Slavery and people trafficking

Thankfully, these are not issues that directly concern many of our landlords, but they are still something that we want everyone who lives or works in Sandwell to be aware of.

Although often unnoticed,  modern slavery and people trafficking are real and are happening right now in our area. Without being  dramatic, at this very moment, in a house or business premises in your street, there could be someone being forced to work against their will, subjected to physical and potentially violent control and deprived of any freedom to either make choices for themselves or get away. The victims could be involved in anything from forced participation in crime, unsafe and exploitative manual labour, organised begging or sex-work.

For various reasons, these problems do seem to be particularly prevalent in the West Midlands and Sandwell Council officers have been involved with some very distressing cases recently.  More positively though as a council, we are playing our part in going out and proactively dealing with the issue where we can as well as doing much work to raise awareness.  For example the successful conference we hosted just last week which bought together more than 150 delegates from different services.

This is an issue though for the whole community and it needs everyone’s attention. Landlords are often well placed to spot potential issues.  Not only do they often have significant local knowledge, but privately rented properties are much sought to house victims by the criminals involved.

Just to be clear, we’re not blaming the landlords here. Criminals will often present themselves to landlords with empty properties, seemingly as ordinary and respectable people so that they can con the landlord into letting them have the property. Please be on your guard, not only with new sign-ups but also with established, existing tenants where there might be something that doesn’t seem quite right going on in our property.

Here are some of the things that just might indicate that something untoward is happening:

  • several unrelated adults living at a single address
  • people being regularly collected very early in the morning and/or returned late at night
  • signs of injury, malnourishment and a general untidy appearance
  • people being isolated from the rest of the community
  • people who live and work at the same address in poor conditions
  • women being kept in houses where there are large numbers of male visitors
  • people who don’t know their address
  • people who cannot produce their documents
  • people who often seem anxious and fearful, especially in the presence of a ‘friend’ or
  • interpreter who appears to be controlling them and their answers

And the official advice is:

If you see something suspicious, no matter how small, please call police on 101, the UK Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Oliver

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Houses in Multiple Occupation

Houses in multiple occupation

Apologies for a not very snappy start to the first post of 2018 but this is an important subject for some of our landlords (and residents).

 
The Department for Communities and Local Government have now released their response to the consultation exercise carried out last year about suggested reforms and extensions to regulations about Houses in Multiple Occupation. (HMO)

 
Any changes the government is considering are of course still only proposals and would need parliamentary approval so change might still be some way off, but HMO landlords might want to start thinking now about how this could affect their businesses.

 
Two proposals that are attracting particular interest are to set a minimum room size for bedrooms and the extension of licensing.

 
At the moment, only certain HMOs need licensing but the intention is to extend this to cover ‘certain HMOs’ … ‘occupied by five persons or more in two or more households, regardless of the number of storeys.’ If you are an HMO landlord or are thinking of becoming one – please do have a look at the full document, which you can find here.

 
There is information on some of the current rules and licensing requirements for HMOs in Sandwell on our webpages here with contact details if you have specific queries.

 
There are substantial fines if you fail to have a license when you should. So if in doubt, check.

 
Oliver

 

 

Contacting us … MySandwell.

My Sandwell

I posted earlier this year about why landlords should set up ‘MySandwell’ accounts. Its now worth a quick reminder as more and more of what the council does is either more easily accessible or only accessible through MySandwell.

 
Some of the things landlords should use MySandwell for are:
• Reporting that a tenant who is claiming Housing Benefit is in rent arrears and that you wish to request direct payment to yourself.
• General queries (where data protection restrictions allow) about Housing Benefit
• Queries about your a council tax bill.
• Queries about Business Rates if you have a business premises in Sandwell.

 
And increasingly – you will find that MySandwell is the right way to contact us on just about everything we do. If you live in Sandwell as well as having interests here as a landlord – MySandwell is also the right place for everything from making a report about missed bin collections to problems with potholes in your street.

 
It’s quick and easy to register for an account – so if you haven’t done so already – please have a look when you get the chance. Just go to my.sandwell.gov.uk

 
Oliver

 

Universal Credit roll-out – important changes.

Benefits Gazette

If you were about to tell a tenant or client to go and make a claim for Universal Credit – please read this first. Apologies as this is a little fiddly, but might be important.

 
First, please remember that there are currently two main categories for UC claims. ‘Full Service’ and ‘Live Service.’ Each applies in different areas – it’s a bit of a patchwork and it comes down to post-codes. So parts of one local authority will come under one category and neighbouring parts will come under the other. (It’s never simple!)

 
If you’re in a full service area, from January 2018 you can no longer (certain very small exceptions apply) make claims for the old style ‘legacy’ benefits like Housing Benefit or Job Seekers Allowance (IB). Instead – more or less anyone who wants to make a new benefit claim goes straight onto UC.

 
Where you don’t have a ‘full service,’ UC claims are assessed as ‘live service.’ There are various technical differences between the two categories and only certain types of person have been put onto ‘live service’ UC in the areas where it applies. If you are not in one of these categories – you should continue to claim the old style benefits. Most of Sandwell (not quite all) currently comes under ‘live service. ’ The long term goal is of course that all areas eventually move over to live service. However, to support a ‘smooth transition’ to full service, the DWP will stop taking live service claims. (Although any claim set up on a live service basis will continue uninterrupted).

 
So – if not on UC already – most Sandwell residents cannot now claim UC until we see the complete roll-out to full service. These claimants should continue to claim Housing Benefit or other legacy benefits if necessary. Which leads to the next point; that originally scheduled for July 2018 – the transition from live to full in Sandwell will now happen in November 2018. Other parts of the country will have similar delays. If you have tenants or clients in areas apart from Sandwell – you can check the UC status and expected service changes on gov.uk.

 
For more information please see the Department for Work and Pensions bulletin here

 
Oliver