Channel 4’s airing of ‘Britain’s Benefit Tenants’ on 16th March about the lack of social housing was bound to cause a stir and if provoking debate was the aim of the producers, they certainly succeeded in getting people talking.
Viewers congregated on Twitter to discuss the show’s contents and seemed to criticise both the landlords and tenants equally. The Telegraph commented that the show gave "no answers" to the problems faced.
So what is the answer? In short, more social housing is needed.
It should not be down to the private sector to fill the gap in social housing. There is clearly a lack of council housing and the programme showed that the Council will in certain circumstances even refuse to house individuals who have been in trouble with the Police in the past. Where does this leave tenants who face eviction with nowhere to go? It isn't the responsibility of a private landlord to ensure that tenants will be re- housed by the local authority. Indeed, on many occasion I have been told that the Local Authority will not re-house tenants until they have seen a court order or bailiff notice, which means the landlords having to involve the Court. This comes at a cost to the landlord that they often never recover.
Landlords often agree to cap rent at the amount of housing benefit received. As was apparent in the programme, they forego deposits and face risks of having to pay thousands in clean up costs to make the property habitable again.
If tenants default on rent or damage the property- whose pocket does this come out of? Certainly not the tenants' or the Council's.
Taking any tenant on board is a risk. Some landlords may prefer tenants on benefits and accept a reduced rental income (often only covering the mortgage on the property) as it means a steady payment made by a third party i.e. local Government.
From my experience, I think landlords always end up coming off worse in this type of scenario. Why are they being criticised for wanting to invest in property? They are not taking advantage of benefit tenants; they are providing a service to the country by filling a gap in social housing.