Ban on tenant fees, including admin and agency fees: Tenant Fees Act (2019)

The Tenant Fees Act will come into force on 1st June 2019.

From 1st June, all tenant payments will be banned by default unless the Act specifically permits them. .

Summary :

  • tenancy deposits limited to 5 weeks’ rent
  • holding deposits limited to 1 week’s rent

landlords Face fines of £5,000 for first offence (civil) to £30,000 for second offence (criminal)

What’s in the Act?

Here are the key new rules contained in the Act.

1. All Payments Prohibited Except Rent, Deposits and Three Exceptions

Landlords or their agents will no longer be allowed to charge tenants for anything except: the rent, the tenancy deposit and a holding deposit (more on these below).

This means you will no longer be allowed to ask tenants to cover the cost of their own referencing. You also won’t be able to charge check-in, inventory or admin fees.

2. The 3 Exemptions

The only exceptions are for contract amendments and two kinds of ‘default’ fees, when the tenancy agreement is broken.

(a) Late Rent Fees

Landlords can still charge fees for rent payments that are over 2 weeks late, these are a maximum of 3% plus the Bank of England base interest rate on an annual basis.

(b) Lost Keys

Landlords can still charge tenants for losing their keys (or other security device if your property is high-tech),  they should provide evidence of the cost to you.

Remember, both default fees will need to be included in the tenancy agreement for you to be able to charge them, and previous rules about fair clauses will still apply.

(c) Changes to Tenancy

Landlords can charge up to £50 for making changes to the terms of the tenancy. For example, adding a new tenant to the tenancy or allowing a pet. This exception does not apply to renewals or changes to the length of the tenancy.

3. Cap on Tenancy Deposits

Tenancy or security deposits will be limited to 5 weeks’ rent for annuals rents under £50,000.

4. Cap on Holding Deposits

Likewise, holding deposits will be limited to 1 week’s rent.

5. New Rules on Holding Deposits

The holding deposit must be returned to the tenant: either in payment back to the tenant, or being put towards the first rental payment, or the security deposit.

There are some exceptions. In these cases the landlord can keep the holding deposits:

  • The tenant withdraws
  • The tenant doesn’t take all reasonable steps to enter the tenancy
  • The tenant fails a right to rent check
  • The tenant provides misleading information which materially affects their suitability to rent the property

6. Repayment of Holding Deposits

Landlords will only be able to hold the holding deposit for 15 days unless another ‘deadline’ date is agree in writing.
After the deadline, the holding deposit must be repaid within 7 days according to the above rules (see 5).

Hold my deposit with care please!

The holding deposit can be repaid to the tenant, or it can be put towards the rent or tenancy deposit.

What Are the Penalties to Landlords Who Charge Tenant Fees?

Landlord (or agents) who charge illegal fees will face paying huge fines : £5,000. If the offence is repeated within five years, there would be either a criminal offence or a fine of £30,000.

Local Trading Standards organisations will enforce the ban.

The rules will apply to all existing tenancies from 1st June 2020. So If this tenancy runs past 1st June 2020, then  the new laws apply  ie the deposit needs be less than the maximum five weeks’ rent before that date. You should get the excess back

The following is can still be charged as Part of the Rent?

  • Council tax
  • Utilities, e.g. gas, water, electricity
  • Television license
  • Communication services (e.g. broadband)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sting tenancies from 1st June 2020. So If this tenancy runs past 1st June 2020, then  the new laws apply  ie the deposit needs be less than the maximum five weeks’ rent before that date. You should get the excess back

The following is can still be charged as Part of the Rent?

  • Council tax
  • Utilities, e.g. gas, water, electricity
  • Television license
  • Communication services (e.g. broadband)

Do you have a younger Partner ? Protect your Right to Pension Credit.

From 15/5/2019, mixed-age couples will be excluded from entitlement to Pension Credit.
At present, and until that date, mixed aged couples can claim the more generous Pension Credit as long as the member of the couple above retirement age makes the claim. They can also claim Housing Benefit(without the Benefit Cap or the bedroom tax) rather than Universal Credit. There are no extra elements for being a pensioner under Universal Credit, making clients worse off.

