Panorama on subletting
04/05/2011 11:12 am
It’s good to see the issue of unlawful subletting of social housing getting some wider media coverage, with the BBC’s Panorama show looking at the issue tonight. There always seem to be a lot of unanswered questions around the subject. Lots of claims have been made about the number of homes that are unlawfully sublet, often placed alongside an equally huge figure for the number of people on housing waiting lists.
But as IH readers will know, waiting list figures aren’t always as straightforward as they seem, and you also have to wonder who the ‘unlawful’ tenants are. People who are on the waiting list anyway? People who have genuine need of social housing? And what happens to them if their home is recovered?
That isn’t to say subletting isn’t a problem, clearly homes should be allocated to people in need through the proper channels. But it isn’t as straightforward an issue as the statistics would sometimes suggest.
Another issue that tends to crop up around subletting is how hard it is to gather evidence and recover properties. Put too many barriers in place and landlords may not have the resources to do the work, but if there aren’t enough safeguards then the rights of tenants could be compromised.
It’ll be interesting to see which of these issues are tackled by Panorama, and whether the programme comes up with any answers.
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06/05/2011 10:11 am
This was a programme on subletting?
Far too much emphasis on the housing shortage and not enough investigative journalism. I don’t think people need much convincing that subletting is ‘a bad thing’, so it was irrelevant to bang on about housing supply/demand so much.
That the programme was so unbalanced I think demonstrates that while subletting is an issue, and is wrong, it is not the real problem. The massive shortage of affordable housing is the problem that no government seems to want to address.
I think a secondary issue is the lack of regulation in the private rented sector. That’s probably a debate for another day, but the programme touched on this with the poor conditions of one property shown.
Oh and the guy with a council flat and a chateau in France – well, that just reinforced the stereotype about social housing tenants liking a drink...
06/05/2011 11:29 am
[thanks for putting me with wings rather than flames Melvin ;-)]
Nonny is spot on that the supply issue is where the investigative journalism expose cutting edge camera of the BBC needs to be put - but as they only ever pussyfoot and mealymouth around the issue with the Housing Minister, who for some reason is treated as if he has some extreme vulnerability and therefore must not be challenged nor argued with, there is no liklihood of the BBC, or the rest of the media come to that, ever looking at the real issue. Instead the media continues to trot out the Tory Demonisation line of tenants and public servants being the evil that must be erradicated and there being only one solution to the problem.
Restore regulation and increase supply - The Housing Minister, like his predecessors and opponents, has never explained why building more home and restricting rent levels can not be used to cure the lack of supply and affordability issues. Perhaps, after a year of asking, IH could get around to asking the Minister to answer.
06/05/2011 1:05 pm
I would argue that any of these programs only use is educational for the uniniated and for those who never heard of social housing before.
Otherwise what is the point of any program about a national scandal, when no single responsible for the destruction of social housing in this county is put on the on trial in a court of law and if necessarily put in jail?...
the only good I can find about programs like these is for commentators to self-congratulate themselves saying about I was right and you were wrong and this policy shouldhave been pursued and not the other one. Well what is the good of that, if lessons will never learned until the responsible are individually prosecuted?
You steal an ipod from the store and end up in jail, you destroy social housing and all you get is a few comments that your policy might have been wrong.
06/05/2011 5:00 pm
PSR, going back to your first post, can I point out the flaw in your logic, the social home is not an asset of the police officer, it is merely an expense, he can't sell it, he can't realise it, therefore it cannot be an asset.
Sub-letting expenses, well you'll have to talk to MP's and bankers about how that turns out!
Personally, no social tenant should be allowed to sub-let except in extreme circumstances (such as being required to work away from home for a period of time - but not permanently). Those that do should have their tenancies terminated summarily and be forced to handover any profit they've made on renting it out.
06/05/2011 5:30 pm
Agreed Alpha - I do not see it as his asset to dispose of or utilise other than as prescribed by the tenancy agreement. The comment is more to the point of the prevailing 'moral' set being used to approach all things caring.
This individual is a disgrace - and as an officer of the law should really be setting a better example than a Member of the House of Lords or another parliamentarian. It would tickle my funny bone though to find out if he had sublet the home to an MP previously who had then claimed a second home allowance on it - that really would be the icing on the biscuit.
I think other posters have been accurate in stating that this issue must not be in place of concentrating on the real issues of lack of supply and affordability. Letting our masters of the hook each time they can come up with an example of abuse would be wrong. As we know, abuses are rarer than the proportion reported - if the media printed a story about every non-subletter and every non-benefit fraud case newspapers would be multi edition phone book sized publications every day.
06/05/2011 5:33 pm
SUBLETTING should me made legal for all cases when the tenant has a relevant reason to stay away from his home... Take the example of a tenant who for study, work, or assist relatives has to go away for a certain time, why should the property be left unoccupied or illegally sublet?.. By legalizing subletting for relevant reasons landlords could concentrate better their resources on the real illegal subletting.
