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No more ‘Extend and Pretend’. Rent debt cancellation now!

By Allison Fewtrell

Early last summer we realised tenants were falling into arrears as a direct result of the crisis. GMTU along with other tenant organisations, charities and unions repeatedly called on our government to extend the ban to protect tenants from homelessness.

Instead of using the last 14 months to come up with a plan to mitigate the effects of the crisis on tenants they simply pretended that everything would sort itself out and the problems would magically evaporate.

Liquidity vs Insolvency

The government is trying to apply a business model to ordinary workers and families. It’s not a problem of liquidity, it’s a problem of insolvency.

Large companies often borrow money and it is leveraged against other assets they hold, such as property, bonds or stocks – assets which can be liquidated to repay the loan if necessary.

Tenants who have fallen into arrears throughout the crisis have done so because their income has drastically reduced. 

Those tenants are:

  • Unemployed and now claiming benefits
  • Furloughed and had their income cut by a fifth
  • Victims of fire and rehire and now doing the same job for lower wages
  • In precarious work or bogus self employment with reduced hours

They have no assets to liquidate and most won’t be able to increase their income anytime soon in order to make the repayments. 

Moreover, many are also in fuel debt, owing hundreds of pounds to utility companies. In effect, they are insolvent. They aren’t suddenly going to land a high flying, well paid job with the current state of our economy.

Kickstarting the Economy

Our economy wasn’t in great shape at the beginning of 2020 and the crisis shut down large parts of it. When lockdown fully lifts, a lot of companies that have been bumping along the bottom for over a year, with furloughed staff will no doubt fold when furlough ends.

Two thirds of our economy relies on consumer spending. Millions relying on our broken benefits system have no disposable income at all. By the government’s own admission, Universal Credit is designed only to be a temporary measure providing mere subsistence at best. Additionally, with the disposable income of hundreds of thousands of debt burdened tenants consumed by rent repayments, economic recovery will surely be hampered. 

At the time of writing, the new variant of the virus appears to be taking a hold and it is unsure whether Britain will be “open for business” in the very near future.

Who Pays?

Ultimately, the cost of all this mess is going to come from the public purse. Millions will continue having to rely on  benefits, and when people start losing their homes, cash strapped councils will have to put families in temporary accommodation at huge cost. Greater Manchester already has 4000 households in temporary accommodation and that system is at breaking point.

Families with children will be prioritised, and quite rightly so, but some will undoubtedly fall through the cracks in the system and they, along with lone tenants may end up on the street. The mental health impact and subsequent alcohol and drug related issues that result from homelessness are well documented as is the lifelong impact of poverty on children.

Cancel the Rent!

Last year we ran a campaign – #CanceTheRent. We explained that some big housing providers who own many thousands of properties across the country routinely make huge profits. Some are even owned by hedge funds, and we argued that these types of landlord could afford to absorb the cost of unpaid ‘covid arrears’.

We also have many small landlords, owning just a few properties at most, and are living directly off that rental income. We think it would make economic sense for the government to reimburse those small landlords who may face hardship if they can’t recoup that rent.

We want the government to wipe the slate clean and relieve the stress and burden from tenants who’ve already suffered enough, not knowing from one day to the next whether they are going to have to pay up or pack their bags.

It just makes more economic sense.

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News

GMTU Anti-racism Statement

The Black Lives Matter global uprising that followed the murder of George Floyd has forced a reckoning with racist state violence, its history and its ongoing perpetuation across the world. Recent research by Resistance Lab has shown that Greater Manchester Police are, after the London Metropolitan Police, the most frequent users of tasers; with Black people subject to the use of tasers by GMP at nearly 4 times the rate of white people. 

 

In housing too, racial inequality is starkly apparent and has a long history with deep roots. It is well documented that Black communities are more likely to face overcrowding, disrepair and general poor housing conditions.  Homelessness is also disproportionate among these same communities — one in three homeless households aren’t white, compared to around one in seven in the general population. Research done by the Runnymede Trust also demonstrated that the impact of a decade of government austerity has disproportionately impacted Black communities.

