Author Archives: clbustin

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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Matching homes to people (and guinea pigs)

We are very grateful to all the landlords – both private and housing associations – who have come forward in the last few weeks to help us find new homes for tenants who found themselves stuck and in need of urgent accommodation.

Liz (the other blog editor) even found somewhere for Miranda (pictured above) who she found abandoned in an empty flat, after she had worked to rehouse the tenant.

Liz – who has a much softer heart than me, has given Miranda a new and loving home in her own back garden.

But I don’t want to come across as flippant here. Obviously, housing need is a very serious subject to anyone affected, I just want show you some of the odd situations we deal with from time-to-time.

Liz often works with other agencies or council teams who are trying to find accommodation for their clients.

If you are a landlord or a letting agent, have an empty property and are looking for someone to fill it – you might want to let us know first.

Drop an email to Liz, at Elizabeth_mooney@sandwell.gov.uk  telling her the size, location and rent you would hope to achieve.

We’re not promising to find you a tenant – but there is still a good chance we can help you and you can help us.

Oliver

Business rates consultation

If you own or manage a business premises in Sandwell – this could affect you.

Sandwell Council is proposing amendments to its National Non Domestic Rates Discretionary Rate Relief Policy.

Find out more about the proposed changes.

If you would like to comment or give feedback on the proposed changes to the policy please email: revenues_postroom@sandwell.gov.uk

Thanks

Oliver

 

Getting it right, or losing money

You might have seen our latest newsletter which was posted on the blog last week.

If you didn’t, I think it’s worth a read (though I did write it myself!) It had one article in particular about Universal Credit (UC) that I want to pick up on as it deals with how some tenants lose benefit for completely avoidable reasons.

If you need to claim (UC), with its Housing Element to cover your rent – you apply on the DWP’s online form. I’ve had a go myself, it’s straightforward enough. But do be aware of the following.

The form asks “Do you pay rent or eligible service charges to live in your home,” (see screen-shot below).

This seems a simple question, but we know some tenants are getting it wrong. We believe it’s where they have previously had their rent paid through Housing Benefit and think the question is asking whether they physically make rent payments themselves.

So they answer “no.”

But the question is actually about whether or not you have a liability to pay rent – not the practical arrangements of where the payments come from. If you answer this question incorrectly, there can be real consequences.

You won’t be asked any further questions about your housing and although you might still be awarded the personal elements of UC you will not be assessed for or awarded the Housing Cost Elements.

To put it simply – you won’t get any rent money. So it’s essential that people get this question right.

They must also make sure that they provide proof of rent (normally their tenancy agreement) if the DWP ask for it; or again they could lose rent money.
UC claimants should also be encouraged to make sure that they contact us (the council) to claim Council Tax Reduction (CTR).

Many UC claimants will still be used to old system where their claim for CTR was wrapped up with their Housing Benefit and they didn’t need to make a specific application for it.

They do now though. CTR is not included in the UC claim and if you want help with your Council Tax bill, you have to apply to us.

If you are a landlord reading this – you might think that this last point is none of your concern.

It’s the tenant’s responsibility, not yours to sort out their own Council Tax. But if you do have a tenant who is struggling financially, the more help they get, the less likely they are to go into rent arrears.

If you have tenants on UC or a general interest in the subject – there is plenty of information about it on gov.uk but we will be posting more on UC, especially around contact arrangements for landlords and rent arrears shortly.

Oliver