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Portsmouth Homelessness – 1 in 4 Evicted by Family or Friends

Homeless

  It is a widely held view that private landlords are responsible for most evictions, yet official statistics indicate this is not true. Action in other areas would have a greater impact on homelessness than penalising landlords and making it harder for them to repossess their property when tenants default on their obligations.

So Why Are People Homeless? 

Looking overall at why people are homeless, by far the most significant reason is that their Family or friends are no longer willing or able to accommodate them: 26%.

Only 15% of relief duty cases (those where the local authority has a duty to rehouse) can be identified as being the result of a PRS repossession.

Only 3 % of all cases are attributed to rent arrears. This is the same percentage attributed to a breach of a tenancy agreement not related to rent arrears. The same percentages are shown as having been evicted from supported housing and also from social housing so the PRS is no different to other tenures in this respect, contrary to popular belief.

Comparing Portsmouth with the whole of England, in Portsmouth 21%[1] of cases are attributed to a breach of the tenancy by the tenant and not related to rent arrears i.e. tenant default. Nationally only 5% are caused by non arrears tenant default. Detailed questioning of landlords and tenants as part of a mediation process may shed light on this problem and on how tenant behaviour might be improved. Perhaps minor infringements are not being picked up quickly by landlords or their agents and allowed to degenerate into major disputes.

In Portsmouth twice as many tenancies were ended due to the tenant abandoning the property, compared to the national average.

The degree of homelessness will vary from those having minor fall outs with friends and family where reconciliation may be possible, to those rough sleeping.

PRS repossessions are not the main cause of homelessness claims, but they are a contributory factor. If they were reduced it would make life easier for landlords and tenants. The PDPLA have proposed and PCC are considering an early intervention, mediation and advice service.

Why do we think Portsmouth is 4x worse than national?

Good question. Cant think of a polite answer. Added a comment and suggestion 

How Would Mediation Help? 

⁃ Mediation and advice may have helped in some of the 29 cases of breached tenancy agreements in the data we analysed.

⁃ The figures for landlords wishing to sell or re-let (also 29) need to be better understood. Questioning by a third party such as a mediator would help us understand this better. Some landlords are definitely going up market creating supply problems for those on low incomes and benefits. There is concern that good landlords may be selling to ignorant or even rogue operators.

⁃ Rent arrears account for only 31 or 3.3% of all cases but we expect this to grow when COVID-19 repossessions restrictions are lifted, so a service of this nature will be much needed.

⁃ 42% of those reporting arrears issues stated that this was due to difficulty budgeting or making other payment(s). This is clearly where early intervention and advice could have the most potential. Is the tenant claiming the benefits they are entitled to? Could the housing benefit / be paid direct to the landlord?

⁃ The other 58% of arrears cases were attributed to mainly unspecified changes in the tenant circumstances. It is also likely that advice and mediation in these cases will make a difference.

⁃ There are no figures for arrears due to the tenant's misappropriation of their housing benefit but we know it is often the problem. Mediation may help but only if the tenant chooses to engage.

⁃ There are no figures for the number of cases where problems with the benefits system have caused the arrears to mount but, we see this a lot – it would be good to quantify the scale of this issue. We are writing to the MP for Gosport with a specific case where if housing benefit had been paid direct to the landlord the tenant would not be waiting for the bailiff to call.

⁃ Advice and a level of mediation can be offered to tenants approaching the Local Authority and officers can work with landlords to save tenancies but more could be done and the assistance should be offered before the landlord has resorted to repossession proceedings in our view.

What Can We Conclude? 

• PRS Landlord repossessions have historically only made a comparatively small contribution to the numbers presenting themselves as homeless. This may change as COVID-19 restrictions are removed and more tenants lose their jobs.

• Persuading people to continue to stay with family or friends would have more impact than any other measure. Housing officers probably already propose this option but could more be done?

• Mediation will help preserve some tenancies but assisting tenants budgeting may well be more productive. What is not clear is whether poor money management is the problem or whether housing benefit is just too low.

• Third party intervention and probing is necessary to ascertain how much advice alone will help. Housing officers do their best but is this enough? Earlier intervention before the tenant is about to be made homeless would ease the burden on the department.

• We need data on what involvement letting agents have – there is a view that they are paid to manage tenancies and too little is done in this area, resulting in the 'easier option' of eviction of tenants and their replacement with others that the agent believes will be easier to manage.

• Portsmouth tenants are not as reliable as those in other parts of the country. How much would education and tenant training help?

• Some tenants rejected by the RSLs and supported housing must be finding their way into the PRS only for that relationship to also breakdown, could more be done before they become a problem in the PRS?

Note:

This data was collected from the official statistics for 2019/20 financial year i.e. pre COVID-19 impacts. Post COVID-19 there may be a 'new normal'.

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Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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