Britain is witnessing the emergence of “benefit blackspots” as welfare claimants are forced to move out of the towns of their choice after being evicted from rented housing by private landlords.
Housing charity Shelter has warned that entire UK communities could become claimant-free zones, after the Guardian revealed on Saturday that one of Britain’s best-known landlords has sent out eviction notices to every tenant who is receiving benefits. Fergus Wilson, who owns almost 1,000 properties in Kent, has also informed letting agents that he now refuses to accept applicants who need housing benefit.
The charity said that a number of other landlords had already taken the same action. The issue has raised the prospect of claimants being clustered in the least desirable locations throughout Britain, and forced into the worst quality housing.
Roger Harding, director of policy and communications at Shelter, said: “It is very worrying. If this policy continues over the long term, we will see blackspots in the country where people on housing benefit simply cannot find anywhere reasonable. There’ll be areas where, if you lose your job or become ill, and you try and fall back on housing benefit, it won’t be high enough for you to find somewhere. Unless you have savings, you’re going to move town.”
Harding said there were 500,000 people currently claiming housing benefit in the private sector, many of whom were at risk as rents rise and benefits are squeezed. “It is an awfully large number and includes pensioners and people in work who can’t afford their rent. This could affect any area where future rents really outstrip inflation and where there is a lot of pressure on the rental market.”
Wilson justified his move on economic grounds, adding that he prefers eastern European migrants because they default less than single mothers on benefits, whom he described as a group for which sympathy “is disappearing”. His move provoked a furious backlash on social media sites.
Shelter says it warned the government three years ago that the impact of its housing policies would result in claimants being adversely affected. At one point it was criticised by officials for “scaremongering”. The charity said the government had told them its decisions would ensure rents would start falling, whereas in fact they had gone up.
A statement from the charity said: “Keeping a home could soon become even harder for families who desperately need the short-term safety net that housing benefit is designed to provide. The rental market is broken and no one wins.”
Statistics from the National Landlords’ Association published last month revealed that the number of private landlords dealing with people on benefits has now halved to one in five.
Tenants on benefits in council or housing association accommodation have already been hit by the effects of the so-called bedroom tax, where housing benefit is cut if the home is judged to have a spare bedroom.
Source: The Guardian