A dearth of local council and DWP staff doesn’t bode well for the government’s plans to clamp down on landlords renting out poor quality homes to benefit claimants, according to one Universal Credit expert.
Under reforms announced in the Queen’s Speech, it aims to slash the £3 billion a year in Housing Benefit estimated to go to landlords renting out sub-standard homes.
However, Bill Irvine (pictured), of UC Advice, tells LandlordZONE there are questions over how PRS properties will be assessed and who will carry out this function.
“Housing Benefit staff used to carry out regular property visits to establish residence before making a Housing Benefit award and could refer cases to the rent officer or reduce Local Housing Allowance if concerns of poor conditions were evident,” he says.
“Nowadays, local authorities rarely carry out property visits. Similarly, rent officers rarely visit properties, unless the tenancy started prior to 2008.
DWP used to employ ‘visiting staff’ to carry out benefit entitlement spot checks and they could pick up on issues like overcrowding.
“Nowadays that doesn’t happen. So, who will carry out the property inspections, what criteria will be used and what appeal rights, if any, will landlords have?”
While landlord groups such as Portsmouth & District Private Landlords Association have welcomed the announcement, they fear the initiative will only work with more co-operation between central and local government, along with proper direction of funds.
David Renard (pictured), housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, tells LandlordZONE that a legally binding Decent Homes Standard to improve conditions in the private rented sector is a positive step.
However, he adds: “Any new responsibilities falling on councils will need to be adequately funded, and we look forward to seeing more detail in the forthcoming Private Rented Sector White Paper.”
Renard also argues for the removal of the requirement for Secretary of State approval for larger licensing schemes, a national landlord registration scheme, and “adequate funding to develop appropriate responses to the challenging nature and context of the private rented sector”.