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John
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Fears welfare reforms will increase fast-track evictions<

Landlords will fast-track possession claims using ‘draconian’ legal measures to defend their businesses against the impact of welfare reform, the government was warned this week.

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Homelessness charity Shelter, the National Housing Federation and legal experts warned housing associations are already drawing up plans to use mandatory orders for possession much more often in order to protect their rental income as more tenants fall into rent arrears.

An anonymous survey conducted by Inside Housing of England’s largest 25 housing associations revealed seven of the 20 respondents are more likely to use or are reviewing their use of rarely used ‘ground eight’ orders.

Under the orders courts must grant permission to evict a tenant in arrears of just eight weeks or more, unless tenants can prove it would breach their human rights.

According to Jonathan Hulley, partner at law firm Clarke Willmott, ground eight orders are viewed as ‘draconian’ by landlords and therefore used only as a last resort.

GROUND_EIGHT

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A Home Group spokesperson said in the past five years the organisation had used just three ground eight orders across the 15,000 homes it manages in the north east and Yorkshire and Humber.

Most landlords use grounds 10 and 11 of the Housing Act 1988, which are more ‘discretionary’ and rely on a court case instead of an order.

The poll revealed three associations, which did not wish to be named, are more likely to use ground eight from 2013 as welfare reforms kick in. A further four said their policy was being reviewed, and the remaining 13 respondents said they would not be more likely to use ground eight.

Landlords are braced for the impact of benefit reforms, which from April 2013 will see up to 670,000 tenants in under-occupied properties have their benefit cut by up to 25 per cent. Local housing allowances have been capped affecting tenants in London where market rents are disproportionately high, and landlords will no longer be paid benefits directly under the universal credit.

John Gallagher, of Shelter Legal Services, warned ground eight orders could become a ‘first resort’ under increasing financial pressures. ‘Larger associations will probably use ground eight, and if other organisations see them doing this there will be pressure from investors or management to follow suit.’

John Bryant, policy leader at the National Housing Federation, said a shift towards using ground eight is already under way and would be ‘aggravated’ by welfare reforms.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: ‘[The threat of increasing arrears] is why we have announced five demonstration projects from June to see how we can protect landlords income.’

Inside Housing’s What’s the Benefit? campaign argued for more equitable welfare reform.

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The Department for Work and Pensions is inviting councils to take part in pilot schemes to support benefit claimants ahead of the roll out of universal credit.

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The government is replacing a host of benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit, with one payment from October 2013.

The DWP and the Local Government Association have jointly issued a prospectus for councils wanting to take part in pilot projects to help residents make claims under the new system, which will eventually be delivered through an online IT system.

The 12 pilots, due to start this autumn, will focus on encouraging claimants to access online support independently, improve their money management and reducing fraud and error. Further pilots covering councils’ long-term role in the delivery of universal credit will be announced next year.

Lord David Freud, welfare reform minister, said: ‘Local authorities will have a role in supporting residents to claim universal credit and these pilots create an opportunity for councils to be at the forefront of shaping that role working with DWP and other partners.

‘Universal credit is a radical reform and we expect strong bids from councils working with local groups to help people access online services and to encourage financial independence.’

Councils have until 18 May to apply to take part in the pilots. Decisions about which authorities have been successful will be made in July.

Separate pilot schemes, to test the direct payment of benefit to claimants, have already been announced< by the DWP. The year-long pilot projects, due to start in June, will test how direct payment can work while protecting landlords’ income.

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/ihstory.aspx?storycode=6521645<

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