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Cymorth Cymru and Shelter Cymru joint feature

Security alert

In a joint article for WHQ, Cymorth Cymru and Shelter Cymru warn of new threats to housing rights for homeless households in the private rented sector

With the new Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the forthcoming Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, this is indeed an exciting time for housing in Wales. Both represent the maturing legislative process as the result of increased law making powers. yet in the rush to create a distinctively welsh housing landscape, are we creating a unified, future proofed system that delivers what people really want?

For many people in housing need, security of tenure is one of the most desired outcomes of their engagement with their local authority. The benefits of a stable home with the appropriate level of support required to maximise a person’s independence are well known. With this in mind, it would seem logical to strive towards a system where people are offered a home for the long term. In an ideal world, this would be easy to do and, whilst everyone is aware of the limitations we currently face, we need to ensure that legislation is not constrained by these limitations. We need to ensure we make changes that propel us forward, towards the ideal.

Lower level of security

Both Cymorth Cymru and Shelter Cymru were therefore concerned to learn that new legislation, likely to be introduced in 2017, could actually result in a significantly lower level of security offered to homeless households in the private rented sector (PRS). This legislation will be the Renting Homes (Wales) Act, which will overhaul tenure in Wales. It is the consequences

of tenure reform and its interplay with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 which are currently drawing the attention of those of us wanting to ensure greater tenure security in Wales.

Many will be aware that from April 2015, local authority homelessness teams will have new powers to house homeless households in the PRS. Initially this will be with a minimum six-month tenancy. However, the Welsh Government will no longer require local authorities to offer six-month tenancies once the Renting Homes Act comes into force. Tenure reform will mean that local authorities will instead be allowed to discharge their homelessness prevention duty with a one-month tenancy contract, backed up with what we consider to be a legally meaningless informal agreement with the landlord to extend the contract further if they choose to do so.

We understand that the Welsh Government will encourage authorities to offer six-month tenancies as good practice after the introduction of tenure reform. With no legal minimum, however, advice organisations such as Shelter Cymru will be powerless to assist the people who fall foul of this policy.

This means that vulnerable tenants, who until April 2015 are eligible for secure settled housing, could be palmed off with a level of housing security that is even lower than the current legal minimum that all private tenants are entitled to. We find this prospect alarming.

A one-month tenancy is not capable of providing the stability that people who have gone through the trauma of homelessness so desperately need. It puts households in an extremely risky position, unable to challenge any poor landlord practices for fear of being evicted.

We fear that it could also lead to a greater burden on local authorities due to repeated presentations. This reduced tenure security could exacerbate the revolving door of homelessness for many vulnerable individuals and lead to increased pressure on local authority homelessness teams: a double whammy of unintended negative consequences.

The Welsh Government’s proposal to remove the ‘six- month moratorium’, which currently protects private renters from eviction for the first six months of their tenancy, from the Renting Homes Bill is the main cause of this issue. The Bill will instead enable landlords to offer monthly periodic tenancies from the outset rather than a fixed term, a measure which some believe will help increase the supply of landlords wanting to rent to vulnerable tenants. There is still a question mark over whether this would in fact attract more private landlords – there has been no research to suggest this – and it raises additional concerns for us around whether the landlords that it will attract will be fit to work with more vulnerable tenants.

Appropriate support

In order to ensure that vulnerable people are not ‘set up to fail’ in the PRS, it is not only important that appropriate support is provided but it is also important too that landlords understand the complex issues around homelessness and are capable of working with more vulnerable groups. Both Cymorth Cymru and Shelter Cymru have called for training for all landlords working with more vulnerable groups to help avoid misinterpretation of behaviours that could lead to the demise of a tenancy. To attract more marginal, ‘accidental’ landlords rather than the established landlords could have a negative impact on vulnerable tenants.

Looking across the border to England, where the Localism Act 2011 requires local authorities to offer homeless households a minimum 12-month PRS tenancy, is legislation moving in the right direction in Wales?

The Renting Homes (Wales) Bill is likely to be published early next year, so we now have a window of opportunity to ensure the proposals in this Bill do not negatively impact on the most vulnerable people in Wales.

At the very minimum, the Welsh Government should seek to retain the same homelessness provision after the Renting Homes Bill has been passed. This means ensuring that households assisted under the prevention duty need to be offered a minimum six-month tenancy. Even six months is too little, but to reduce the legal minimum to one month is a policy which spells disaster for households who require stability to move on from the trauma of homelessness.

Co-signed by Shelter Cymru & Cymorth Cymru

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