed to group together six existing benefits – including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Income Support, and Employment & Support Allowance – under one all-encompassing umbrella benefit, but the scheme has had its critics from day one and the suspicion is that Mrs May and her DWP Tsar David Gauke are reluctant to put the project on ice and are pressing ahead whilst ignoring warnings because they’re fearful of being accused of yet another U-turn.

Many of those entitled to Universal Credit residing in parts of the country where the benefit has already been ‘rolled out’ have had to wait upwards of six weeks to receive any payments and have been pushed into rent arrears as a consequence. Dame Louise Casey, a social policy adviser to governments of both colours for 18 years, has urged the PM to take a closer look at what impact Universal Credit stands to have on individuals and families who are already perched on the precipice of poverty before the damage is done. Government estimates predict seven million households will be in receipt of Universal Credit within the next five years, but despite the Citizens Advice Bureau and several Tory backbenchers sharing the same concerns as Dame Louise, it would appear the plans are going ahead regardless of her belief that some families ‘will end up in dire circumstances, more dire than I think we have seen in this country for years’.

If, as history tells us, it was once perfectly legitimate for landlords to place the notorious ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ sign in the windows of their properties, it was also once okay for them to say ‘No DHSS’, and far more recently at that; I came across it myself several times when looking for somewhere to live around fifteen years ago. I learnt to keep quiet and worked out that paying my rent in person without the DHSS paying it direct to the landlord was one way to get around the discrimination; and while I’m not sure where the law stands in terms of who landlords can and cannot refuse tenancies to today, it would appear they routinely turn away anyone whose income falls under the ‘Universal Credit’ banner. For some, it’s a vicious circle; they can’t get work without a fixed abode and they can’t get a fixed abode because they’re claiming Universal Credit…on account of not being able to get work.

One of the Conservative MPs calling for a rethink on Universal Credit, Stephen McPartland, says ‘with every pound (claimants) earn, the Government’s taking 63p back off them; to me, that is an effective tax rate of 63%…so the lowest paid are effectively having to pay some of the highest taxes’. The CAB concluded Universal Credit claimants on average have less than £4 a month to pay creditors after covering the cost of living; the organisation’s chief executive Gillian Guy said ‘if the Government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services’.

But Mrs May is too busy pruning the remaining leaves from the magic money tree in the Downing Street garden to listen; if she can toss its off-cuts in the direction of those she assumes will translate them into a solution to their problems, she’s done her job. To be fair, there doesn’t seem much point in her looking at the long-term, anyway.

© The Editor


Around twenty years ago, a friend of mine who was a student at the time we met graduated from university; her degree enabled her to enter the profession she wanted to and within three or four years of doing so she bought a house. The timescale of this progression is inconceivable now, yet it happened to her when this very century was still in nappies (i.e. not that long ago). She was from an unremarkable working-class background – indeed, her family home was on the fringes of an estate you wouldn’t want to walk through on a dark night – and her parents were hardly ‘wealthy’ by today’s terms; they certainly didn’t play a part in her rise from student to homeowner; it was all down to her own endeavours. It struck me when I thought about it that her story is one we probably won’t be told again for a long time. It reads like a blast from a past that is now firmly out of reach.

Sobering statistics aired last week spell out how the climate has changed in such a short space of time. In London, over two-thirds of average earners’ income is now spent on rent. By the time the original scheduled date of the imminent General Election comes around (2020), it’s estimated that first-time buyers will need to be earning the best part of £60,000 a year in order to buy their own home; the current average annual UK wage is £27,271 – though David Cameron can set £25,000 aside to erect a shed in his back garden for the purpose of writing his memoirs; I’m pretty sure an estate agent could market that as a ‘micro bijou residence ideal for a small family’.

Another factor worthy of mentioning concerns the domicile status of many homeowners in this country. In the centre of the capital, 28% of buyers purchasing property don’t reside there, and almost 10% of this country’s entire housing stock is currently in the hands of foreign investors – those who view houses not as an essential roof over a homeless head, but as bargaining chips on the gaming tables of the international capitalist casino. Unlike many other countries around the world, there are no rules in place here to limit home ownership to tax-paying residents of this country. When so much of UKIP and Tory energies have been devoted to scapegoating foreign workers ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’ in recent years, it’s odd that rich overseas homeowners taking our houses without even coming over here have evaded attention for so long.

