Fact: not all Housing Benefit tenants are trouble!

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?


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13 thoughts on “Fact: not all Housing Benefit tenants are trouble!”

  1. I really feel for you Alison.

    Another problem my daughter found (albeit several years ago) was landlords renting to people claiming housing benefit really didn’t care about the state of the property. I went and looked at a flat for my daughter and young granddaughter that you wouldn’t put a dog in. It was a disgrace and the landlady shrugged and said ‘they’re on housing benefit what do they expect?’

    She ended up in another house which, it turned out, was about to be repossessed and had all sorts of gas and electric safety issues. Again, the attitude was … it doesn’t matter. They don’t deserve any better. It is a disgrace.

    Many years ago, I had a big house and rented out 3 rooms. I actually chose to have people on housing benefit. I found they were far more reliable than those paying the rent themselves.

    Good luck with your search!

  2. Thanks for your reply, Joy. Sounds like your daughter had a dreadful time. We have been lucky so far, I think. The first property I mentioned, in Hampshire, was quite scruffy and the landlord said that he would have decorated it before letting it to “paying” tenants, but actually that was no bad thing because he was happy for me to decorate it myself, and we ended up with a lovely home rather than “just” a house. Our current property physically doesn’t have anything wrong with it – it’s just not particularly homely and way too small – in fact, the landlord (who is serving in Kathmandu – we deal with the letting agent) came to visit once when he was home from a tour and said he couldn’t believe how three of us managed to live there!

    Trouble is that rents are so expensive round our way that it’s very rare that a property comes up that we can even afford – and so annoying when our hopes are dashed by housing benefit-averse landlords!

    And what you say is true – while I have heard some horror stories about HB tenants, I’ve also heard over and over that actually they are often the best tenants to have. (Don’t suppose you happen to have a three bed house in Faringdon to rent right now, do you?!)

  3. Hi Alison, I agree that not all tenants on HB are trouble.
    As a landlady back in 1994-1997, we took several in our flat in Ilford. Only one gave use any trouble and over the 3 years it was let it was 80% hassle free. We painted the flat every year, cleaned the carpets and looked after the place. That I believe encourage the tenants to keep it in good condition.

    After a messy divorce in 2005 I had to claim HB myself and privately rent. The Landlord was fine until he saw the HB cheque and then he gave me no end of hassle, increasing the rent 3 times in one year, constantly ringing and moaning, faking complaints about me. Driving past the property all hours of the day and night to make sure I wasnt abusing it…

    The final straw came when there was a drainage issue in the front garden, and sewage overflowing from the manhole. I called the landlord and he poured a torrent of abuse at me down the phone, arrived in the doorstep and threatened me with 3 of his mates.

    The drain guy arrived and declared that it was the house 5 doors away that was the problem but I didn’t get an apology, I got a dirty look off of him. I decided a new home was in order.

    The new home is very shabby. The landlord is polite and visits a few times a year. Other than that it’s a bit shabby, it’s perfect.

  4. Good on you for accepting HB tenants when you were a landlady – but I;’m shocked at the treatment you received when you were in the same position! When will landlords/letting agents realise that sometimes people just go through tough times that leaves them reliant on benefits for a while – we are NOT second class citizens! Luckily I’ve not encountered anything like that – the agents for the two properties I have rented have treated me decently (in fact my landlord in Hampshire was fabulous, couldn’t do more for us) .

  5. To put the other side and a different view if you post it :

    Tough ? surely not as tough perhaps as having to pay for your own existence, and existing within the means you can generate, and not relying on other taxpayers, some of whom maybe be worse of than you or waiting to afford the cost of family or the space they would like to be able to operate out of ? the peers wouldn’t cap benefits at £26,000 a year which to put it in context … is more than the average wage ? If HB is a temporary measure … I can see a reason in housing benefit, but its all to easy to find people who perceive it as a right or a god given entitlement in perpetuity, and thats where dependancy and other dangers such as counting such benefits as the extra “that doesn’t everyone take” ? on top of other undeclared incomes, I’ve seen some people who take the mickey and flaunt how they operate the systems available, to their own benefit with impunity, its not everyone but its enough to cause anger in those who through force of will, stay off benefits at the expense of their own well being and comfort. The people on housing benefits aren’t more reliable … the councils spending other taxpayers money are more reliable.
    And recently especially in the last 10 years… speculative buy to let landlords, who have multiples homes for rent, “use” the housing benefit class as a fast and easy way to get their mortgages paid for free, when no private renter could be found at the extortionate rent level they’re after and the poor quality of acommodation they’re offering. In a way the poor taxpayer is paying the mortgage of wealthy speculative buy to let landlords multiple property’s in london. In london few landlords even in chelsea have any qualms about taking housing benefit or can afford to, because it guarantees they can pay for a mortgage on a property they shouldn’t even own, because the landlord does not have the income to pay the mortgage without free money from the taxpayer via the council. It’s a direct movement of money from poor taxpayers into the hands of wealthy landlords who don’t have the earnings from their own activitys to pay their own mortgages. Its basic monopoly in action creating a sick society, with the wealthy landlord and the claiming poor between them colluding to screw over taxpayers who cant even afford a home to live in, why do we have so many single mums in britain ? answer because its one of the few ways poor women can afford to live in a home, if house prices weren’t so inflated there would be less broken family’s in this country, and all this just to make some people who are already rich even richer

