Supported by Shelter, Stephen, who is disabled, successfully proved ‘No DSS’ discrimination is unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act
By Matthew Palmer
Did you know that if a landlord or estate agent discriminates against someone claiming housing benefit in Wales, then they are in breach of their licensing conditions? Many people may not know, which may be why we are still seeing cases of discrimination against people across Wales who are in receipt of housing benefit.
Despite this additional pressure falling upon so many people, we are still seeing cases of people entitled to housing benefit being discriminated against when trying to secure somewhere to call home. Discrimination should never deny the right to a safe home.
This discrimination can take many forms. From blatantly unlawful ‘No DSS’ or ‘no Universal Credit’ adverts, to more creative approaches, such as advertising for ‘professionals only’ or asking for multiple months’ rent in advance.
Our recent research showed that around 75,000 (3%) of adults in Wales said they had experienced discrimination when they tried to find their current home and felt it was because of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or disability. While we know that it is a minority of landlords wriggling through loopholes or brazenly breaking the law to discriminate against people on benefits, one instance of discrimination is one too many – as it means yet another person in Wales is denied the right to a safe home.
At a time where incomes for many are stagnated or still falling and the cost of living is increasing, it’s vital that we take action. That’s because home is everything, and without it we cannot lead happy, healthy and productive lives. We’re campaigning to end housing benefit discrimination, by ensuring that landlords and agents who breach their licensing conditions in this way don’t get away with it.
So, if you agree with us – and the law – that one instance of discrimination is one too many and you want to do something about it, then drop Matt an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll let you know how you can help. As little as one hour of your time will help us take discriminating landlords to task.
Together we can end this awful practice and take another step forward in our fight for home.
On behalf of Shelter Cymru, I congratulate each and every new and returning member of the Senedd. We look forward to working with you all over the course of the 6th Senedd.
The 6th Senedd starts during a period of immense challenge across Wales. As we look to build back better and fairer from the pandemic, we must ensure that people’s homes are front and centre. We cannot expect people to get back into work, children to excel in their education and for people to live healthy and happy lives without good homes. Home is everything.
All parties gave housing attention and focus in their campaigns. We now need to start address the housing emergency. We’re keen to work with the new Welsh Government to deliver on their key commitments to housing. From 20,000 new social homes, more protections for renters across Wales and ensuring that people in temporary housing are helped into long term homes, and no-one is forced to return to the streets. The challenges are immense. Only by working in partnership, will Wales be able to achieve the ambitious goal of ending our housing emergency, once and for all.
Shelter Cymru has a proud record of supporting people in housing need and fighting for good homes for everyone. We stand ready to help all of our new MSs as they face some of the biggest challenges of our time. We also stand ready to push and drive change where needed, being a critical friend to government and making the voices of people – people across Wales whose daily lives are affected by homelessness or poor and unaffordable housing – heard at the highest level. There is lots to do, but we look forward to contributing to ending the housing emergency in Wales.
We wish you all success in rising to the challenges and opportunities of the 6th Senedd.
Ruth Power | CEO, Shelter Cymru
By Rob Simkins, Campaigns Manager
Tomorrow, Wales will go to the polls to elect our next Welsh Government and members of the Senedd, MSs. In the midst of a housing emergency – among the other crises gripping our nation – we’ll take a look at what we think our next MSs will be grappling with when it comes to housing during the 6th Senedd.
Each of the main parties have made strong commitments to drastically increase the number of social homes in Wales. Shelter Cymru have long argued that another 20,000 social homes are needed to help alleviate some of the pressure on waiting lists across the nation and get families into homes they can afford. We will be watching closely to make sure that targets are met and that these homes are of a good quality, meet local need and are genuinely affordable to rent.
A Resolution Foundation report released earlier this year helped to paint the picture of: a growing crisis of debt and rent arrears in the social and privately rented sectors. 24% of private renters saw their incomes fall compared to 16% of adults with a mortgage and there are three times the amount of private renters behind on their rent as people behind on their mortgage payments. This figure increases to nearly five times the amount of social renters behind with their rent when compared to people with mortgages arrears.
