Hundreds of social tenants lose their homes as repossessions hit seven year high in Wales

Social housing repossessions hit a seven year high this year in Wales with nearly a thousand social tenant households losing their homes, a leading housing charity has revealed.

Shelter Cymru analysed Ministry of Justice data on court possessions and found that while mortgage repossessions have fallen in recent years, repossessions in social housing have risen 12 per cent over the last year and are now at the highest level since before the recession.

John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru, said: “This year has been particularly tough for social tenants, many of whom have suffered due to changes in welfare benefits and the rising costs of living. We have been working with landlords to ensure that they are doing everything they can to help tenants stay afloat – but these figures show that more clearly needs to be done.

“While some landlords are working hard to help tenants make the most of their income, others are failing to put support in place and are rushing to court far too quickly. We are hearing that some have started charging rent in advance from new tenants, forcing families into debt right from the outset of their tenancies.”

Social housing repossessions peaked in January to March 2014 – during these months Welsh social landlords were making more than 21 households homeless per week or three households homeless every day.

Across all tenures, nearly 2,200 households had their homes repossessed by bailiffs in Wales – equivalent to more than 42 households every week or six households per day. Many more would have lost their homes without going to court, so would not be included in these figures.

John Puzey added: “Tenants who are evicted from social housing have very few options open to them. Other landlords often won’t take them on if they have arrears so the only choice is the private rented sector where they may be vulnerable to rogue landlords.

“The worst time of year for repossessions is always the first three months of the year. This year, perhaps social landlords should show some forbearance post-Christmas and not rush to court as soon as the holidays are over.”

Notes
The figures are based on analysis of Ministry of Justice Mortgage and Landlord Possession Statistics available herehttps://www.gov.uk/government/collections/mortgage-and-landlord-possession-statistic.

Over the last year (Oct 13 to Sept 14 – most recent figures available) 2,195 households had their homes repossessed by bailiffs in Wales. There were 1,002 mortgage repossessions; 958 repossessions from social housing; and 235 PRS repossessions.

Shelter Cymru is Wales’s People and Homes charity. We have offices all over Wales and prevent people from losing their homes by offering free, confidential and independent advice.

Last year we helped nearly 15,000 people, preventing homelessness in 89 per cent of the cases where it was faced, while more than 140,000 people visited our website looking for help.

Homes for All Cymru Manifesto

Homes for All Cymru brings together key housing organisations in Wales and aims to maximise the contribution housing makes to the health and wellbeing of communities.

The group provides a united voice on a range of housing issues and has recently agreed this housing manifesto to illustrate the combined concerns of its members and how improvements can be made to help people in housing need.

Membership

  • Age Cymru
  • Care and Repair Cymru
  • Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
  • Community Housing Cymru
  • Cymorth Cymru
  • Disability Wales
  • Home Builders Federation
  • Homeless Link Cymru
  • RNIB Cymru
  • Rough Sleepers Cymru
  • Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors
  • Shelter Cymru
  • Tai Pawb
  • Tenant Participation Advisory Service Cymru (TPAS Cymru)
  • Welsh Refugee Council
  • Welsh Tenants Federation
  • Welsh Womens Aid

Manifesto 2014

Affordable and suitable homes
There is a housing crisis with more than 90,000 households on waiting lists and at least 5,000 affordable homes needed in Wales each year to meet current demand. It is vital that we explore innovative ways to increase the supply of affordable homes and better utilise the existing stock for use.

We need a better understanding of peoples’ diverse housing needs; a more sophisticated approach to local housing market assessments and supply development is needed in order to address those needs and improve the planning and provision of specialist accommodation.

Providing more affordable homes not only meets need; it is a key lever for local economic regeneration and employment and job creation.

Tenancies
More families are finding themselves in the private rented sector in Wales because of a lack of alternatives. In order to provide stability for families and neighbourhoods, greater security of tenure is needed as well as improved consumer rights and defences against retaliatory evictions.

Improved levels of enforcement need to be in place to ensure that conditions are improved and those poorer landlords are held to account. Local authorities need to consider how they can work in partnership with third sector organisations to identify poor landlords and take action.

Private tenants also need greater access to legal advice to safeguard tenancies and should be supported in developing Private Tenants Associations.

Housing Conditions and Health
Poor housing conditions cost the Welsh NHS millions each year. The Building Research Establishment and Shelter Cymru estimated that Category 1 hazards cost Wales more than £160 million a year in treatment costs, lost time from work etc.

Access to secure, good quality housing is also extremely important for the whole population’s mental health and wellbeing. Poor housing or homelessness can cause or exacerbate mental health problems and have a negative impact on the health and recovery of people with mental illness.

