Lyme Regis Mayor Owen says in today’s Dorset Echo that “morally behaved” people should be top of the housing list. Is he right? Whilst some might find his comments outrageous, my views are not dissimilar. Having come across a number of tenants who abused their private rented tenancies in one way or another in a bid to secure social housing, it was becoming increasingly frustrating to watch as they were given homes above those patiently waiting years on the housing register and getting nowhere.
Back in 2010 when I was Chair of West Dorset Landlord Accreditation Scheme I spent a great deal of time drawing up a Tenant Accreditation Scheme. I met with Housing Officers, Referencing Companies and MP Oliver Letwin who offered his backing. Unfortunately despite a lot of people working on the project, the merger between West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland Housing meant that core people that were involved either took up new posts or left altogether and the West Dorset Accreditation Scheme went on to become the newly formed West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland Landlords Partnership which took a different format. As a result, the scheme was scrapped but below outlines the principles of my scheme as it was put to everyone back in 2010.
Tenant Accreditation Scheme
A cost effective scheme to help tenants, landlords and homelessness relief.
An Accredited Tenant will have a distinct advantage over other tenants. Tenants who have proved that they have paid their rent on time, taken good care of a property and not caused a nuisance to their neighbours will receive special recognition that will put them to the top of the permanent Housing List, after they have participated in the scheme for a set number of years. They will also have the assurance that the property provided to them by an Accredited Landlord will meet the decent home standards. Accredited Tenants will benefit from the Deposit Bond and Rent in Advance where needed.
A Landlord who accepts an Accredited Tenant will benefit from a long term tenant who is responsible, pays their rent on time and looks after their property. Further incentives for Landlords should include a Rent Guarantee, on-going tenancy support and the assurance that if things go wrong, the tenant will be moved on as quickly as possible without the Landlord having to take legal action.
The proposed Tenant Accreditation Scheme will help with homelessness relief with long term sustainable tenancies through the private sector, without incurring mass expenditure.
- Promote both Landlord & Tenant Accreditation Schemes and provide ongoing support.
- Provide Rent in advance. Tenants will repay the Rent in Advance on a loan basis, in easy monthly or weekly installments. Failure to make payment would go against Tenants on their “Tenant Accreditation Record”.
- Provide a Rent Guarantee to Landlords. Landlords will be allowed to call upon a one month rent guarantee should the tenant fall into arrears. Any delays in rent will go against Tenants on their record and any arrears must be cleared by the tenant before they can gain a clean tenant record.
- Provide Deposit Bonds to cover damages. Again, any damage caused will be marked on the Tenants record and will stay there until the costs of repairs have been recovered. In terms of “damages”, if a tenant was expected to be part of the Tenant Accreditation Scheme for at least 4 – 5 years, this would minimise the payouts for “damages” as by this time the majority of claims could feasibly be passed as “Fair wear & tear”. Any malicious damage will incur instant dismissal from the scheme.
- Provide Landlords with adequate backup and the assurance that if the tenant is troublesome, the tenant would be removed from the scheme and the property without the Landlord having to go to court.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q: Why have an Accredited Tenant Scheme?
A: An Accredited Tenant Scheme will give recognition to good tenants resulting in rewards, provide Landlords with smoother running tenancies whilst helping with homelessness relief.
Q: Why associate the scheme with the housing register?
A: By directly linking the scheme with the housing register, the right tenants are rewarded with permanent housing, provided they have met the criteria of the scheme. It also prevents unscrupulous tenants abusing the system and queue jumping by deliberately not paying rent, causing damage or becoming a nuisance to gain self inflicted eviction.
Q: Why should the minimum period of being part of the scheme be a minimum of 4 to 5 years?
A: Landlords will be attracted to good tenants staying longer whilst enabling WDDC longer periods in which to find suitable permanent accommodation and taking better advantage of the private rented sector in the interim. It will also minimise the number of claims for “damages” under the Deposit Bond as when it comes to general decorating & floor coverings, the majority of claims could be put down to “Fair wear & tear” in most cases.
