I’ve not had a very good day today. The house we are living in was meant to be a short term arrangement – we moved in a rush and we don’t much like the house, and it’s way too small for us. I’ve been keeping an eye on the local rental market for months now, and today I viewed what could be the perfect house for us. The location is perfect – just up the road from where we are now, so easy for both children to get to school. The house itself is a lot bigger than our current house, so we all win. It has a spare receoption room which would form the perfect home office for me. It has an insulated shed with heating and light which one or other of the kids could use as a den. And the price was even right – our rent will go up to £700 in January; this place is £725, so for not a lot more money we get a whole lot more space – and I will save the £180 a month I currently spend on renting office space for my business.
So everything looked good – until I mentioned to the letting agent that part of the rent would come through housing benefit. Shouldn’t be a problem, I thought, because that money is guaranteed every month, and I know I can afford the extra, not least through not needing to rent an office any more.
Big mistake. “I’m sorry, but the landlords won’t even consider anyone on housing benefit, I’m afraid. They’ve been messed around before, you see,” was his reply.
Damn. Dream over.
Life is very tough for anyone in receipt of housing benefit – and it’s about to get tougher. The LHA – the amount local authorities will pay towards rent – was already far lower than the rent actually requested for the vast majority of properties (especially here in Faringdon, where the LHA is set at Swindon levels but the rents are at Oxford prices). The government’s recent cap has brought LHA rates down even lower – meaning that anyone reliant on housing benefit is going to really struggle to find an affordable property. And whereas the government seemed to think that landlords would lower rents to make it more affordable for HB recipients to rent, in fact the opposite is happening. Research by the National Landlords Association has found that nearly 80% of landlords who currently accept HB tenants are going to cut back or completely exclude such people in future, because of the LHA cap.
The trouble is that many landlords see housing benefit claimants as trouble. Part of the problem is that landlords have had problems with housing benefit recipients in the past – and I guess there’s always that minority who will cause problems for landlords, perhaps by spending their rent on other things. The greater issue is if a landlord wants to terminate an agreement if the tenant is employed it’s fairly easy for them to find and rent another property – whereas tenants claiming housing benefit are advised – okay, TOLD – by the local authority that they must become sitting tenants and only leave after an eviction notice has been served, otherwise they will receive no help from the local authority if they end up homeless. So you can see why landlords are less inclined to rent to HB people, I suppose.
But the thing is, just because someone is in receipt of housing benefit doesn’t necessarily mean they are trouble! There are all sorts of reasons why people claim housing benefit – here’s my own situation.
Ten years ago I left an abusive relationship and moved away, with my two children. My youngest child was not yet in school so I chose to stay at home with him and claim income support and housing benefit. Luckily I found a sympathetic landlord who was prepared to give me a chance, and we enjoyed 4 very happy years in a homely, if slightly scruffy, house in Hampshire. I’ll always be grateful to Alan for giving me that opportunity – and as well as being able to be a stay at home mum, I then started a degree once my son was at school. So whilst claiming housing benefit I was able to be an excellent mother AND start improving my life and prospects, long term.
The next time I claimed housing benefit was in 2008, when my marriage broke down and I had to move out. I had started my own business the year before but it wasn’t making a profit yet, and certainly wasn’t providing enough of an income to pay my rent AND put food on the table. Again I was lucky enough to find a letting agent willing to take a chance on me, albeit with several references and a guarantor, and I haven’t let them down.
Three and a half years on the business has changed, and has gone from making a loss, to breaking even, to making a small profit. As a result my housing benefit claim has changed and now only part of my rent is paid by benefit, the rest I pay myself. I’m hopeful that this year’s profits will be bigger – meaning I will be less reliant on HB again – and that in 2013 I will be completely financially self-reliant.
Yet because I have to have a small amount of state help to help me get by, I’m seen as a bad risk by the vast majority of landlords – including the one that holds the keys to my dream home.
I’m gutted. It seems like the harder I work, the more effort I put into improving my situation, the more doors get closed in my face.
So to any landlords or letting agents reading this – here’s the deal. I’m looking for a three bedroom house in the Faringdon (Oxon) area that has slightly more room than that needed to swing a cat. If it has a study, extra bedroom or reception room or outbuilding with heat and light that I can use as a home office, better still. I can pay the usual one month’s rent and 6 weeks’ rent as deposit. I can even supply personal and business references, landlord references and a guarantor.
I’m not a scumbag. I’m not a lowlife. I’m not a lazy person sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle while the the honest tax payers of this world pay my rent. I’m not trouble. I won’t mess you around.
What am is a loving single mum and a hard-working business woman who is trying to build a business and create a better future for me and my children. I’m reliable and responsible – and I won’t let you down.
Surely I – and the thousands of other people on housing benefit who are trying to improve their lives – are worth taking a chance on?