While the current Welsh Government put in place the Tenancy Saver Loan scheme, the take-up of this has been limited and whoever forms the next Welsh Government will need to take swift action to stop the build-up of debt and arrears among renters. Failure to take action could result in a tidal wave of post-pandemic homelessness, damaging lives and perpetuating inequalities.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a multi-partner effort from government, councils and the charity sector to provide temporary accommodation to everyone who was homeless for the duration of the pandemic. This was a huge success, dramatically driving down the numbers of people sleeping rough and providing a safe place to stay for thousands of people who normally would not have the right to temporary accommodation, due to not being deemed ‘priority need’. But the strain this put on temporary accommodation providers and the wider system across Wales cannot be underestimated. There are now more than 6,000 people now in temporary accommodation compared to a little over 2300 in March 2020. The next key step for whoever makes up the next Welsh Government will be to ensure that there is:
- No return to the streets for people who were previously sleeping rough, and that
- Households are not trapped in temporary accommodation and are moved into suitable, stable and long-term homes as soon as possible
To do this, we mustn’t be constrained by the old way of thinking when it comes to homelessness. The priority need test saw many homeless people fall through the gaps of a complex system of gatekeeping. It’s time to consider each person who is homeless or at risk of homelessness as equally deserving of help.
The challenges in getting a social home
It is high time we reviewed the way social housing is allocated in Wales. Housing is devolved and yet allocations are still based on the non-devolved Housing Act 1996. One of the factors currently keeping many people trapped in temporary accommodation is the inflexibility of local allocation policies. Over the years various unhelpful practices have developed such as the automatic exclusion from waiting lists of people with old unpaid rent arrears. While there is much good practice out there (and much creative interpretation of old, inflexible local exclusion policies), too many people are still excluded from social housing because of past mistakes or misfortunes. Our good practice guide describes how landlords can ensure they get some of their rent owed paid back, while tenants are not stuck in homelessness but can get a fresh start. The bigger challenge, though, is how we get more consistency and fairness in how social housing is allocated across Wales – a new Government, committed to a large-scale programme of social housebuilding, must quickly give attention to this issue.
The Housing Emergency
Thought we’d save the little one for the end…
Wales is indeed in the midst of a housing emergency, which began before Covid-19 turned everyone’s world upside down. Waiting lists for social homes are at record levels, a generation face being trapped in high-cost, low-security private rented accommodation and people in parts of Wales are being priced out of where they are rooted by a surge of second / holiday homes.
These problems are not new, nor are they small. They are, however, fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our society and the next Welsh Government must be bold and proactive in addressing them. Many of the issues talked about above are essentially rooted in the wider housing emergency, driven by the gap between ordinary people’s incomes and the cost of a home – this is not a time for tinkering with a system, which fails so many people in Wales.
It’d be remiss not to acknowledge, that the renewed focus on housing – reflected by party pledges and manifesto commitments – is both very welcome and a positive first step. We look forward to working in partnership with whoever takes up office after the 6th of May, so that together, we can radically re-think how we enable every person in Wales to have a decent home. Homes that provide the foundation of people’s personal, social and economic wellbeing.
We must end the housing emergency in Wales once and for all.
We’re excited to get to work with the next Welsh Government, fighting for good homes up and down Wales.
by Rob Simkins
The Welsh housing crisis. It’s a term often bandied around by a range of groups and individuals. Type it into a search engine and you won’t be short of opinions to sift through. The noise in this area has been taken up a notch more recently, especially with our latest campaign which has seen members of the Welsh public send around 1,000 emails to MSs demanding that 20,000 more social homes are built during the next Senedd term, 2021-26. It has been brilliant to see the impact of our campaign, with each of the three, main parties who could form a government (or the bulk of a government) putting social housing front and centre of their efforts to win over the Welsh electorate in May.
Demand currently far outstrips supply when it comes to social housing in Wales. Across Wales, there are around 67,000 households on waiting lists for social housing, who are often then forced into the private rented sector which can be unaffordable and more insecure – or even worse, they are forced into homelessness.
It is also important to differentiate social housing from affordable housing. While there remains demand for affordable housing in Wales, this definition means anything below market rent (including just below) and Help To Buy homes which can cost up to £300,000 – well above the average house price for most parts of Wales.
So how then, do each of the three biggest parties in our Senedd propose to address this clear and present need?
Well, let’s start with the current party in government, Welsh Labour. Speaking at Community Housing Cymru’s (CHC) annual conference on the 26th of November, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, revealed that Welsh Labour will commit to building 20,000 social homes for rent in the next Senedd term if they win the election. The Minister promised that this would be within the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2021 elections, building on the previous target of 20,000 affordable (not social) homes by 2021 which the Welsh Government state that they are on track to meet.
