Fergus Wilson, one of England's largest landlords, has announced that he will no longer rent to people receiving welfare benefits, and has served all of his benefits-receiving tenants with eviction notices. He says that the cuts to benefits in the UK have resulted in an unacceptably high level of rent arrears, so high in fact that rent guarantee insurers will no longer cover properties let to welfare tenants.
The problem of social housing tenants falling behind on rent will get much, much worse shortly, when the "universal credit" scheme is introduced — a massive change in the way benefits are paid that has delayed by massive IT problems.
The hardest hit groups of tenants are elderly people and single mothers, as well as people who are too disabled to work.
"Tenants on benefits are competing with eastern Europeans who came to the UK in 2005 and have built up a good enough credit record to rent privately. We've found them to be a good category of tenant who don't default on the rent. With tenants on benefits the number of defaulters outnumbers the ones who pay on time," he said.
"Single mothers on benefits have been displaced to the bottom of the pile; sympathy for this group is disappearing. There aren't enough places for people to live."
Dan Wilson Craw, a spokesman for campaign group Priced Out, says he is dismayed to hear Wilson's announcement: "Evicting tenants because you're suddenly upset about new government policies is unbelievably heartless, and could lead to more people deciding not to claim benefit for fear of losing their home, and sinking further into poverty," he said, "This is just one symptom of a wider housing market that is simply not working in the consumer's interests. The instability and poor conditions that private tenants have to deal with would not be tolerated in any other market."
Buy-to-let property supremo shuts door on housing benefit tenants [Emma Lunn/The Guardian]