 

A report published in 2016 summed up by stating: “four decades of struggle by black and minority ethnic communities, bolstered by legislation, statutory and regulatory codes from the 1960s onwards, have failed to confront adequately and systematically racial disadvantage and discrimination in housing”. The following year, the Grenfell Tower fire was tragic evidence of this fact. As Leslie Thomas QC said at the Grenfell Inquiry earlier this year, the fire was “inextricably linked” with race and reported that that “40% of those living in high-rise buildings in the social rented sector are black, Asian or other. This, compared to the percent of the population (14%), is high.”

 

Overlapping with housing, are other factors. The government’s racist hostile environment, which led to the Windrush scandal, has ensured that the UK border is present across society — including in housing, where both private and social landlords increasingly conduct immigration checks, controlling peoples’ access to housing. Injustice in our immigration system means that asylum seekers are often housed in substandard accommodation, with companies like Serco hanging the threat of eviction over their tenants. The politicisation of the border has been the result of a decade which has seen the rise of the far right, which has racism at its core. 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic, and its health and economic impacts have highlighted the pre-existing inequalities of our society. Amongst Health and Care workers, and the wider population of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities, infections and mortality rates are far higher. The poverty and destitution, barriers to tenants challenging the exploitation and disregard of landlords, and the impact of severe overcrowding and disrepair problems, have disproportionately fallen on our Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities.




In this context, our position is clear. The Greater Manchester Tenants Union is determined that campaigning against racism and racial inequality will be a priority for our organising. We want to ensure that our organisation is not merely non-racist, but a proactive anti-racist one. We will organise to fight the housing conditions that disproportionately affect Black communities. Beyond this, we will position ourselves as part of a broader anti-racist movement in society. We are forging links with campaigns beyond housing, and stand in solidarity with struggles against police violence, the hostile environment and the rise of the far right.

 

What we are doing

 

Upon the election of a new committee in October, it was agreed that anti-racism would be a priority. This has led to the formation of an anti-racist working group, convened by the Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, with staff time allocated as well. This working group reports to the Committee and is overseeing our anti-racist work, including:

 

  1. Developing a strategy for growing our membership, focusing on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse membership.
  2. Leading the growth of links of solidarity with organisations and grassroots campaigns combatting racism.
  3. Reviewing and updating GMTUs diversity policy, for staff, committee and members.
  4. Coordinating a programme of training and education for the membership, committee and staff on anti-racist organising, history and principles.
  5. Writing an anti racist policy document for GMTU to be reviewed and approved at the next AGM.

 

This document stands as a statement of purpose and intent from the new committee and the anti-racist working group. We intend for it to shape and direct our organising through 2021 and beyond.



This document is dated January 2021, to be reviewed on a six monthly basis.



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News

Renters’ Reforms – Queen’s Speech 2021

By Allison Fewtrell

We received a whopping 158 page document – “Queens Speech 2021 Pack” which contained quotes from the speech and the government’s comments for each. As expected, it’s a mixed bag, with some positive things and some not so great. Here’s our take on it – no holds barred!

Quote: “My Government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent.”

Until affordability is addressed, you will not enable more people to move from rented to home ownership. How can anyone save for a deposit and associated home buying costs when over a third and in some areas over half of their income is eaten up by rent?

In addition – implementing rent control would probably cause house prices to fall – something that horrifies property speculators, but something that would really help those wishing to buy their own home. The over inflated property market is why so many people are renting in the first place.

In 1997 the average UK house price was just 2.5 times the average median salary, but the current cost of a home in Manchester will set you back 8 times workers annual earnings.

At our recent Housing Hustings, Andy Burnham committed to supporting rent controls and has invited us to work with him on the Good Landlords Charter for Greater Manchester. See the recording of the hustings with the mayoral candidates here

The government says it is committed to having a “Better Deal for Renters in England”, by publishing it’s consultation response on abolishing Section 21 and improving security for private sector tenants.