Looking across to the Welsh Conservatives, leader of the Senedd Group, Paul Davies MS reiterated the party’s goal of delivering 100,000 homes over the next ten years – of which 40,000 would be social homes. This is reflected alongside wider policy points in the Welsh Conservatives’ 10-point action plan to tackle Wales’ homelessness crisis. The action plan also promises to legislate to make housing a basic human right in Wales, citing Shelter Cymru’s report; The right to adequate housing in Wales.
Plaid Cymru have also been quick to back the building of social homes too, proposing 30,000 social homes should they form the next government as part of a wider package of 50,000 affordable purchase and rental homes.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also played a significant role in government with Welsh Labour over the current Senedd term and depending on election results could also be in a position to build 30,000 new social homes over the course of the next term. This would feature as part of a programme including the introduction of a Right to Adequate Housing into Welsh law.
Shelter Cymru, along with a number of other organisations has long called for an increase in social housing in Wales. This is to ensure that waiting lists are kept as short as possible or ideally eliminated altogether, to ensure that as many people as possible are in good quality and safe homes , and to work towards ending homelessness in Wales. As such, we warmly welcome the commitments to helping to end the housing crisis by building more social homes, laid out by all parties in should they form the next Welsh Government.
The fact that housing has to this point been a pivotal part of each party’s policy process perhaps demonstrates that now is the time for a wider debate to be had on housing. The coronavirus crisis has shown that for many people in Wales, their housing situation is simply not good enough. This in turn has a knock-on effect on people’s lives, manifesting itself in everything that they do. From making people less productive in the workplace, to making them more susceptible to poor physical and/or mental health, to compromising their children’s education. Shelter Cymru’s Life in Lockdown report painted this picture, finding that 10% of households with children had no access to outdoor space during the first lockdown and that fewer than half of those who reported disrepair had their issues resolved between March and July 2020.
These are significant commitments and none of us should underestimate the challenge that the next Welsh Government will face, whichever party is in government. To achieve any of the parties’ objectives will require investment above current levels.
A Welsh public who demand more social housing, and who stand ready to hold the next government to account for their welcome promises will keep social housing, at the forefront of the debate. You can write to your MS, sign our petition or get involved in other ways by donating your money, time or energy and experience to Shelter Cymru.
Together, we can make sure that no matter where in Wales you call home, you have the right to an affordable, good and secure home.
by Paul Bevan
Nobody understands the realities of homelessness better than people who have gone through it themselves.
So, for our new report Shelter Cymru asked people who have experienced homelessness about how we can say hwyl fawr (goodbye) to homelessness for good. We heard from 253 people through surveys and focus groups and their views fed into the Welsh Government’s Homelessness Action Group which was set up to find solutions to ending homelessness in Wales (read their report to Welsh Ministers here). Homelessness has such a significant impact; it was alarming that most people who had experienced homelessness in the last five years told us that they still worried about their housing situation.
People gave a range of practical suggestions for ending homelessness. These included more affordable and permanent homes being provided quickly when people become homeless, alongside support for as long as people need it. People said while there isn’t enough affordable housing, priority should be given to people in the greatest need.
People told us that there should be better co-ordination of help – this includes prisons, health, housing, homelessness and support services working more closely together. People said that a lot more work is needed to ensure no one leaves hospital or prison without a home. We were also told that consistent, straightforward, and co-ordinated homelessness and housing services are needed across Wales.
The quality of temporary accommodation for homeless people needs to be improved. Using B&Bs as temporary accommodation should be avoided, people sleeping rough should have easier access to emergency accommodation and people should be helped irrespective of whether they have a connection with the area.
Often people facing homelessness are in severe financial hardship – people told us that the welfare system needs to change so that people can afford their housing and living costs, and that tenants who struggle to pay their rent should be offered support very quickly as a way of preventing homelessness.
Two fundamental factors emerged from talking with people from which so much could stem. Firstly people felt that everyone should have a legal right to a home. Enshrined in law this should lead to a new perspective on the essential nature of a home – and much faster scaling up of the building of good quality affordable new homes or ensuring empty homes are used again. And secondly people called for kind and compassionate services and for homeless people to be treated with dignity and respect – bedrocks from which the right actions should spring.
