Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bleak Houses?

The good news for many in the private rented sector is that prices are now back at 1999 levels. There is a lot of supply and those in the market can pick and chose. It is likely though that the tax on non-principled private residences aka second homes will be increased in the Budget tomorrow. A lot of landlords have numerous properties, so they may try and pass this cost onto the tenants. Also the Commission on Taxation recommended the abolition of the rent relief for tenants, it may not be awful lot, but for many on tight budgets was a help.

Hopefully conditions are better now!

However for many people and families on low incomes and on social welfare, the cost of renting has bizarrely gone up, despite the fact that they can least afford it. People in this category get state support in the form of rent supplement, 91,600 or 24% more than last year based on recent figures from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Changes in the last Budget, mean that not only have tenants to pay more as part of their contribution to the rent, many also have had to top up the "official" state payment as this was also reduced in the Budget and landlords expect tenants to make up the difference. I fully understand why the Government cut their contribution, rental costs were coming down across the economy, so why not in this sector as well. However in many cases the landlord didn't accept the cut and turned to the tenant to make up the difference. You might wonder why in the current market people just don't up sticks and leave rather than pay above the market rate. I am sure in some cases people have, but not all landlords will accept tenants on rent supplement for a variety of reasons, so there is no guarantee that they will get alternative accommodation.

Also some people and families on rent supplement live in sub-standard accommodation. Earlier this year the Government to their credit did introduce higher standards for private rented sector accommodation and last week they brought in further improvements. However many of the new provisions do not apply to existing rental properties until 2013. Some landlords will meet the criteria and treat people properly, however some will try and avoid their legal obligations. That is where the local authorities come in, they are supposed to inspect rental properties in their areas. Some have a great record, over 50% of registered properties, however 17 out of the 34 local authorities inspect less than 5% (see table 37) of properties to check that they meet the current minimum standards. So the chances of dodgy landlords being caught are slim.

Organisations like Threshold do an excellent job in supporting tenants on a very limited budget, however the local authorities need to do more and carry out more inspections (at least 20%) to ensure that tenants get decent living conditions for the millions which is being spent by the state for these properties.

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