06/05/2011 5:46 pm
There should also be sublet exchange, whereby two tenants sublet their property to each other. For example a tenant in Leeds who needs to live inb Plymouth can sublet his lat to a tenant in Plymouth who needs to live in leeds for a certain amount of time.
But of course politicians and landlords instead of opening up choices for their tenants are only intent in making them more and more insecure.
09/05/2011 5:04 pm
I'd agree with that, we need to be focusing on the supply of which there is a distinct lack. I've seen a few programmes recently about how we built more social housing in the 60s and 70s (albeit vastly inferior accommodation) but that seemed to dry up.
Now I know everyone likes to point to Thatcher for the RTB, but the truth is more complex than that I feel.
As for sub-letting, you'll find anonymous that most HA's have a policy on sub-letting (albeit usually unpublished) where they will let people in those circumstances sub-let, but not for a profit. It would be unworkable to have a tenancy that allowed subletting for certain reasons, as those reasons whould have be exhaustive, which would then lead to problems in the future. The very notion of needing to be able to sub let was unthinkable 20-30 years ago, times change.
10/05/2011 9:46 am
Tom, It seems a bit harsh to criticise a TV programme for not covering the issue that you would prefer it to have covered, or for dealing with the issue from a different perspective than your own.
Journalists are not "insiders" with detailed knowledge of the subject they are reporting on, they simply latch on to whatever might seem contentious to the general public and wring it out.
What they reported was interesting and quite well researched. It pointed out that there is more to the housing problem than simply building more houses, which seems to be the primary focus of David Cameron et al.
I too would like Panorama to do some follow-ups on this subject, getting into the economics of the housing industry, because it is something that affects everyone in the country to some extent either directly or through taxation.
10/05/2011 9:52 am
Alpha and others who are pro-subletting:
The landlord is the one who should be able to re-let the property and allow the original tenant temporary absence, if that is what the tenant requires for personal reasons. The tenancy should always remain under the control of the landlord, not least because the landlord has legal obligations to his tenant which do not pass down through the primary tenant to a sub-let tenant.
10/05/2011 12:23 pm
Alpha is to correct to say the reasons for the short supply of housing is more complex than simply the right to buy - but it is also simple in that complexity. The market led consumerisation of society politics meant that a supply deficit had to be created in order to make profitability a better potential. This created the housing market which the Tories love and Labour embraced. As with the food futures market this has nothing to do with best value for money, nor consumer choice. It has everything to do with making the most profit from the smallest investment over the quickest time, and beggar the consequences in terms of human of social loss. The use of taxpayer funding to subsidise profitablility in place of increasing supply is, in my book, criminal.
However - none of this is an excuse for subletting. It is a reason to dump the damaging consumerisation of housing (something even Shapps agrees with) and bring back regulation and investment to increased supply (both of which Shapps disagrees with).
Gavin - some of the criticism of Panorama is justified, especially as the journos concerned claim to be investigative journalists, not just hacks who can trot out a press release or repeat a thread of spin.
10/05/2011 12:47 pm
PSR - "consumerism of housing" as you put it is what people want, so who are you to deny it to them?
RtB was a means to allow long-term tenants in social housing (who had invested much of their lives - far more than just paying the rent - into their properties) to become owner-occupiers if they so wished. If social housing is meant to be for more than just the emergency cases and lost causes of society, it is a logical option to give because it allows people to progress out of being dependent on state subsidy into self-sufficiency.
Whether the correct price has been charged to the tenant and whether the money raised has been put to the right use is a separate issue.
There is plenty to criticise Panorama about if you want to talk about facts rather than simply opinion (everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so there can be as many different opinions as there are people, whereas there is only one true fact in each case).
They spoke about 5 million people being on the housing lists as if this is the number of people who are in need of social housing but cannot get it. That is certainly not correct. The example from Portsmouth where the local authority got large numbers of people to withdraw from the waiting list was not about taking people who have a real housing need off the register because of a lack of supply, it was about taking people who DON'T have a real housing need off the register because the allocation system, which is based on an assessment of need, would never allocate them any priority.
Housing waiting lists (and especially Choice Based Lettings registers, which the majority of local authorities now operate) are neither indicators of housing need nor the shortage of housing supply. All the DCLG and independent guidance on housing needs assessment says so, yet those who want to talk in dramatic terms about the shortage of housing supply consistently use such figures.
It is a deliberate exaggeration that does not help focus attention on the real problems.
10/05/2011 1:02 pm
PSR: "The use of taxpayer funding to subsidise profitablility in place of increasing supply is, in my book, criminal."
I agree totally.
So is the distortion of the evidence of rural housing need so that affordable housing developments can be built on otherwise protected farmland, thus yielding huge profits for the developers and the land owners, who thereby can realise up to thirty times the agricultural value of the land.
Giving taxpayer subsidy to private developers to help them do this is a further travesty.
Allowing local authorities to approve such developments without there being any independent auditing of the justification for it, and without there being any public right of appeal against the decision, is the ultimate injustice.