This report involved listening to the views of people with experience of homelessness; they have told us and have told the Welsh Government what they feel is required. We must be much more willing to learn from people with experience of homelessness to ensure that their voices are heard much more clearly, as together we strengthen our resolve to say a resounding ‘hwyl fawr to homelessness’.
by Paul Bevan
Deciding who is allocated a home goes right to the heart of debates about the purpose of social housing. It begs the question ‘who is social housing for’? In a time of an undersupply of affordable social housing is it for everyone, is it for people in the most desperate need of housing or is it for a mix of people somewhere in between? We all need somewhere to live, but how do we define need and how do we decide that one person’s need is a higher priority than someone else’s?
Shelter Cymru’s new report Allocation of Social Housing in Swansea adds to this debate. Based on research before the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were introduced in March 2020, it remains relevant in Swansea and may apply to other areas of Wales.
During the research we interviewed staff in the four main social landlords covering Swansea – the council, Coastal, Family and Pobl housing associations – and shadowed staff in their daily work. We observed as people applied for housing and we interviewed applicants to learn about their experience.
Swansea is one of the only local authorities in Wales without a common housing register. Each landlord has a different system for applying for and deciding who gets a home. Depending on where people want to live, they need to apply to one, two, three or all four landlords, completing up to four applications and making follow-up enquiries with each one. Some people applying for a home told us that the system is difficult to understand and complicated. This made us question whether some people lose out because of this.
All of the landlords require people to be in housing need, but have different ways of prioritising applicants. Two give priority to people in the greatest need through giving them points or putting them in a category of need; one prioritises people who have waited the longest, and one matches people based on the value they bring to the community and the value that the property and community bring to them. Three landlords operate a waiting list, and the fourth has a choice based approach where people can apply for individual homes that they view on line.
All take a person’s former tenant history into account when deciding whether to offer a home – such as any former rent arrears, damage to a property or ‘anti social’ behaviour. The landlords consider each person on a case by case basis and are flexible on implementing their policy. But some applicants told us that former rent arrears are still an obstacle to getting a home. Getting the balance right is not easy, but we all need a home irrespective of what has happened in the past.
The landlords want people to be ready and able to manage in their new homes and to settle well into their communities. If people need help, all of the landlords have contacts with support providers; some offer support themselves. Some people, particularly in supported housing, told us that having to demonstrate they are ‘tenancy-ready’ caused delays. Being able to manage is important, but if people can get the support they need in their new homes, this could reduce their wait and help them to manage well.
Deciding the right approach to allocations is difficult. Swansea needs much more housing that is affordable, of the right type in the right areas. To help people more now, the landlords need to remove any unnecessary obstacles to ensuring that homeless people and others in the most need of a home are housed quickly and with the right support.
By Katie White and Alison Jones
Unlicensed landlords in Wales cannot serve a section 8 eviction notice, following our successful intervention in a Court of Appeal case. This case law brings much-needed protection for tenants and clarity on a contentious issue.
Since 2016 it has been illegal in Wales to act as a landlord or agent unless you are licensed. A licence shows that you are a fit and proper person and that you have undergone essential training to understand the responsibilities of managing people’s homes.
Far from being just an administrative burden, it provides important basic protections for tenants and helps to make the private rented sector more professional.
Compliance with the scheme is considered so important that the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 removed the ability for unlicensed landlords to use eviction powers. However the Act’s wording was unclear, and this has caused difficulties for tenants ever since. Courts have interpreted the Act in different ways, meaning there has been a lack of consistency across Wales.
The problem lies with the wording of section 44 of the Act, which refers specifically to section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notices but is silent on section 8 eviction notices. As a result, some landlords and some judges have taken the view that unlicensed landlords can still legally evict as long as they rely on section 8 notice rather than a section 21 notice.
Shelter Cymru and the tenants we represent, have long challenged this view. We have argued that section 8 notices are included , in that they are covered in section 7 of the Act which provides that landlord cannot serve a notice to terminate a tenancy whilst unlicensed. and should have the benefit of the protection afforded by the legislation.
Rachel Anthony from Civitas Chambers represented Shelter Cymru who acted as Court of Appeal intervener in the case of Jarvis v Evans. The much-anticipated Judgment has been handed down this week.
