Thankfully most pensioners today can claim to own their own home or are secure in private rented accommodation or in some cases are in properties such as sheltered housing.
One pensioner we spoke to though had a story to tell. We will refer to her here as Ms I.
Ms.I is thankfully living in rented accommodation and has been in the same property for almost 20 years. By her own admission she is fortunate to have a brilliant landlord.
Recently however Ms.I who lives in the West Country has begun to look for rented accommodation in the South East for personal reasons and it’s proving a near impossibility. There have been numerous stumbling blocks, many of which will have been experienced by others, pensioner or not.
Like most people looking for rented accommodation Ms.I is unable to afford most of the properties in the area she is looking at. Her requirements are simple, a decent sized, good condition, one bedroom flat with medium to long term security. As a pensioner Ms.I is in receipt of full housing benefit but tops up her rent through other incomes. The vast majority of places though are above her cost limit and in fact most properties at the cost limit are for shared accommodation or small studio flats. Her cost limit is just £650 per month.
Landlords and Estate Agents
Many estate agents do not take tenants onto their books who are in receipt of housing benefit but those that do are still not able to provide the vast overwhelming majority of properties to those on housing benefit thanks to landlords who refuse to take those tenants. There are some that do but they require that the potential tenant is only on partial housing benefit and can top up the remainder of the rent through wages or personal savings, but in any case there are further pitfalls to navigate…
Guarantors and Deposits
Ms.I has been told by no more than a couple of landlords that they would accept housing benefit provided that they can provide 3 months deposit and a guarantor that has the monthly income of 3 times the monthly rent. So at £650 Ms.I, a pensioner on housing benefit no less must find £1950 deposit and someone she knows and is willing to be a guarantor who earns around £30,000 per year. How many people at pensionable age could find a guarantor fitting all those requirements and on top of that have money lying around to the tune of almost £2,000?
Battling the ideology of fairness versus pragmatism
Of course it would be easy to suggest Ms.I should just stay put as she is already in rented accommodation but that doesn’t begin to understand how chronic the housing situation is within Britain today. Consider that a pensioner who has a virtually guaranteed income of housing benefit is unable to get a tenancy? Why? There is almost no danger of that income ever becoming problematic, certainly no more than a full time worker in an insecure job.
Millions of workers are in low paid jobs or part time work, maybe they are full time mums or dad’s and each and every one of those sections of society will be in receipt of housing benefit. Each one unable to get into rented accommodation let alone be able to get their own mortgage property.
With such a lack of council properties in the UK anyone struggling to find rented properties in the private sector will also struggle to get a place through their council. Waiting lists are growing.
The Conservative government claim they are now building at high levels but the truth is these figures do no include completed properties. They are still woefully short of the target set by the last Labour government in house building targets and even then the number of house builds was never enough.
With so few council properties, the inability of those on low incomes to afford rental prices and to also be met with what is really discriminatory policies against those on any kind of housing benefit by landlords it is enevitable that homelessness will rise unless the issue is addressed. Even where people are not made homeless the fact that they will find it hard to move to new properties is an indicator of a stagnating rental market ahead should there be another financial crash.
There are those that do get into rented properties, plenty of them but they will not be met with the same challenges as mentioned above and the fact that there are not enough properties to rent yet such high demand for them, the landlords can pick and choose who they take. This is creating a kind of housing elite. Where those on low incomes are either homeless or stuck, unable to move property unless they achieve ‘aspirstion’.
Aspirstion is a red herring from the Conservatives and some in Labour.
David Cameron and Theresa May have talked of aspiration as a code word for people getting better jobs, working harder and longer and earning more cash whilst doing so. There answer in short is to work every hour and every second God sends and in return you will earn just enough to put a roof over your head but of course then you will be required to scrimp and scrape in every other of your existence because that is the reality.
It’s all well and good suggesting that everyone live like this but there are those out there working 3 jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. There are those that already work to the bone and are still unable to afford everything. When did we lose sight of being able to live life?
These workers out there who don’t have problems who do earn enough to afford the rent and still live comfortably have to remember, you are one redundancy or one stalled pay packet away from finding yourself in a similar situation. It’s incumbent on us all to ensure we have a housing situation that protects us all from the hardship of life. A roof over your head should never be a luxury but a right. The basics of life should be a given. A home, food and water should always be provided for those that need it without question. That’s being human. We are not robots. We don’t shut out one half of society with an attitude of “I’m alright Jack” and then have a right to moan when things go wrong.
That is why Jeremy Corbyn is right to focus huge amounts of time onto the housing crisis. Unless it is addressed then the problem will intensify over the coming years for everyone. We can not rely on the Conservatives who in 2010 promised 250,000 homes would be built every year over the term of Parliament. When in 2015 they found they were nowhere near that target they reissued the same pledge and they are still nowhere near their target. In fact the Conservative government voted against a bill a few months ago that would have made it law for landlords to ensure their properties would be fit for human habitation. Who does that?
Ms.I is lucky, she does have a roof over her head, thanks largely to a great Landlord, one of a dying breed. It is against the law to discriminate against people based on certain criteria like sex or sexual orientation or religion. Discriminating against people because they are poor, which is what is happening, is elitism to the core. Ms.I may be waiting some time to find a new property to rent. Aspiration it seems only applies to working till you drop, not being able to live life freely and without unfairness. Aspiration is not what the government want you to think it is.