Recognising the crucial public health and preventative role of housing, a greater emphasis on exploring jointly funding health and housing initiatives to address housing conditions should be explored.

Suitable housing for older people
Current policy and services are heavily weighted toward a crisis intervention approach. We need to develop a more coherent strategy and a proactive approach that informs, promotes, and facilitates greater housing choice in older age. To do this, we need to extend and improve the range of housing options and services. This includes:

Information and advice services that help people think about and plan for where they want to live when they are older
Improved services for helping people remain independent in their own homes, including Care and Repair services, housing adaptation services and financial help with getting repairs and improvements done (eg affordable loans and safe equity release) that make properties fit to live in.

Services that provide information and practical help that assists older people to move to different accommodation across all sectors – social, owner occupied and private rented.

In the social housing sector, develop more options and provide more choice – sheltered, extra care, retirement villages, residential care, on the strength of more robust data and local needs assessments and local strategies for housing older people.

Continue to plan and develop lifetime homes but in addition, plan and build accommodation that is not only simple to adapt in later life, but straightforward to extend and increase space – such as the ability to extend or convert lofts, to accommodate older relatives moving in.

Fuel Poverty
We believe that the time has come to stop the 2,000 plus excess deaths every winter of older people in Wales because they cannot afford to heat their own homes.

To achieve this, better use needs to be made of the significant schemes and funding that already exist to help alleviate fuel poverty, such as ARBED, ECO and NEST. Over recent decades schemes such as HEES, HEES Plus, CESP and CERT have made inroads into improving energy efficiency of social housing in particular, but much remains to be done.

This includes greater emphasis on more difficult to reach, and more widely dispersed properties in the owner occupied and private rented sector, occupied by fuel poor older people and others on low incomes. There needs to be better use of data on scheme activity to date, in order to understand where future effort most needs to be targeted.

Homelessness
The number of people experiencing and facing the trauma of homelessness is increasing. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 sets an important new framework with an emphasis on prevention and partnership work. It is crucial that this new framework influences positively the culture of homelessness services, making them more user-focussed, including involving users in the design and delivery of services.

This culture change needs to include a commitment to respect people’s points of view and meet their stated needs wherever possible. In each case local authorities should strive to ensure that the household agrees with the identified course of action.

In order to assess and continually improve the effectiveness of homelessness prevention work, user feedback, which captures important person-centred outcomes such as confidence to manage a tenancy and social support networks, should be simultaneously collected alongside the service prevention performance indicator data. Such a dual measurement will then highlight the gaps between the professional assessments of success with those of the people actually receiving the service.

The new Act also provides an important opportunity to align support for the most vulnerable citizens with developments under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act to ensure services work collaboratively to prevent homelessness.

Poverty and Equality
We believe that investment in, and the provision of, affordable and social housing is critical to supporting wider equality and anti-poverty agendas.

The Welsh housing industry has pioneered the principle that public and housing investment programmes can deliver wider community benefits, with a particular focus on maximising targeted recruitment and training (TR&T) opportunities and developing local supply chains through the use of the principles of the i2i Can Do toolkit.

This approach has travelled beyond both housing and Wales. Community benefits are a long-term solution for bringing employment, economic and social gain to disadvantaged populations, to help break the cycle of poverty and to promote the principles of equality and inclusion, as well as to help resolve the current housing crisis.

Housing organisations provide a range of additional functions for the communities in which they work, including services and projects relating to digital and financial inclusion and tackling domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour.

We believe that housing organisations are critical to developing partnerships that implement innovative and proven methods to tackle the further marginalisation of diverse and disadvantaged groups caused by increasing poverty, stigmatisation and prejudices.

Funding and budgets
Funding for housing and housing-related services should be safeguarded and increased to better reflect the preventative nature of work and outcomes delivered.

Essential programmes such as Supporting People and Care and Repair keep older and vulnerable people safe, warm and independent at home, out of less appropriate and more expensive institutional care settings, reducing demand for overstretched ambulance services, GPs and emergency hospital admissions.

There is a need for greater transparency of all publicly-funded grant streams, with clarity of purpose and much better cross-cutting understanding and working so that shared outcomes can be achieved more efficiently and cost-effectively across Welsh Government Directorates and other funding streams.

There is also a need for more flexible funding to allow planning over a longer period rather than being constrained by annual budgets.

Devolution
Wales has an opportunity to maximise benefits for Welsh communities and business through a better constitutional settlement in both fiscal and democratic terms. We would welcome the opportunity to introduce further powers to vary taxation or where appropriate to devolve further purposeful powers to enable Wales to better respond to changing demands in housing.