Blog: The importance of support as well as regulation in the private rented sector
By Laura Fairlie, private landlord support officer, working within Dundee City Council.
I have now been working as the Private Landlord Support Officer in Dundee for over 6 months. Within that time, I have helped over 200 landlords across Dundee, with queries ranging from the short and sweet to the rather complex – and everything in between!
One of the unexpected outcomes of this work has been my contact with tenants. The changes brought with Welfare Reform, in particular the housing costs element of Universal Credit has led many landlords to feel that it is no longer a viable to rent their property to tenants in receipt of benefits, as the benefit will now be paid directly to the tenant by default. However, as always, there are safeguards in place and perhaps more robust measures available for landlords – such as a landlord escalation line, templates to request direct payments and even a template to request rent arrears recovered from the benefit entitlement, which had not been available before.
In the background of all this, a key learning point has been the need for support for many vulnerable private renters. We all know that there is no longer enough social housing stock. As a result, the private rented sector has stepped up and adapted to accommodate many families or individuals who would previously have accessed social housing. The downside of this is many vulnerable tenants are at risk of falling through the net.
Whereas a tenant with a Registered Social Landlord will receive almost immediate contact from their landlord (equipped with various measures to help them) in the event of any difficulties, it can take much longer for issues to come to light in the private rented sector (PRS). Landlords can feel out of their depth if they are concerned for their vulnerable tenants as they feel unequipped to deal with challenges such as mental health issues and other life crises.
I have now helped 25 tenants through the course of my work. The majority of these have been referred by their landlord, who has been concerned for their wellbeing. Helping the tenant will often mean indirectly helping the landlord, and sustaining a tenancy is of huge financial as well as social importance for the community as a whole.
It is therefore imperative that stigma within the PRS is tackled. One of the tenants I assisted had accrued rent arrears due to crippling mental health issues that prevented them leaving their property. They were therefore unable to claim a primary benefit, and their housing benefit had been stopped. Luckily, the landlord took a proactive approach as he could see the tenant required help.
It transpired that the tenant also had a life-threatening medical condition which had been going untreated. However, with the right support in place, they are now getting the help they need and the arrears have been cleared. Preventing this tenant becoming homeless has almost certainly had life changing consequences – this is what our colleagues in Services deal with on a daily basis. As my role is to support the landlord, I do not get involved with tenant issues at an in-depth level, but will connect with the tenant where possible and assist them into getting the correct support.
Landlords are now, quite rightly, being forced to operate at a truly high standard. They deserve, as do their tenants, for the right support mechanisms to be in place to make a success of the tenancies that they are entering into. If we want the PRS to operate at this level, we must recognise that the same level of support has to be available also, for tenants and landlords alike.