Why the voices of tenants living on benefits in the Private Rented Sector Matter

In her blog, Raji discusses the impact of welfare reforms on our Private Rented Sector Access Scheme and why securing additional funding to employ a Campaigns and Tenants Voice Officer is so crucial for our work moving forward.

Raji Hunjan, 24 May 2019

This morning in the office, I happened to be listening in to a telephone conversation between Z2K’s Tenancy Empowerment Officer, Eimear and a client who we are helping to find a suitable property to rent in the private rented sector.   I listened whilst Eimear patiently explained that we are no longer able to find affordable properties in Westminster and surrounding boroughs, but that we could help her to find something suitable in Barnet. Eimear took her time to explain costs of living in inner London boroughs in relation to housing benefit, particularly for those who are subject to the benefit cap.  She explained how we would continue to help and support the tenant whilst she adjusted to living in a different part of London.

It is always a difficult conversation to tell people, who are already feeling vulnerable, that they are no longer able to afford to live in the areas where they have the most networks, and where they feel safe.

At Z2K, we have had a Private Rented Sector Access Scheme since 2013.  At the height of the scheme, before the impact of welfare reforms and the lower benefit cap bit, we could broker up to 60 tenancies between landlords and single people a year.  In the last couple of years, this figure as been more like 30.  It has become so much harder to find affordable properties.

However, affordability is only one barrier, the other one of course is the quality and condition of the properties – even in this dire market we work to maintain some standards.  Only today, I had a long conversation with the team about severing ties with a letting agency which often does have properties in areas clients want, but because some of the terms of its tenancy agreement we are risking exposing people to some unfair costs.  (that’s another story, and one we are looking into in a lot more detail).

It is for all these reasons that we are really excited that we have secured additional funding to employ a Campaigns and Tenants Voice Officer.  It really is an opportunity for us to work with our clients, to raise some of the problems of living in the private rented sector.

We are excited because despite all the challenges we face, we are still able to make it work for some people, and that makes the whole project worth it.  We just want it to work for more.   We recently housed Sam, who came to us after he had claimed asylum because he had been tortured in his home country.  When we met him, he had been granted leave to remain, but was street homeless, waiting for a bed in a night shelter.  We introduced Sam to a landlord we work well with; the landlord agreed to reduce the rent to the benefit cap rate and within 48 hours Sam was housed.  There is no reason why is shouldn’t always be this easy, but it rarely is.

There is so much more we want to do to help our individual clients, as well as achieve change at a policy level.  And even on the days we despair so, we will pick ourselves up and keep fighting on behalf of and with the people we help every day.  If you are interested in working with us at Z2K and helping us to collaborate with others on PRS issues, please download the candidate pack and get in touch.