Q: Is the Rent in Advance & Rent Guarantee really necessary?
A: It is important that the scheme runs as closely in line with the private rental sector as possible. A landlord taking part in the scheme should also have the assurance that if the tenant does fall into arrears they have some support to help them get by whilst trying to resolve the issues.
Q: Why should the Tenant be moved on as quickly as possible if they are in significant rent arrears, are causing a nuisance or damage?
A: This appears to be the ultimate kick in the teeth for a Landlord. They take on a HB tenant, the tenancy goes wrong (usually because the tenant knows if he is evicted for non payment of rent, nuisance or damages they will be given priority housing), then the tenants are advised to stay in situ until the landlord takes them to court – the result being one less landlord that will ever consider taking on a HB tenant again and one less property (or more) on the market. It also brings the scheme into ill repute.
Q: What if a tenant wants to move home during the 4 – 5 year period?
A: A Tenant that needs to move during the 4-5 year scheme period because the property is no longer suitable for their needs may do so and use their “Accredited Tenant Record” in lieu of a reference within any of the Accredited Agencies or with any other Accredited Landlord.
Q: What about vulnerable tenants.
A: There will always be a number of tenants who are not going to be suitable for the scheme. Tenants with specific disabilities or mental health issues will be dealt with special needs and requirements in mind. This scheme is aimed to help those tenants who are willing and able to help themselves, to provide them with the support they need and some degree of housing stability until a long term solution is reached.
Q: What makes our scheme unique?
A: Our scheme is unique in as much as it is a working partnership with WDDC, Private Sector Landlords, Tenants, Agencies and Charities. It is a complete community project!
Whilst other authorities have offered free gas certs, EPC’s, agreements etc in order to entice private sector landlords to take tenants on benefits, the scheme has no need to go this far and costs can easily be kept down. Ultimately the landlord just wants market value rent, security of a long term tenant, rent paid on time and the reassurance that if something goes wrong he won’t be too out of pocket or left on his own to sort matters out. This is easily covered by the above points and a little support.
Landlords generally want their tenants to stay long term, they also want hassle free lettings and will go with tenants who pose the lowest risk of presenting them with potential problems. Therefore it is important that the scheme should try and mirror the private rented sector. Whilst some authorities expect their landlords “to be responsible for the risk”, any sensible landlord will want to minimise the risk and will feel they will do this best by not accepting tenants on HB in the first place. Therefore the right incentives need to be in place.
There should be consequences involved for the tenants and, provided they meet all criteria throughout the scheme, they will be rewarded later. Tenants applying for accommodation through WDDC should become part of the Tenant Accreditation Scheme & asked to take accommodation in the private sector for a certain period of time. Failure to do this would either prevent them from going on the housing register, or lose them vital points. Tenants who have been on the scheme for a number of years, have paid their rent on time, looked after the property & not caused a nuisance will gain more points for the longer they remain on the scheme but will know that after a maximum number of years they will be guaranteed some form of permanent housing. This could be a Housing Association home or perhaps help with deposits for shared ownership properties or similar.
This will enable good tenants to be rewarded for their patience and good management of their tenancy whilst not fast tracking tenants that have behaved badly. This will also give the landlord the assurance of a long term let, with less troublesome tenants and added incentives. Once they have had a tenant on the scheme, they are more likely to take more HB tenants in future. This in turn will inevitably help WDDC with the amount of homes available for the growing number of applicants in need of suitable housing.
The WDDC Tenant Accreditation Scheme would be an innovative solution to some of the local housing issues. It’s unique community partnership brings all sectors together, gets tenants taking some responsibility for themselves, provides rewards where rewards are due whilst keeping everyday running costs to a minimum. It will change the way that landlords and the general public view tenants on Housing Benefit & those who need a little extra support. With a bit of hard work, imagination and some forward thinking the pioneering WDDC Tenant Accreditation Scheme could become the envy of other Local Authorities.