Amongst all the issues being bandied about as crucial to the Election – Brexit, the NHS, education etc. – for me personally, housing is the most pressing of them all; whilst much has been made of the fact nurses are using food banks, few are pointing out it’s probably because the majority of their income is going on rent. Yes, the Tories made a big announcement on housing over the weekend, but the Government has recently changed public investment in housing from social rent (falling much lower than the market level) to so-called ‘affordable rent’ and ownership schemes. It also intends to put pressure on local councils to sell upwards of a third of their empty homes to draw Housing Association tenants into the Right to Buy project. Currently, for every five council homes sold under Right to Buy, one solitary replacement council house is being built.

At the same time, local councils spent over £840 million on temporary accommodation for the homeless last year alone, which amounts to a 46% increase in just five years. Add the removal of Housing Benefit for unemployed 18-21 year-olds and the cap on the same benefit for those in sheltered housing and it’s plain to see how highly this issue really ranks on the list of priorities penned by the powers-that-be.

Despite a few vague promises, housing hasn’t been at the forefront of the electioneering so far. I suspect the fear of losing votes from homeowners paranoid that their investments will diminish in value should house prices drop has played its part in this criminal neglect by the leading parties, though that simply isn’t good enough. Maybe if the UK was on the same level as, say, Bangladesh, our housing crisis would be regarded as an improvement on past statistics; but as far as the world’s fifth richest economy is concerned, there’s no excuse. Compare then and now – then being the first twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War, when this country embarked upon the most radical programme of public building since the Roman occupation.

Whilst the creation of New Towns, the erection of sprawling council estates and the demolition of slum housing condemned before the war (many of which survived into the 50s and 60s) was a necessary response to the damage done by the Luftwaffe, this key policy of Attlee’s reforming administration nevertheless became a long-term project carried on by Tory Governments led by Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Home before finally drawing to a close under Harold Wilson. In the space of a quarter-of-a century, a housing crisis was dealt with as consensus politics weren’t affected by a change of colour at the top. The common good was recognised by all. Yes, some of it may have been shoddy and some of it may have left an aesthetic blot on the nation’s landscape, but the motivation behind it was laudable. The housing crisis of the twenty-first century may be down to massively different circumstances, but the need to resolve it is no less urgent, even if few in public office dare to admit it to the electorate.

I know I’ve written about this topic on numerous past occasions, but I find it baffling how housing isn’t at the forefront of the party manifestoes, even if the fact it isn’t doesn’t really surprise me. Yes, it’s being mentioned now that the individual party policies are being unveiled as media events day-by-day, but it’s not exactly dominated conversation in the campaign to date. Other than ensuring British citizens – or subjects, if you prefer – have enough food in their bellies, I can’t think of anything else more important than the right of each and every one of us to have a roof over our heads. Or is it just me?

© The Editor


With this country’s housing currently in the kind of crisis it hasn’t reached since the aftermath of the Blitz, the lack of urgency and action on the part of government often beggars belief. One would imagine ensuring everyone has a roof over their head should be at the top of any administration’s agenda, but what is actually being done? A chronic absence of affordable homes; a pitifully low amount of new houses being built; purpose-built social housing virtually abolished; soaring rents also pricing people out of that market; mean-minded schemes such as depriving unemployed 18-21 year-olds of Housing Benefit – all paint a portrait of remarkable ineptitude and uncaring indifference on the part of our elected representatives.

And into this troubled arena returns the ominous, unwelcome spectre of the kind of landlord who gives landlords a bad name – not quite a throwback to either infamous property tycoon gangster Nicholas van Hoogstraten or the notorious slum tyrant of 50s Notting Hill, Peter Rachman; but certainly one bearing all the old ‘No Irish/No Dogs/No Blacks’ prejudices prevalent prior to the Rent Act of 1965.

