UK government figures reveal that in 2016 a total of 19,601 tenants were evicted by UK social landlords, equating to 1633 tenants each month. In England and Wales alone, 79,000 claims for possession were lodged with the courts, 60% of which were from the social sector (source Ministry of Justice). In court fees alone, this resulted in a hefty spend of £28m.
With homelessness acceptances in England increasing to 59,250 last year (source: Homeless Link), with over 116,000 presentations, one of the UK’s leading housing and support services companies believes that social landlords approach to sanctions against tenants can play a pivotal role in prevention, while at the same time significantly reducing spiralling escalation and possession costs.
East London based Just Housing Group has spotlighted the fact that there is currently no evidence available in the social housing sector that accurately portrays the true cost of evictions.
Anna O’Halloran, Just Housing Group’s MD, suggests it is generally assumed that the majority of possession claims, and therefore evictions, are for rent arrears – however there is no current data to prove this.
Anna said: “It is inevitable that rent arrears are only likely to get worse with welfare reforms – including Universal Credit, benefit caps and LHA reforms - placing a significant squeeze on personal incomes. This will only further increase stresses faced by social landlords for effective income collection methods.
“It is disconcerting that the sector does not have any evidence to fully understand the scope of reasoning behind claims and evictions. Intuitively, rent arrears would appear to be the main cause, however anecdotal assumption is not good enough to establish a sensible foundation for a resilient challenge to existing practices.
“Social landlords are likely to be managing around 60% of their tenants who are in breach of tenancy to some extent. And although landlords build in timescales to facilitate escalation procedures, the cost and value in proceeding with eviction, from issuing notices right through to potential court proceedings, is not considered, neither is the cost to the public purse’.
Senior associate of JHG, Barry Marlow, draws upon a report published by Shelter Cymru highlighting the impact of its social landlord evictions in 2015 on families in Wales. From 914 evictions – including 500 children being made homeless - the cost to the Welsh economy was reported at £24.3 million (26,600 for each eviction) and £7.5 million (assuming an average of £8,200 for each eviction) to social landlords.
Although practices are in place to notify local authorities in advance of possession proceedings, Barry suggests that the evidence of whether this is happening is not available. In 2015, a total of 57,750 households were accepted by councils as homeless, with a duty to assist.
Barry said: “The evidence currently available is not enough to determine whether the actions of social landlords in repossessing tenancies provide a net contribution to homeless acceptances, temporary accommodation and the scope for housing options. We strongly believe that the gap in knowledge, underpinned by concrete evidence, needs to be significantly reduced in order to properly analyse the impact of extremely costly eviction activity by social landlords.”