After being alerted by a local charity, Westminster Labour Councillors have written to social housing landlord Network Stadium to investigate reports that all their tenants, including those whose rent is paid or partly-paid by Housing Benefit, have received letters saying that from now on they are required to pay their rent ‘in advance’, threatening legal proceedings that could lead to eviction if they do not comply.
Network Stadium have confirmed that over the last year they have insisted that their tenants change to paying their rent in advance, saying they have been making arrangements with them to pay ‘as little as £3.65 per week’ to bring their accounts into the necessary amount of credit, to mimic a deposit. While saying that eviction would be a last resort, Stadium has confirmed that they will take legal proceedings against tenants who are not making these regular payments.
Labour Councillors say that those tenants receiving Housing Benefit, payments are made four weeks ‘in arrears’ – i.e. after the rent is due. The Government does not allow HB payments to be paid ‘in advance’, so this means those families in Network Stadium accommodation who rely on housing benefit will have to find this extra money from somewhere else. Given that the most vulnerable families who are being asked to find nearly £200 a year will have extremely limited alternative sources of income, this will put huge pressure on already hard-pressed residents.
While Network Stadium claim that this change is compliant with the legal letter of their tenancies, it will take families whose tenancies are supported by Housing Benefit several years to move from paying four weeks in arrears to paying in advance. In the event that a Network Stadium resident was unable to pay and was evicted, Westminster Council would have to accommodate them as homeless.
Councillor Adam Hug, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, said:
‘Network Stadium’s punitive policy means that some of the most vulnerable families in Westminster will have to find at least an extra £190 a year over several years from incomes they may not have, to prevent the risk of being evicted from their homes. It is very depressing that a social landlord should treat their residents like this.”
“We have called on Network Stadium to stop this bullying behaviour and reverse this policy. We have asked Westminster Council, who place families with Network Stadium and partner with them on new developments, to exert pressure on them to start playing fair by our residents.’