Binning Section 21 is something we have been demanding for years, but we need to remember that Landlords have plenty of loopholes at their disposal to get around this and will use them to rid themselves of ‘inconvenient’ tenants, simply by hiking the rent to an unaffordable amount or pretending they are going to sell the property when they have no intention of doing so.

The remark about improving security for tenants is potentially a good thing – if they mean security of tenure. The ability to have a long term tenancy of 5 or even 10 years will provide stability and end the constant worry of tenants on statutory short hold tenancies which can be terminated at the landlord’s discretion at any time – leaving the tenant only a couple of months to find somewhere else that is within their budget – something that is becoming increasingly difficult with a shortage of genuinely affordable homes in the private rented sector.

We will outline proposals for a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model that eases the burden on tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next.

We like this one – 1 in 10 people in the UK have no savings at all, and with so many in rent arrears and fuel debt after the disastrous effects of the pandemic, the prospect of moving to another tenancy and having to pay a deposit up front is a grim one. The only fly in the ointment is, we know how landlords try it on when tenants move out, making bogus claims for damage that is either fair wear and tear or simply repairs that were neglected by the landlord. With that in mind, we want to see more clarification on this point.

Bring forward reforms to drive improvements in standards in rented accommodation, including by ensuring all tenants have a right to redress, and ensuring well targeted, effective enforcement that drives out criminal landlords, for example exploring the merits of a landlord register.

Don’t just ‘explore the merits’! A landlord register is absolutely essential – we need it now. It’s good to see this mentioned though – along with acknowledgement that the quality of rented accommodation needs addressing. The quality of your home has a direct effect on your health – both mental and physical. We’re pleased these things are getting a mention.

Explore improvements and possible efficiencies to the possession process in the courts, to make it quicker and easier for landlords and tenants to use.

Wait, what? Making it quicker and easier to render someone homeless is not something we approve of. Why the mention of tenants in this statement? Why would a tenant want it to be easier to get evicted and where is the safety net for someone who’s been fast-tracked out of their home?

In the ‘Key Facts’ section of the document the government takes the opportunity to pat itself on the back, reminding us of 

  • 6 month pause in court possession proceedings between March and September 2020
  • 6 months notice required before eviction between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 
  • restrictions on bailiff enforcement until 31 May in all but the most egregious cases

Yet we know for a fact people were evicted throughout the pandemic.

Rent arrears that have built up during the pandemic must be cancelled. Means test the landlords so that those in genuine hardship can apply for govt support. Moreover – we and other tenant unions, charities and campaign groups repeatedly fought tooth and nail to force them to extend the eviction ban – they make it sound as though it was handed to us on a silver platter!

Their self congratulation continues:

  • extensive financial support has also been provided for renters through the furlough scheme
  • boost to the welfare safety net of billions of pounds
  • an increase in the Local Housing Allowance in April 2020 to cover at least 30 per cent of market rents

People on furlough did not necessarily have the remaining 20% topped up by employers, many were still expected to do their jobs for 80% of their wages, freelancers, agency staff and those in bogus self employment could not get furlough, people on zero hours contracts or poverty wages were driven into further hardship and rent arrears.

In spite of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit – many people had to use food banks for the first time, and as we have mentioned before countless people are in rent arrears and fuel poverty.

Covering 30% of market rents is nowhere near good enough – it needs to cover the bottom 50 percentile of rents. 

We are also providing £140 million for this year through Discretionary Housing Payments to help people pay their rent.

This sounds great, but depends on the criteria – we’ve not heard anything about this so we’re keen to find out how tenants can apply.

They say they are publishing a White Paper in the autumn – we’ve already waited two years for this bill, so now we know the deadline, we can spend the next few months campaigning and pressuring the government to properly address the things we desperately need. 
Get involved! Join us so we can build power for renters, and hold the government to account so that we can finally live better lives.

Allison Fewtrell is Campaigns and Comms Officer for GMTU

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News

Housing Question Time

Over the last six months, renters across Greater Manchester shared ideas about how to fix the problems they collectively faced and put them into a manifesto. 

