Renters don’t get a fair deal in Wandsworth

Speech to Wandsworth Council, December 9, 2015

Wandsworth council is not working hard enough to get a fair deal for renters.

It doesn’t seem to understand renters’ lives. And it is not willing to inspect, to investigate, to level the playing field for renters.

This was shown most recently in the Investing Solutions scandal.

This is the Wandsworth-based letting agency that took £5.5million in housing benefit from a charity which housed the homeless. £2.1m of that was paid by Wandsworth council. Crisis, the housing charity, described the arrangement as “a new low”.

Several of their properties – used to house vulnerable people – were unsuitable, due to lack of heating and hot water, rats and damp.  The BBC reports the company earned £11,568 profit per year from one property alone.

We put these facts to the relevant officers and the Tory cabinet member at the last housing committee.

Their response was basically: “Scandal, what scandal. There’s nothing to see here. This is business as usual” No further investigation is required because it’s not illegal.

Well, it may not be illegal – but it’s wrong.

In a properly regulated housing market – one with some decency and goodwill – exploitation of this kind could not have happened.

Renters are getting more squeezed by the day. Local examples have appeared in the press recently.

You may have seen the cupboard under the stairs rented out for £500 a month in Sisters Avenue in Battersea. Before bills. This was said to be an authentic ‘Harry Potter experience’.

Chelsea in her twenties, pays £700 a month rent for a flat-share in Clapham. “I spend so much on rent I feel as if I am living in poverty”

Anna, a teacher, pays £720 a month to share with 5 others in Balham. “I pay more than half my salary on rent. I just don’t have a chance to save any money”

A teacher. Surely we think teachers should be respected people in the community, who can expect good housing?

Anna the teachers may move out a year later with just her possessions. The landlord will be more than £150,000 better off. The average Balham house price went up by £152,000 last year – trapping more people renting, possibly forever.

Zeeshan, in Wallis Close Battersea, was paying three times the rent to a private landlord as the council tenant pays next door. This was actually 5 years ago. He asked me about homeownership schemes “I want a home for my family so I can have peace of mind.”

He had a child. Then his rent went up, he started working two jobs.

A couple of years ago I was watching cricket round his house when he said he’d received an eviction notice from his landlord. His wife was pregnant again. Wandsworth accepted him as homeless.

Last year the council placed him in temporary accommodation in Thornton Heath, 5 miles away. “It takes around one and a half hour to drop children at school in the morning.” It’s taking a dreadful toll on his wife and children.

Last month – as its one and only offer– the council showed him a private rented property out in Croydon. Even further from his life in Battersea. Now, pending the outcome of a review, Zeeshan and his young family will be homeless, with nowhere to go, for Christmas.

Zeeshan was just a regular suburban dad – and there are hundreds of others like him. At the mercy of events.

If we don’t give a fair deal to renters, we feed the homelessness crisis.

1,000 local families will be homeless this Christmas in our community – in this borough.

We need to step up to our responsibilities to regulate the housing market. With improved inspections, tenancy deposit help, bans for rogue landlords, an end letting agent fees and the offer of longer, more stable contracts for families.

The council doesn’t seem to understand the pressures that renters face. Wandsworth Council should work harder to get a fair deal for renters.

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