Fergus and Judith Wilson, who own almost 1,000 rental properties around Ashford in Kent, have served eviction notices to every one of their tenants who are on benefits. They have told the agents letting the properties that they won't accept any new tenants on housing benefit either. The Wilsons identified eastern Europeans migrants as being preferable tenants over those on benefits because of rent default issues.
But why are they making the move? And what does this mean for people claiming benefits?
EvictedThe Guardian reported that Fergus Wilson had sent the notices to 200 tenants. He told the newspaper that it was purely an economic decision. Cuts in benefits and rises in rental costs mean that many people were struggling with the rent, and falling behind with their payments. He said that among the people on benefits that he is currently renting to, the number of people defaulting outnumber those who pay on time.
Meanwhile, rent guarantee insurance (which pays out if a tenant defaults) is not available when tenants are on benefits, and Wilson said the risks were too high to continue. Much has been made in the press of his comments that by contrast he has found Eastern European migrants reliable rent-payers.
Falling through the cracks?The government has garnered a great deal of support for its efforts to clamp down on benefits scroungers, and cut back benefits that meant many families were better off living off the state than going to work themselves.
A TV show tonight called Benefits Street will reveal the street in Birmingham where nine in ten households are on benefits and some people receive as much as £900 a month from the state. The attitude of entitlement of some of the residents, and the level of benefits they receive, will certainly appal many people, who will be left with the impression that scroungers are still sponging off the state for an easy life.
However, there are thousands of people who are facing real hardship as a result of the cuts. Since last April, 2.6 million families have seen their benefits cut - 2 million of them through cuts in Council Tax Support, and 660,000 through the bedroom tax.
Housing charity Crisis said in December that the number of people sleeping rough has risen 6% in the last two years, and in London it is up 60%. Meanwhile there has been a 10% rise in those seeking temporary accommodation and bed and breakfast placements are up 14%. The charity said that the bedroom tax caused severe hardship, and that it had led to a sharp rise in the number of families falling into rental arrears and losing their homes.
And it's not just rent that people are falling short of: continued price inflation and cuts in incomes mean that people don't have the money for some basic necessities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has calculated that 6.3 million people on benefits in the UK are living in poverty. The number of people using food banks has shot up, and 350,000 people were forced to fall back on them last year.
For some people cuts have been even deeper. Changes to disability benefits mean many more people are being assessed as fit to work. While some people clearly are able to get back to work, there are those who have been failed by the system. Just last week a 58-year-old man shot himself after learning that he would lose his Employment and Support Allowance, and would have to be reassessed to see whether he was eligible. He told friends he was unable to cope.
And there are those who are simply unable to understand and stick with the new rules brought in to ensure those on benefits are doing everything they can to get back into work. Those who break the rules may face sanctions, and having their benefits withdrawn for a period as a result. Many of those people then find themselves falling into rental arrears and falling back on food banks.
The question is whether all of this is just the price we pay for cutting back the excessive benefits bills of the past - or whether we are going to far. What do you think?