big debate

Are landlords part of the solution to the homelessness crisis (and if not, why not?)

Ben Beadle, Chief Executive, National Residential Landlords Association 

Matt Downie MBE, Chief Executive, Crisis 

In the latest English private landlord survey, more landlords say they are willing to let to tenants claiming benefits. So do landlords and investors see themselves as part of the solution to homelessness. We brought together two of the most formidable campaigners and policy influencers in housing to debate the role of private landlords in tackling the homelessness crisis. 

Ben Beadle says landlords need to make a return but that doesn’t mean they are irresponsible

So do landlords enter the market because they want to end homelessness? Probably not. They come into the market because they’re investors and they’re looking for a return. 

But all responsible landlords are part of ending homelessness. We are all about responsible landlords. We want people treated fairly in a non-discriminatory way. 

We’ve seen some real improvements in the private rented sector and how landlords go about business. But there’s obviously room for improvement. Some of the things in the White Paper go a long way to address those concerns. 

Government is hugely reliant on the individual landlord. Whether or not you would have created it that way is a debate for another time. But we have a dearth of social homes. And despite a lot of rhetoric around how landlords perform, the private rented sector has come a long way. 

We’re not blind to the need to continue to improve that. But I say that in terms of the White Paper itself, responsible landlords have nothing to fear from the regulation set out in that paper. We are very keen to make sure there is a properly regulated sector. 

Housing supply 

We don’t have any effective regulation to hold bad landlords to book. I can’t see a massive issue with my details being on the database if those things are policed effectively. The one thing I do want to touch on, though, is housing supply. 

We would all like to see lots of social homes being built, but the reality is that we would both be old men by the time that that happens. So we need to think in the short term to help the private rented sector provide people with the homes they need. 

We do have a broken link between demand and supply. Renters are reliant on the private rented sector, and people claiming benefits are rightly protected from discrimination in future legislation. We are clear that landlords should assess their tenants on a fair affordability criterion associated with risk. Any landlord who does discriminate should be held to account. 

But we can make the universal credit system far more workable for landlords and tenants and that means ending the five-week wait. It means converting the loan into a grant so that the tenant doesn’t start the tenancy in arrears. It means allowing tenants choice about where their rent is paid. 

And lastly, it obviously means unfreezing the local housing allowance. 

Matt Downie doesn’t subscribe to the view that landlords are the problem and is proud of Crisis’ record of working with the private rented sector

Firstly, some people see the private rented sector and landlords as a necessary evil. Some people think they are individuals who are simply profiteering or worse. I don’t see it that way. 

My view is informed by Crisis’ proud record of working with landlords who may need to make money out of their property. But there is a hell of a lot of people out there who want to do social good. 

Many accidental landlords want to see that property put to good use for a social purpose but often don’t know that social purpose is available. 

Good outcomes for landlords 

The other reason I feel differently is good outcomes are possible for tenants to avoid homelessness. Good outcomes are available for landlords too. The Government has funded us over several years to provide the sorts of schemes and support for the sort of schemes that prove this up and down the country. 

Homelessness will be solved once there is enough housing for people and enough support for the people that need support to keep that tenancy or to prevent homelessness. 

I don’t think it is credible to have a housing strategy that does anything other than support that, both at a national and local level, instead of tinkering with elements of housing, supply, access, accessibility and affordability. 

For me, the private rented sector will always play a role, play a crucial role. 

Yes, we need 90,000 additional social homes a year in England for the next 15 years at least. That’s not an ideological position; it is the cheapest rental product. 

It is also my view because when you talk to people who make active housing choices for themselves and for their families, you discover people want to live in a range of different types of housing. 

Not everyone wants to live in social housing, and not everyone wants to live in owner occupation. I don’t think it is credible to neglect the choices that people ought to be able to make as long as they can be made safely and securely. 

So the question for me is not whether a landlord solves the problem or is part of a solution. It’s how to make the system work for landlords and tenants based on creating an evidence-based system that will solve a problem. The problem is homelessness and it is an eminently solvable one. 

We asked the audience to vote on the most important take aways from the session via Slido. Here are the results.

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