Much has been made of benefit ‘scroungers’, particularly in the newspapers – in some cases, rightly so; but I’d like remind you of a far greater drain per capita on the public purse – unscrupulous or ‘rogue’ landlords. In my instance, the landlord had not only had an enforcement order/improvement notice served on him for substandard accommodation in April 2010, he had also been claiming a higher rate of what is now LHA (formerly Housing Benefit). He had lied to the council by saying we were in arrears, when we had legitimately withheld the rent, so that they would pay him directly by cheque. This man had several properties & the means to raise enough capital to improve them, but instead preferred to allow the taxpayer to fund the eventual renovations and receive more public money than before the enforcement order was served! This is a morally repugnant approach & wholly irresponsible, greedy and self-centred. It surely cannot be what is meant by ‘The Big Society’.
There is a very simple answer to this widespread problem, especially in areas of poverty. The same approach should apply to anyone & everyone who receives taxpayers’ money, whether a claimant or a landlord – who, in MANY cases’ is a far greater ‘scrounger’ than all the claimants put together.
1) All properties should be subject to inspection before LHA/Housing Benefit is paid out. In the case of new landlords this would be a simple step. For existing ones, benefits could continue to be paid until or unless an enforcement order is placed on the property. If and when an order is served, LHA/HB payments to the landlord should stop, but the rights of tenants and their tenancy agreements should remain as before – it is the landlord who is in breach of the conditions for receipt of the benefit, not the claimant.
2) As with any claimant, the right of appeal should exist for landlords BUT as with a claimant, the benefit should stop being paid while this appeal takes place. Our landlord was very fond of holding up due process with appeals, all the time continuing to enjoy LHA/Housing Benefit with no questions asked – even claiming a substantially higher amount in our case! If the appeal is won, just as with a claimant, the landlord could be reimbursed in full, including any amount from the time the order was served or the appeal lodged. As stated, this already happens with claimants of any benefit & works quite effectively to minimise fraud & bogus appeals. Yet it seems that if you own a house and merely rent to claimants of benefits, none of these checks and balances are in place – even though we are talking about several thousand pounds per month per house!
I do hope in the coming weeks and months that this very important issue is taken into account regarding cuts in the public sector. Obviously, they will happen, but it seems of the utmost importance to me that a man with several houses should not be allowed to claim more money for substandard accommodation from the public sector at such a time. It is a wholly despicable, entirely indefensible position, and if a loophole exists and such activity is not illegal, it damned well should be!