We started with a general discussion about the city and in particular, the fate of Knight & Lee. Stephen mentioned that he has spoken to executives at John Lewis and quoted statistics showing how far Palmerston Road has fallen in terms of profitability. There is no confirmation of what is planned by the THAT Group, who are buying the site, but it was thought to be unlikely that it could become student halls.
The state of Palmerston Road generally, led to a lengthy discussion on the issue of homelessness and the need for better support for the vulnerable and also, better arrangements to provide deposits or guarantees for those unable to do so themselves. There was also some debate within the room, as some members would like to see as much encouragement for new residential towers for the homeless as there is for student towers whereas others argued against this approach due to the level of support required and the problems that arise from isolation and the risks of creating a ghetto.
Stephen was then asked his views on the rent cap policy advocated by his party. We were pleased to hear that he has not seen an issue with rent levels locally, and that Universal Credit seemed to be much more of an issue. Discussion then moved to local authorities practice of not supporting tenants during the process of eviction until the point they were actually homeless even though recent legislation moves the start of local authority responsibility to the time when a Section 21 is issued, rather than some later time. Much evidence of the difficulties this placed both landlords and tenants under was shared and the PDPLA as an organisation, agreed to collate some of this and submit in writing as the basis for a parliamentary question.
Examples of issues both landlords and tenants face as universal credit is introduced were shared and several members talked of the lack of support in the new system for those most in need. This is exacerbated by the calculation which set Housing Allowance at levels considerably below market rates and then froze them at that level some 3 years ago. The need for payments direct to landlords before 8 weeks of arrears accrued was explained by a number of members, once a tenant gets that deeply into debt it is almost impossible for them to get out of it and receiving a large amount of money once a month and being expected to learn how to budget with it rather than a smaller amount more frequently was very difficult for many to cope with. It is hoped that the very recently announced changes to DWP policy on direct payments will help but they will need to be consulted on and by the time they are implemented even more landlords will have had their fingers burnt.
Stephen was keen to hear members views on the planning process generally and its current operation in Portsmouth.
There were many examples given where from our perspective, inadequate staffing at PCC was resulting in additional delays and expense for members, projects being delayed and even investments being made elsewhere. Those with experience stated that the process is much more effective in Southampton and some had invested there instead as a result.
Members also felt there was a lack of vision by city planners. In summary, one member described the Portsmouth situation as “shocking”. Concerns were also raised about the disadvantages of corporate investment (taking profits out of the city) and foreign investors (taking profits out of the country) compared to local landlords who live in and spend their income employing local trades and services and frequently buy in local shops.
We ended the evening with a long discussion about HMO’s which pulled together many of the concerns previously covered as well as the issues many of our members face with the change in interpretation of standards PCC are making when considering applications for Mandatory Licensing.
The most effective way to help influence government policy or scrutinise decisions is via written parliamentary questions, as Ministers are briefed and have these prepared by civil servants in advance and has the advantage that the response is part of the public record and can be used as such. With this in mind, all members are urged to write to Stephen as and when they have an issue and on generic issues, the PDPLA will collate evidence from members and submit that to Stephen in a suitable form. As has been said in this forum many times before – as an Association we try to represent our members but belonging to the PDPLA is not enough, you need to be active and involved else we find it very difficult to represent you, we need examples and we need case studies – without that, we are just moaning landlords…