Millionaire Fergus Wilson, often referred to as ‘Britain’s biggest landlord’ (having owned over a thousand properties at one point), has hit the headlines due to his attitudes towards certain types of potential tenants via a leaked list of his letting criteria supplied to the letting agents Evolution. This illuminating document reveals he and his company do not want tenants with children under 18, no single mums or single fathers, no tenants on Housing Benefits, no low-income workers and no single adults. That does narrow it down quite a bit; few with little choice but to seek rented accommodation don’t fall into any of those categories, after all. But Mr Wilson obviously has standards to maintain. He won’t accept victims of domestic abuse as tenants either; ‘battered wives’ are apparently more trouble than they’re worth.

As biased and bigoted as that list reveals Fergus Wilson to be, it is his antiquated racism that has made him a target for online abuse. According to this list, one of his other specifications regarding tenants is that he won’t let to – in his own words – ‘coloured people’ because of ‘the curry smell at the end of the tenancy’. Firstly, the assumption that what has long been the country’s No.1 dish of choice is only consumed by ‘coloured people’ is remarkably ill-informed; secondly, to attribute that particular dish as a main cause of damage to his properties when tenants move out suggests his judgement is severely impaired by his prejudices.

A friend of mine who rented out his former home when he couldn’t sell it experienced the unpleasant reality of trouble tenants, who left the property a tip when they did a runner, though they were neither ‘coloured’ nor used curry to reinforce their contempt for the tenancy agreement.

Fergus Wilson has reported the abuse he’s received to Kent Police, but has also been airing his opinions in the Sun, which make him sound like an even bigger idiot than the leaked list did. ‘It is a problem with certain types of coloured people – those who consume curry,’ he says. ‘It sticks to the carpet. You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.’ He goes on to deny that which he has been accused of by saying: ‘My stance is that it is neither racist nor discrimination to refuse to take people from any ethnic background on the basis that there is a heightened risk of injury to the house.’

His denials are then contradicted by further statements such as: ‘To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people’ and ‘In a predominantly white English area, almost all landlords will not let to Indian or Pakistani tenants because of the smell of curry.’ He clearly has a problem with curry, that famed foodstuff favoured by those bloody ‘coloured people’. If only they stuck to fish and chips, how much easier Fergus Wilson’s life would be.

Evolution, recipients of Mr Wilson’s specifications, has distanced itself from his comments and has made it clear they do not endorse his attitudes. Other organisations dedicating to helping the homeless or representing the renting sector from both sides have followed suit. The online attacks he’s been subjected to since his criteria was made public are of an ilk that many who are nowhere near as bigoted, though have a habit of expressing unfashionable opinions, have suffered from recently; however, to hold up Fergus Wilson as some heroic beacon of anti-PC free speech misses the point.

As a landlord – and an extremely wealthy one – Mr Wilson is in a position where some of society’s most vulnerable citizens are forced to approach him for assistance. For him to discriminate on the grounds of social or racial status, rather than exclude the worst kind of tenants due to their lack of respect for the property, is lamentable at a time when so many are in such dire need, whether or not they have an appetite for curry. Desperation for a roof over one’s head doesn’t distinguish on any grounds. The tenancy agreement between landlord and tenant is a contract of mutual understanding; if both adhere to the terms, there’s no reason why the relationship cannot be a harmonious one.

Having lived in rented accommodation for over twenty years, I’ve experienced both bad landlords and good ones; I may have kept pets when I wasn’t supposed to, but I’ve always paid my rent on time and I’ve always left the properties as I found them when the time has come to move on. I even left a fridge freezer and a mattress behind at my last address, neither of which was there when I arrived, so I hope my successor made the most of them. Maybe it’s time Fergus Wilson retired to his inevitable yacht in Monaco and left his business in the hands of those who recognise that when so many in this country are so desperate for somewhere to live, landlords are uniquely qualified to do what government is so spectacularly failing to.

© The Editor


rigsbyIn the last year of the twentieth century and the first couple of the twenty-first, I rented the ground floor of a house from an elderly landlady whose deceptive ‘old dear’ demeanour masked a not-so-sweet disposition that assumed owning the property entitled her to let herself into it whenever she felt like it. I once caught her by surprise when she imagined I was out and I heard her turning the key in the lock; I retreated to the bedroom and waited until she strolled in before emerging and inquiring as to the nature of her intrusion. I can’t recall the explanation she offered up on the spot, but her cheek was characteristic of a Rigsby-like nosiness where her tenants were concerned; and I wondered how many occasions had taken place when I hadn’t been present to witness this illegal action.