10/05/2011 3:51 pm
I do not argue with your points Gavin
However, one of the areas that I agree with the Minister on is that a house is a home not a commodity. The best way of achieving this Ministerial aspiration is to ensure that everyone has access to decent, suitable, affordable housing. The market has not and will not provide the supply as this is not profitable. The Private Sector will not provide the affordability as this is not sufficiently profitable for their short term business planning. The only proven method for achieving the Minister's aims is to use investment to provide housing for social level rents in such numbers that they no longer need to be rationed.
My complaint is that the Minister professes an aspiration but is never challenged on his opposition to achieving it.
10/05/2011 11:05 pm
PSR - I think everyone except the house builders / developers and the management agents would regard a house as a home rather than a commodity. That is one good reason to take them out of the equation when it comes to defining and deciding how much new housing is needed and where it should go.
Presently developers and housing managers get to manipulate the planning documents that define the housebuilding targets for local authorities while they are at the preparation stage. That means that their plans, which will be based on "deliverable" sites defined in the SHMAs that they already own or have options on, will be virtually a fait-accompli by the time they become formal development proposals. This gives local communities no opportunity to say whether they do or they don't support the proposals before they go forward to obtain formal planning permission.
That is totally wrong.
And as you say - a house is a home, which is why RtB is a reasonable progression of social occupancy. What needs to happen is that RtB should be encouraged, to enable and to incentivise social tenants to become self-sufficient owner-occupiers and to cycle their older properties out of the housing stock and to replace them with newer and more appropriate social housing that better meets current needs. The crucial thing would be to guarantee that for every home that is sold under RtB at least 1 new replacement was built with the money raised.
I don't see how anyone could complain about that.
11/05/2011 0:19 am
..."The crucial thing would be to guarantee that for every home that is sold under RtB at least 1 new replacement was built with the money raised."...
That's exactly what was said when the RTB was introduced. Which is to say there is no way you can garantue anything and even if you say you guarantee anything no one is going to believe it anyway.
that's why the only guarantee is to never sell any social housing stock to anybody and abolish RTB, because once a social housing property is gone, even with all the guarantees in the world,you are not going to have it replaced.
11/05/2011 0:38 am
But that is a recipe for no progression, no hope for anyone. That's a dire circumstance to impose on anyone:- no hope of advancement, of escape to a better situation.
It is better to cater for the aspirations of the positive among us, but deal as best we can with the unfortunate, and also treat constructively the negative and parasitic among us.
11/05/2011 10:03 am
Not quite Gavin - abolishing RTB does not prohibit aspiration to own being fulfilled, it just prevents the private ownership of public assets.
It is dispicable of Shapps and his like to bang on about tenancies for life being wrong as blocking public assets for the needy and then at the same time support selling of those assets, removing them from access to the needy for ever.
Those aspiring to own property can do so on the private market - they do not need to remove a public asset in the process. If they must buy their Council house then why not introduce a scheme whereby they must identify a private sector one of the same value which can be converted to rented and co-purchased, otherwise they will not qualify to buy the one they rent now. Simple and fair, plus affordable as the exchange is like for like!
11/05/2011 11:26 am
Many do not seem to understand the basic meaning of "public asset."... It is a staggering ignorance that they might be thought as disposable... a public asset is a road, a mountain, a forest, a lake, the coast line, the river, etc... and so is social housing, the nhs, the education system, etc, etc... which go to make a country what it is. while people and the state can and should do all they like to improve them - it is criminal to destroy them for future generations and future history... Aspirations to ownership can be helped in a million of other ways than RTB- but surely cannot be helped by dimishing or destroying existent stock. anyone who does not get this, can't possibly know the meaning and value of 'public asset.'
12/05/2011 0:08 am
Many do not seem to understand the difference between housing stock and housing availability.
If a social tenant buys his home under RtB there is a reduction of one unit in the social housing stock and a reduction of one in the current demand for that stock - so the net effect on social housing availability is zero. Keeping the house as social rented would only yield an available property for relet on the exit of the existing tenant, which may not be for many years!
However, here are some positive aspects of RtB:
1) If you REQUIRE landlords to replace every sold property with a new one, you can convert every RtB sale into one additional social home.
2) The RtB sale can probably cover much of the cost of the replacement, reducing the necessity for additional funding to satisfy the newly arising need for social housing.
3) A replacement property can be specified to better suit current housing demand (e.g. single-occupancy flats or accommodation suitable for the elderly) which may be different from the needs profile that existed when the older properties were built.
4) the new properties will have lower running costs for tenants and landlords than the older properties that are being sold off.
5) New properties thus provided will probably have much better specifications for the tenants (downstairs toilets, disabled access, more car parking, better energy efficiency, etc) than the older properties did.
I can go on, but you probably get the picture...
RtB can therefore be used as a positive way to reduce the current demand for social housing (by changing social tenants to owner-occupiers) AND to help address new demand by helping fund new construction. It will also help first time buyers to get their first foot on the property ladder.