We invited four of the candidates for Greater Manchester mayor to a Housing Question Time event and sent them the manifesto to read over in advance of the event. The candidates were:

  • Andy Burnham (LABOUR)
  • Laura Evans (CONSERVATIVE)
  • Melanie Horrocks (GREEN)
  • Simon Lepori (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT)

(Please note, the Conservative candidate did not respond to any of our invitations and so did not attend the event)

We’ve summarised their responses below, but you can rewatch the event back on our Facebook page here.

What did they say on…

Burnham (LAB) Horrocks (GRE) Lepori (LD)
Rent Controls in the private sector
Stronger regulation against number of AirBnB properties
Right To Housing enshrined in law
Support for housing campaigners fighting demolitions of social housing in Rochdale 
Covid arrears Up front government funding for landlords paid back over a number of years ✅ Cancel rent arrears, furlough scheme for landlords ✅ Lobby government for grants/loans to those in arrears ❌

The broad range of questions we asked meant that it was easy to get a sense of where each of the candidates priorities lie when it comes to housing. 

One of the most important questions we posed was whether they backed rent controls. This was a demand that had consistently been brought up in discussions private renters held on problems facing renters. Although we understand the Mayor would not be able to bring in rent controls directly, we asked the candidates if they supported them in principle and whether they would lobby the government to devolve these powers to the Mayor. Both Burnham and Horrocks enthusiastically agreed, with Horrocks going as far as to lay out Green Party policy of a cap on rents at 35% of local income (our manifesto put that figure at 30%). Lepori was less committed, and said that while he was fully in favour of rent controls in the social sector, they would not work in the private sector as landlords would become financially unstable and be forced to sell their homes. 

We welcome the initial support from Andy Burnham on the ongoing situation in Rochdale, as put to the candidates by one of our members, Mark. We think it is imperative that whoever is elected uses their position and voice to amplify the work of campaigners here to save social housing and ensure that residents are not forced away from communities they have built their lives in. 

Another important question came from Kate at Greater Manchester Law Centre, on how candidates would approach rent arrears built up as a result of Covid. Both Burnham and Horrocks clarified that the onus for relief or government help would be put onto the landlords, which is good news for renters who have been furloughed or lost their jobs entirely as a result of the pandemic. Lepori suggested grants or loans to be paid back by renters would be the best solution, which does nothing to fix the slippery slope of debt many have found themselves in through no fault of their own. 

As we come out of the Covid crisis, evictions, rent arrears and homelessness are going to be at the forefront of struggle. But we don’t want things to go back to normal; it wasn’t good enough. We would encourage everyone to think carefully about what renters need, and how each of the candidates promise to fulfill that, and pressure whoever is elected into keeping those promises. 

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News

GM Renters Manifesto

Demanding A New Normal

For the last 6 months, renters across Greater Manchester have been coming together to discuss what the most pressing issues are for us today in the lead up to the Mayoral elections.  

We recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated already existing problems within a broken housing system, such as unaffordable rents made worse through furlough, disrepair made more acute through stay at home restrictions and landlords risking their tenants health by arriving in our homes unannounced during a global health crisis.  

We identified four different areas within which to create our demands: Rent, Disrepair, Landlordism and Knowing Our Rights, but also recognise that a huge part of fixing the private rented sector lies with commitments to building and properly managing more council housing.

We hope that the manifesto will be used to pressure local council candidates to fight harder for private renters, and recognise that fighting on a case by case basis does nothing to solve such a rotten system in which we’re forced to exist. We need real change.  

1: Prioritise housing need; Build the 30,000+ social rent homes, end conversions to so called ‘affordable housing,’ demolitions of homes & right to buy, which are constantly reducing the number of homes available for social rent.

2. An end to policies which allow discrimination based on migrant status, disability, receipt of benefits, or low income such as ‘No DSS’ and adopt policies to address inequality, support and protect disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

3. The implementation of rent controls that both bring rents in line with 30% of median household income in the city and prevents future rises that are out of step with levels of income growth.

