Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Stonewall Housing

1.0 Executive Summary

1.1 Stonewall Housing believes that the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into the Private Rented Sector should take time to consider how well the private rented sector (landlords and agents) meets the particular needs of those with protected characteristics.

1.2 More and more people will be reliant on the private rented sector as social housing supply becomes more limited. Poor access to advice, limited affordable options and badly managed properties may mean those with protected characteristics will be forced to live in unsafe, insecure housing which will have a detrimental affect on their health and future prospects.

1.3 There should be more regulation of the private rented sector which includes considerations for disadvantaged groups in order to drive up standards, ensure high quality management and keep rents low.

1.4 Local authorities who refer to the private sector, private landlords and their representative bodies need to work more closely with the voluntary sector to become more aware of issues faced by LGBT people and ensure easy access to the best advice and high quality, safe housing, where people can receive support where necessary; then promote best practices to the widest audience.

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Stonewall Housing provides advocacy, advice and housing support, and influences housing policy and practice, in order to improve the lives of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

2.2 1,200 people approached Stonewall Housing last year. 2/3 stated that their housing problem was directly related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 33% experienced domestic abuse. 44% experienced harassment.

2.3 Sexual orientation and gender identity are core to someone’s identity and unfortunately LGBT people face harassment and abuse because of these characteristics, at times from those they are living with. LGBT people need to find safe, affordable housing that will be secure. For more and more this will be in the private rented sector, especially since local authorities are discharging their duty to house people in need using the private rented sector.

2.4 It is vital that LGBT people feel safe, secure and can afford private rented housing or their situations will become worse, their health, care and support needs will not be met, they may require more expensive interventions in the future and they will fail to reach their full potential: missing out on education or employment opportunities because of poor housing experiences.

3.0 Information

3.1 AFFORDABILITY: Private rented tenants who approach Stonewall Housing for advice are more likely to be in full-time employment compared to other tenures. However, 41% felt insecure and/or faced eviction from their accommodation and 32% could no longer afford their rent. We expect these numbers to grow as the welfare benefit and housing reforms take hold.

3.2 ACCESSIBILITY: LGBT people come to Stonewall Housing for advice and support because they need suitable accommodation as well as urgent, safe accommodation. They need access to advice about housing options and support to make their housing a success. Some LGBT people are nervous about contacting or coming out to mainstream agencies because they fear their situation may not be fully understood or they may face homophobic, biphobic or transphobic attitudes. LGBT people should have the choice to access advice and support given by agencies run by and for their communities.

3.3 Stonewall Housing was fortunate to receive funding from the Tudor Trust for a Private Rented Access Project and it clearly established that some LGBT people found it difficult to access rent deposit schemes. Also, Housing Options were uncertain about the specific needs of LGBT people and some landlords were nervous about housing LGBT people in case it upset other tenants.

3.4 LGBT AWARENESS: Stonewall Housing has provided training and consultation to hundreds of individuals and businesses about LGBT housing needs over the past 4 years to improve how landlords work with LGBT people to make them feel welcome, safer and more secure. Only 3 of those who received training were private landlords or managing agents.

3.5 POOR STANDARDS: 11% of private rented tenants call us because of the poor standard of their accommodation. There needs to be a drive to improve the quality of private rented accommodation since for many they have no affordable alternative housing options. Standards are not being improved voluntarily by some landlords and many tenants are nervous about making complaints for fear of their tenancy not being renewed or that their rent will be increased.

3.6 SECURITY OF TENURE: LGBT people need more security of tenure as well as safe housing. If they are fortunate to find a location where they feel safe they should be able to spend a number of years putting down their roots and developing support networks as many may not have the support of their families or they may not approach mainstream agencies. At the same time tenancies should be flexible so that if LGBT people are experiencing harassment or abuse they can give a short notice period without being tied to their accommodation where they feel unsafe.

3.7 SAFETY/MANAGEMENT: It makes sound business sense for private landlords to attract more customers and one way they can do that is to improve how they offer their services to LGBT people. According to our statistics, there is a higher proportion of transgender people living in the private rented sector than in other tenures and if they are under 35 they may only be entitled to Shared Accommodation Rate of Housing Benefit and will need to share with others who may not understand their situation. They will be open to transphobic abuse, at a time when they most need a supportive, welcoming environment. Landlords and their letting and managing agents need to understand all of their tenant’s circumstances to ensure they feel safe and do not have to abandon their home, flee harassment or accrue arrears.

4.0 Recommendations

4.1 AFFORDABILITY: Stonewall Housing calls for a more affordable private rented sector, with more accessible rent deposit schemes and rent controls if possible. Also, more landlords should be encouraged and supported to accept those receiving benefits.

4.2 ACCESSIBILITY: LGBT people, even those with no support needs, may require targeted advice and support in order for them to sustain their tenancies. Needs and risk assessments should be carried out with a particular focus on sexual orientation and gender identity so that they can be matched with appropriate housing and services. Stonewall Housing has been successfully supporting a number of LGBT people in the private rented sector through the East London Housing Partnership’s Single Homelessness Project over the past year. Some have needed advice about liaising with landlords about disrepair issues, welfare benefits and budgeting while others have needed support around issues specific to their sexual orientation and gender identity, such as addressing harassment from neighbours and dealing with inappropriate language used by agents. LGBT private tenants have also benefited from assistance to develop networks to support each other.

4.3 Local authority commissioners and housing departments should recognise the specific needs of equality groups and ensure rent deposit schemes, housing advice and support services meet the needs of those with protected characteristics in all tenures.

4.3 LGBT AWARENESS: Stonewall Housing has provided training and consultation to hundreds of individuals and businesses about LGBT housing needs over the past 4 years to improve how landlords work with LGBT people to make them feel welcome, safer and more secure. Only 3 of those who received training were private landlords or managing agents. More landlords and their agents should make use of available training and guidance to make them more aware of LGBT issues and build links with groups such as Stonewall Housing who can act as advocates for particular communities.

4.4 REGULATION: Stonewall Housing calls for more regulation of the private rented sector to cover quality and management issues, though doubts this will be seen as realistic in the current “light touch” approach to other housing providers. A licence or accreditation scheme, even if it is voluntary, should incorporate equality issues. Private landlord representative bodies should support the development of a charter mark to make it clear to LGBT people that landlords or agents welcome LGBT people and take harassment seriously. Landlords and their agents should actively promote their services to the LGBT communities with positive images and policies.

4.5 Not all landlords will comply and there will continue to be “rogue landlords” who charge the lowest rents for substandard, badly managed properties. Stonewall Housing works with other partners such as Shelter, Housing Quality Network and Chartered Institute of Housing to drive up standards and promote good practice within the social housing sector. Similarly, private sector landlords, their representative bodies and local authorities should cooperate with such agencies to ensure private rented housing is safe, secure and affordable for people with protected characteristics.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013