    I know an entire mansion house style block in chiswick london that was full or private paying tenants, and slowly but surely the company that owned the block placed more and more asylum seekers in the block and eventually asked all the private paying tenants to leave, so they could rent the whole block to the council, because the council was paying more, suffice to say this didn’t make the people I knew in the block too happy, But I’m guessing the faceless corporate entity that owned the block was happy to see the asylum seekers in their as they could degrade the property all the quicker, meaning the potential to be granted permission to knock the building down and replace it with something taller with smaller flats and more units would be possible.

  6. I was looking for an E-book on help with being a landlord as me and my brothers plan on doing it. After reading this it’s made me think about making properties available to HB peeps. This reminds me of something someone said once “always give people a clean slate”.

  7. That would be excellent. So long as you do all the usual checks, get extra deposits or guarantors where needed and have a good gut feeling for the tenants it should be fine – we’re quite nice usually!

  8. I would personally love it if I could let people stay for free. We’re all part of the same team I play the game but doesn’t mean I have to like it. p.s if any one has any e-books on the subject can you send them to lamby118 at gmail.com thanks.

  9. The trouble is, as a landlord, once you’ve been stung once by a “bad” housing benefit tenant you simply don’t want to take the chance again, as if things go wrong the only thing you can do to reclaim the lost money is get a ccj for the money, which will merely give the tenant a bad credit rating for 6 years. You can’t claim the money back because the tenant has no money to claim.

    My first and only tenant was a HB tenant, I wasn’t a buy to letter, I bought a house and got made redundant, and then so that I wouldn’t have to sell, rented it out to a HB tenant who was a friend of a friends. I ended up losing £10,000 in unpaid rent and a further £2,000 in damages. The tenant even had the cheek to try and claim the deposit back. That unpaid rent, was taxpayers money, which she kept for herself.

    It’s very easy to take digs at landlords and say that they’re bad and they’re discriminating etc, but really any anger should be directed at the bad HB tenants who have screwed over landlords and thus put them in a state of mind where they never want to go near HB tenants again.

    The sad thing is, it isn’t just one potential HB accepting landlord that’s lost. If anyone I know is thinking about renting a place out and asks me about how my landlord experience of course I’m going to tell them that I got shafted by a HB tenant. And that may then go on to be mentioned by them to someone else and so on. Oh and now I’m writing about it on a forum, which may put another potential HB accepting tenant off. Fact is, there needs to be some kind of punishment for bad landlords & bad tenants. I can’t believe that a tenant that keeps her housing beneift for herself instead of paying the rent, isn’t deemed to be defrauding the taxpayer. To me it’s blatant theft of taxpayers money, and there should be a punishment for it. Although, I guess the bankers get away with similar stuff on a much bigger scale all the time…and they never see a day in jail..

    rant over.

  10. Thanks for the cooment and for putting forward a very good point about landlords. it’s just such a shame that a few bad eggs ruin the situation for everyone else.

  11. A very late response as we are four years on…..
    I hate to have to say (if anyone is reading my rant) but it’s only going to get worse. I had a letting agent ask me last week if I earnt £22k + or they wouldn’t consider me. So if people are serving up at coffee shops, pubs, waiting on, care workers, volunteering for good causes etc. Apparantly – we are no good. Next time the letting agent comes into my restaraunt – I will refuse him a meal. Dont know who the landlords are as obviously – they have to keep a low profile.
    Housing benefit is there for a good reason and garunteed. It allows the haves and have nots to co exist.

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