4. Issue a forgiveness of rent arrears that have accumulated during the pandemic with landlords who may struggle to meet the costs of such measures being encouraged to seek means-tested support.

5. A cap of 5 properties for tenancy landlords, and an increase of income tax for landlords who own 3 properties or more. This is vital in deterring landlords from buying up multiple properties in Greater Manchester, and letting them in dangerous and unsafe ways.

6. We need an independent “Rented Property MOT” with a body of inspectors to ensure agreed healthy living standards and legislation in place to swiftly enforce landlords to adhere to them.

7. The GMCA work with democratic tenants unions across GM to distribute up to date, tenant-led versions of the How To Rent booklet mandatory with every private tenancy.

To view our full manifesto, follow the link here.

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Campaigns

ACTION ON SHORT-TERM LETS

According to figures obtained from Inside Airbnb, there has been a 200% growth in the number of properties listed on Airbnb between 2016 and 2020. We know that the rise of short-term holiday lets in what were previously residential areas is having a negative effect on these neighbourhoods. Many of our members have experienced disruption, noise and waste from the rise of Airbnb. Furthermore, as has been demonstrated in research by Greater Manchester Housing Action, the growth of Airbnb is having an inflationary effect on the value of land and the cost of rent in our city.
We call on the council to act. Other councils such as Liverpool have put in place measures to address the impact short term lets are having on neighbourhoods. And where powers do not currently exist, councils must lobby national government for London-style powers to restrict Airbnb.
Working with our partners at Greater Manchester Housing Action we are pulling together a citizens taskforce on Airbnb to track the prevalence of short-term lets in the city, and pressure the council to act. If you want more information get in touch here.

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Branches

Stockport Branch

ABOUT US

Stockport Tenants Union is a campaigning, member-led union set up to level the playing field between renters and landlords in Stockport. It was set up in October 2020 and is a branch of the Greater Manchester Tenants Union. We are currently building our membership and strengthening our collective power in order to further our member’s interests, stand up for renters and address the housing crisis in Stockport.

Chair: Louise Heywood

Secretary: Malcolm Corrigall

GMTU Committee Rep: Dave Heywood

Comms and Campaigns Officer: Joe Barratt

Treasurer: Andrea Corrigan

CONTACT US

Email: stockport@tenantsunion.org.uk

Telephone: 07762446509

Twitter: @sktenantsunion

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Branches

Moss Side Branch

Who we are

The Moss Side branch was set up three years ago with only a handful of neighbours in response to common concerns about poor housing conditions and the lack of affordable family homes.  It has since grown to be the largest local branch of GMTU. 

Membership is open to renters and any other residents of Moss Side concerned about housing injustice and a belief in the collective power of achieving change.

We have supported national campaigns to end DSS discrimination by landlords and estate agents and to end no-fault evictions.  We exposed the scandal of the social housing sell-off into the private rented sector in Moss Side; this prevented more sell-offs with the result that more social housing was retained in the pool for potential future tenants.

Ongoing concerns

We are concerned about the rise of short-term lets (such as airbnbs) with their negative effects on neighbours and the loss of family homes, as well as the impact of buy-to-let landlords making it harder for local residents to find affordable, permanent homes.  We frequently liaise with other community groups who share these concerns;  an example of this was a joint meeting with eight of these groups and council leaders to discuss these issues and to look for solutions.

Current focus

We have constructed a questionnaire for Moss Side social housing tenants to identify any ongoing  tenant/provider relationship problems and hope to work with the social landlords towards solutions. This will be adjusted to include private sector renters in the future. 

Roles of responsibility

Presently we have a chair, secretary, and researcher, plus specific-issue group facilitators and TUGM delegates; we aim to create more roles (such as treasurer, communications/press officer etc) at our first AGM, scheduled for July 2021.

Contact us on:

Emailmossside.tenantsunion@gmail.com

Twitter: @mosssidetenants