Granted, I had a dog and a cat, neither of which were allowed (but then they never are when you rent), and having to hide them whenever she came round in person to collect the rent every Thursday evening was a perennial headache, for she didn’t simply stand in the doorway and receive the money whilst jotting the exchange down in the rent book; she had to come into the flat, sit down, natter and nose. Eventually, she sold the property (which consisted of five separate apartments) and we the tenants were given notice of eviction. I found somewhere else up the road and have never had those kind of problems with a landlord or landlady ever since. It seems I’ve been fortunate.

According to a new survey by the housing charity Shelter, there are over a million tenants living in privately rented accommodation in the country today who are experiencing the same problems I endured over fifteen years ago – and worse. 7.5% of the ones interviewed for the survey said they too were familiar with the owners of the property entering it without giving their tenants a week’s warning, which is the law. More extreme cases of abuse on the part of so-called ‘rogue landlords’ included intimidating behaviour and threats as well as cutting off gas or electric, the kind of tactics reminiscent of ‘Pop’, the repulsive character from ‘The League of Gentlemen’, who sits down of an evening to watch secret CCTV footage of the tenants he bullies and rips off with relish. One landlord even went so far as to hold a replica gun to the head of one of his tenants as part of a campaign of intimidation.

A lack of awareness when it comes to their rights is something that makes many tenants ripe for exploitation at the hands of the most unscrupulous landlords, though the Shelter survey does point out that the worst offenders are relatively small in number and the majority of tenants are content with their landlords or letting agents. Moreover, the National Landlords Association claim that their own survey shows ‘82% of tenants say they are happy with their current landlord’. Without wishing to cast stereotypical aspersions, one cannot but wonder if the least content tenants are either newly arrived immigrants or students, both lacking worldly-wise antennae when confronted by an evident conman and therefore begging to be fleeced in the eyes of the rogue landlord.

The separate research undertaken by the National Landlords Association also takes into account the other side of the situation, whereby landlords have encountered antisocial tenants, with 3 out of 10 landlords in the UK reporting verbal or physical abuse from those renting. So, it does cut both ways. In the case of the latter issue, the buy-to-let landlords who have capitalised on having a sizeable amount of spare cash by buying houses and then renting them out as a means of paying the mortgage have equally played their part in the housing crisis. An Office of National Statistics report released this week revealed the depressing fact that the average age of a first-time house-buyer in London today is 34. It’s no wonder renting is booming and that some are taking advantage of the climate.

An unforeseen bonus is that rogue landlords can sometimes unite tenants, who come together as a community when one of them is threatened. A private tenant and her five children in Bristol this week was poised to be evicted from her home of 12 years simply because she had repeatedly reported the damp in her house to her landlord. However, when the bailiffs turned up to evict her, other residents of the neighbourhood formed a human chain around the property and succeeded in preventing the eviction from taking place. The action was promoted by Acorn, a local organisation that fights for the rights of tenants, and the chain was a 30-strong barrier to making a mother and her children homeless due to the fact that she made a legitimate complaint to someone whose duty it was to resolve it.

Having lived in rented accommodation for all of my adult life, I have been witness to both the good and bad sides of the arrangement and, never having been in a financial position whereby I can purchase my own property, I’ve had no option but to make do with renting as best I can. A decent landlord or letting agent will respond promptly when any of the fixtures and fittings have ceased to function and need repairing or replacing; as long as the tenant pays the rent and doesn’t flagrantly and repeatedly stretch the patience of their fellow tenants, there’s no reason why the arrangement shouldn’t work.

I know from experience the kind of tricks private landlords can play on their tenants, though I also know from experience how some tenants take the piss and can make life miserable for their fellow tenants as much as those they’re renting from. About five years ago, I and the man in the flat below me had to combine forces in order to persuade the agents letting our home to evict the noise polluters on the ground floor who were wilfully disrupting the harmony of the household beyond a tolerable level. Tenant can on occasion be as bad as landlord, and with no glimmer of hope on the horizon for affordable housing at an age younger than mid-30s, the likelihood of the rented sector increasing means the balance between the two has to be one that benefits both rather than either or.

And on a lighter note…

© The Editor