The appeal, brought by the Landlord against the decision of Her Honour Judge Garland-Thomas, was dismissed . Her Honour Judge Garland-Thomas had decided that the landlord was not able to rely on a section 8 notice as he was not licensed with Rent Smart Wales at the time of the service of the notice. Giving his judgment Lord Justice Newey stated, ‘I agree with Judge Garland-Thomas that the fact that Mr Jarvis was not licensed when he served the section 8 notice on Mr and Mrs Evans rendered it invalid.’
The appeal focussed on two issues: –
- Does section 7(2)(f) of the 2014 Act (‘serving notice to terminate a tenancy’) extend to the service of a notice under section 8 of the 1988 Act?
- If the answer is yes, is a notice served in breach of section 7 of the 2014 Act invalid?
The Court of Appeal answered affirmatively to both.
It was clear from the submissions made by the Respondent’s Counsel and by Rachel Anthony’s written submissions that the purpose of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the subsequent licensing regime is to protect tenants, and that if a section 8 notice is excluded from the protection it makes a mockery of the intent of the Welsh Government.
Whilst the landlord in this case was claiming substantial rent arrears, the issues regarding a landlord’s ability to collect rent when unlicensed were not dealt with in the appeal. However, some interesting comments were made at paragraph 42 (v) of the Judgment: this issue in particular is likely to be the subject of further litigation.
By Katie White and Alison Jones
Our new study on homelessness reviews and appeals is timely given that the Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 which implemented the new legislative framework has been in force for five years.
The Housing (Wales) Act 2014, with its focus on prevention, has been widely welcomed in Wales but despite attracting wider review rights, have we seen an overwhelming increase in reviews, appeals and associated Judicial Review challenges?
Not according to the findings in our report. In fact there has been no perceptible change in figures in comparison with the Housing Act 1996.
In some authorities there is a high percentage of decisions being overturned at review (50% in Cardiff and 75% in Neath Port Talbot). Whilst this shows that the decision making process is not always as robust as it should be at the initial presentation stage, the success at review stage is promising, indicating that the review is a rigorous re-examination of the case and that the Reviewing Officer is objective. Clearly, in these areas the review procedure is working well and justly with the applicant having a real chance of an unlawful decision being overturned.
It is slightly concerning that some authorities report very low figures for the number of review requested: this is of particular concern in large local authority areas where you would expect a higher number of reviews.
We would welcome further investigation into why this is the case. Is it because individuals are not seeking advice as to whether the decision is capable of review; is there a lack of being able to source timely legal advice; or are the reviews taking place, but the request and the decision on review not being recorded accurately?
It would be beneficial for there to be a consistent way of recording reviews across all local authorities in Wales. The recommendation that Reviewing Officers be shared across authorities is interesting as it could bring a consistency of approach, achieving more specialism in this area and also aiding in analysing and recording the information about reviews centrally.
Perhaps less surprising is the fact that despite the new legislation, the main subject of reviews remains the suitability of accommodation. Due to the scarcity of social housing and the lack of affordability in the private rented sector, often an authority will find it difficult to source accommodation – particularly for larger families or families who have a particular need to be in a particular area.
Reviews on suitability are notoriously difficult and whilst the Reviewing Officer will consider a number of factors relating to the applicant’s circumstances, including location, size and affordability they also have regard to the general housing circumstances in their area and their resources. There is frequently a disparity between an applicant’s idea of suitable accommodation and that of the authority, but not a decision that can be challenged in the courts.
The report highlights the extremely low number of appeals and Judicial Reviews issued in Wales. In practice much work is done at the pre-action protocol stage and many authorities do back down meaning that possible challenges are settled pre-litigation. Whilst this is beneficial for the applicant it is often frustrating for practitioners as it means that these cases are not subject to judicial scrutiny and no precedents are created.
In Wales, we would benefit from case law to assist applicants, their legal representatives and the authorities in interpreting the legislation. Precedents would help to avoid the same issues continually arising in case work.
The report suggests that one of the reason why authorities feel unable to defend appeals and Judicial Review is due to lack of financial resources – we would welcome further dialogue with the Welsh Government around providing support (both financial and advisory) to the authorities so they can defend those cases where they believe their decision to be correct. With the exception of legal practitioners, there seems to be an aversion to litigation generally and there needs to be a wider understanding of the importance of litigation and the benefits it brings particularly in clarifying the law.