- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Changes to the benefits system will hit low-income households and penalise those living in private rented housing in Pembrokeshire. That is the view of Labour Assembly Member Joyce Watson.
In Assembly question time on Tuesday (8 November), the Haverfordwest-based member for Mid and West Wales warned that the UK government’s proposals for welfare reform could lead to more people being driven into debt, falling into arrears or losing their home. She urged the First Minister to ensure local councils work with private landlords to limit evictions.
Pembrokeshire Council currently has 4,252 households on its housing register, out of 91,000 people across Wales, and between April and September this year, 332 homeless applications were registered in the county. Last year 1,260 households were accepted as homeless in Wales following the loss of their rented or tied accommodation. Meanwhile, the average age of first-time buyers has risen to 37.
According to housing organisation Community Housing Cymru, 31 percent of people receiving Housing Benefit in Wales live in private rented accommodation.
In a recent Assembly debate (18 October), Mrs Watson called on the Welsh Government to change tenants and landlords’ rights, to make sure people are treated fairly. She said the government should act now as the private rented sector will become more central to meeting Wales’ housing need in coming years, due to social housing shortages, the decline in home ownership and a continuation of restricted mortgage lending.
“Councils have the power to tackle bad landlords once tenants complain, but many tenants don’t complain because they fear being evicted or don’t know who to turn to,” Mrs Watson suggested. She continued: “I recently urged our Housing Minister to improve tenants’ rights and crack down on rogue landlords, and I was encouraged by his response. I asked for greater protection for tenants who make complaints and for consumer information to help tenants avoid bad landlords – and encourage good ones.
“A simplified consumer contract between tenant and landlord would help them both have a better understanding of their rights and obligations”.
Mrs Watson went on to say accreditation schemes, which reward landlords who manage their properties well, are a good way for councils to engage with landlords and help tenants.
Housing charity Shelter Cymru say they disproportionately deal with problems – harassment by landlords, dampness, overcrowding, affordability, disputes over tenancy terms – on behalf of private tenants. The private rented sector accounts for 12 per cent of Welsh housing, yet those tenants are almost 30 per cent of Shelter Cymru’s client base.
The Welsh Government plans to introduce a Housing Bill to improve standards of management and property conditions in the private rented sector, to be published before 2015.
Mrs Watson said she will continue to raise these issues in the Assembly Communities and Local Government Committee.