Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640-659)|
KEEBLE, MP AND
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
640. I am talking about anywhere where a regeneration
initiative is announced, everyone thinks, that is a really good
idea, I will get my discount and use the government subsidy. Instead
of it going to improving housing for the community I will get
a discount as an individual, sell it in two years' time and the
housing stock has not improved.
(Ms Keeble) I have to say that the one area where
that particular issue has been raised has been the Ocean Estate.
I have not had that one raised elsewhere.
641. Oona King wants a solution to the Ocean
Estate, which the Committee had a look at and were appalled by
(Ms Keeble) I understand that. We are not looking
again at the right-to-buy. We would have to look with Tower Hamlets
at what the other options would be for renewing that estate. We
are not looking at suspending the right-to-buy.
642. Choice based lettings, is the result that
the most difficult tenants become concentrated in the worst areas?
(Ms Keeble) No, I would not have thought so. The entire
aim of choice based lettings is to make sure that all people,
all housing tenants in the social sector have more choice about
where they live. That would mean that it is not just the people
who can wait longest to see what is on offer, that should also
apply to people who are coming up through the homelessness procedure.
643. Do you think the policies, powers and funding
streams currently available to you are sufficiently flexible to
take account of volatile housing markets where things rapidly
change? You spoke about a housing market rapidly collapsing, what
do you think should be done to identify neighbourhoods on the
brink of that collapse to stop them slipping into decline?
(Ms Keeble) There has been some work done in particular
areas to find ways of making very fast intervention. On the wider
question, have we got all of the mechanisms in place, I think
the one issue that we need to really deal with is the one of the
Market Renewal Fund.
644. When you talk about the fast intervention
what in government terms is fast?
(Ms Keeble) That is really about seeing when one property
in a street has been empty for period of time and making sure
that there is tenant in it quickly before that spreads.
645. What do you mean by quickly, a couple of
weeks or a couple of months?
(Ms Keeble) I would put it in months.
646. How many months then?
(Ms Keeble) I do not want to be drawn into months.
If you are talking about letting a property you have to repair
the property, bring it back to
647. The reason I am pressing you is there are
some evidence that suddenly the skids go under a neighbourhood
and it goes down very quickly and therefore you need rapid intervention.
What I was looking for from you was some assurance that when you
were talking about fast a local authority could get action within
two or to months otherwise it is going to take too long and the
problem just gets bigger and bigger.
(Ms Keeble) Yes. I would say months. Can I just say
on that, if you are talking about skids going under a particular
neighbourhood and it going into decline, there are quite a lot
of measures which are in place now, or which are coming into place,
which would help deal with that and should help stop that very
quick deterioration. For example, once we get the licensing for
private sector landlords I am sure that that will help. I think
also the arrangements for the neighbourhood wardens, street wardens
will also help, because they act as an early warning system for
problems in the area and they deal also with some of the dereliction,
which is the first sign of an area going seriously into decline.
We have also produced guidance for fast tracking and the eviction
of problem tenants. There are quite a few extra mechanisms that
local authorities can actually use to help to manage estates more
effectively and help to stop that very sudden collapse that you
can see in an area. I take your point that no one might see it
coming, but I would also argue that in some instances the early
warning signs are there.
648. Can I continue on this theme and ask you
whether in the main you feel the problem is problem landlords
or problem tenants?
(Ms Keeble) I think it is both. The reason why the
problem landlords are problem landlords is because by and large
what they are doing is they are buying up houses which have virtually
no capital value, they are buying them up for a few thousand pounds,
and they are buying because of their housing benefit valueI
think the term is benefit harvestingthey are simply using
the income stream from the housing benefit and they are letting
to people who have sometimes been evicted from council properties
for anti-social behaviour. You have bad landlords who do not manage
their properties letting to very difficult tenants, that is when
you get the real disasters.
649. Do you feel then that the Rent Service
is culpable because after all it is the Rent Service that allowed
these high rents to be accepted for housing benefit purposes in
slump properties in many cases?
(Ms Keeble) I have to say I would not blame the Rent
Service for that. If you are looking at somebody who has bought
a house, and you have probably heard the information as much as
I have, for a few thousand pounds the amount of money that they
get in for housing benefit is going to cover the cost.
650. We heard that, you go down the pub, you
buy it and you recoup that value within six months.
(Ms Keeble) I do not think that is a Rent Service
problem. That is entirely a problem of people spotting an easy
way to make money, which is that you buy up cheap properties and
you let them to people who then get housing benefit.
651. Surely if you buy a house for £4,000
you should not be able to claim that the economic rent for that
property is £80 a week and the Rent Service approve it, should
(Ms Keeble) For the kind of prices that people are
buying properties for they can let at virtually any price. I do
not think that you can shift the problem off on to the Rent Service.
The problem seems to me to lie fair and square with people who
are using a loophole to make a very lucrative living. The way
to deal with it is through the licensing of private sector landlords,
which is what we consulted about and what we are hoping to legislate
for, because that would link the payment of housing benefit, and
this is one of the issues that is raised in the consultation document,
the payment of housing benefit to the type of management services
and to the way that the landlord manages property, so if they
do not manage the property properly and they are completely irresponsible
as landlords they would not be able to get housing benefit.
652. I was just curious about the difficult
tenants, if you come down too hard on landlords where will these
difficult tenants live?
(Ms Keeble) Of course there is an issue about where
people live but the point is that the landlords should not simply
be putting people with profound difficulties into a particular
area and then leaving them without any support or any form of
management at all. Of course people have to live somewhere but
the properties also have to be managed and the landlord has to
take some responsibility for the way in which he organises and
supports a whole range of properties.
653. That is not quite right, the problem is
you can have a problem family that will begin the whole process
of decline in an area. At least in this case that we discussed
now the landlords are responsible for the ownership of the area,
so they are fulfilling quite a useful function, I am sure you
(Ms Keeble) I do not think in the cases where you
see the decline of areas because of this type of landlordism,
it is not the case that you have a road and one person in it and
everyone else is an owner-occupier. What you have are streets
where people are moving out, for all of the reasons we have talked
about because of low demand, and then you have whole streets being
bought up or large numbers of properties and then quite substantial
numbers of anti-social tenants being placed into those properties.
I think it is a fairly well recognised cycle of decline that is
affecting particular areas of the North. I have to say that I
think the real route into it is through private landlord licensing
and the link with that through then to housing benefit.
654. When will that happen?
(Ms Keeble) The consultation is out now.
655. When will it happen?
(Ms Keeble) We would hope to be able to get something
in the Queen's speech, obviously we cannot make a commitment on
656. If it was in the Queen's speech next year
it could be implemented in another 12 months after that?
(Ms Keeble) Yes.
657. Policy Action Team segment came up with
this idea that in low demand areas local authorities should have
a development strategy, was one of these strategies one that was
on the bonfire yesterday?
(Ms Keeble) Local authorities are expected to have
quite a number of different strategies, one is a community strategy.
We are now asking them specifically about empty properties.
658. This is strategy that is to stay. Are you
happy that the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Housing Regeneration
Companies and the Urban Regeneration Companies are all tied into
(Ms Keeble) If you mean are they working together
properly, I am sure you can point to areas where they are not
but I would say that increasingly in the areas that we have seen
the different measures that the government is making to ensure
that they are working together are working and it is happening.
659. Do you have the Home Office on board? There
is some evidence that in placing asylum seekers there is distorting
in the market in some of these low demand areas?
(Ms Keeble) We are working closely with the Home Office
in quite a number of different areas.