Clients who claim either Pension Credit or Housing Benefit, before this date will remain on those benefits for as long as they are still entitled. They would also be able to claim the other benefit in the future as well.

As both these benefits can be backdated for 3 months, then in effect couples may be able to make claims under the existing rules on or before 13/8/2019. DWP guidance confirms this.   The guidance also confirms that if a couple are entitled to Pension Credit/ the more generous form of Housing Benefit on 15/5/2019, they can continue to be entitled as long the conditions for at least one of those benefits remain met.

AGE UK warn this could leave some couples £7,000 per year worse off. Advisers should consider looking out for clients who might be entitled and advise them to make a claim for Pension Credit/ Housing Benefit now.

DWP research predicts- how couples are affected.

Year            No.of couples Savings
2019/20     15,000                      £45m
2020/21     30,000                     £130m
2021/22     40,000                     £220m
2022/23     50,000                     £315m
2023/24     60,000                     £385m

Protect your pension rights. If you currently receive pension credit (or start receiving it by 14 May) you’ll carry on getting it even if you have a younger partner.
Call the Pension Service on 0800 99 1234  or claim on line or if you live locally contact us for more help.

The importance of treating housing costs as priority debts. Effective debt advice prevents homelessness.

By Alan Murdie

It is over 10 years since Nucleus took the decision to specialise in debt advice, ahead of financial crisis of 2008 (then known as the ‘credit crunch’). Traditionally, housing was one of the key areas of the work for Nucleus, and over this last decade we have seen it evolve into an area of debt law where money advice is an integral part of the support and services provided to prevent homelessness.

Housing debt….top of the list and the bottom line

Debt is a multi-headed beast that blights lives of many in the UK. Its most serious effects arise when it causes homelessness, directly or indirectly.
As any money adviser worth their salt will state, housing costs – rent and mortgage payments – are the top priority which must be paid ahead of any other liability. Housing costs are the most important ones to meet. Falling into debt with these will put your home at risk. And if the roof above your head is lost all other debts and liabilities become irrelevant.

Advice that needs repeating
Although this may seem obvious, this is a lesson that needs repeating.
It’s not always grasped because losing your home appears initially to be a long drawn out process but one that progressively speeds up. Easy to miss a rent or mortgage instalment when stressed or ill, undergoing a family trauma or a relationship break-up. Unfortunately, housing debts soon increase, just as a car speeds up like a car careering down a hill. Putting a brake on this process and getting the
vehicle into reverse is what effective debt and housing advice seeks to do, to prevent the otherwise inevitable crash in the form of a possession order or eviction.
The bottom line is housing costs need to be paid first ahead of other debts.
….And creditors need to realise this too

It is a message that needs to be realised more widely, and not just those in debt. Creditors, both private sector and governmental need to recognise this too. One reason why people miss out on meeting housing costs and debts is often that they are being pressurised into making other payments – what debt advisers identify as ‘non-priority’ debts.

The message needs to get across to government departments, council tax collectors, fuel companies, credit controllers and debt collectors large and small that chasing non-priority debts too harshly may end up causing homelessness through mortgage or rent areas, with end result that they get no money back either.
The better-informed creditors and branches of local government realise this, as do the more responsible financial institutions, and some are taking positive steps. But the lesson does need to keep filtering down the lower levels of many organisations who communicate directly with debtors and ourselves when acting on behalf of our clients.
Misunderstanding of the debt law and procedures and often unthinking assumptions and even prejudice against debtors is still surprisingly widespread. Tackling these are among the many goals of Nucleus and Ealing Advice with our work in this vital sector in 2019.

Economy Energy, an energy supplier with about 235,000 domestic customers, has ceased to trade.

Ofgem’s advice to Economy Energy’s customers in the meantime is:

  • Do not switch to another energy supplier.
  • Take a meter reading ready for when your new supplier contacts you.

For more info go to the Ofgem website

I’m pregnant and my employer has dismissed me for misconduct. What can I do?

An employer can fairly dismiss a pregnant employee for gross misconduct, e.g. theft or violence, but they must show there is reasonable evidence of guilt, dismissal is a reasonable sanction for the misconduct in question and the procedure is fair.

However, if you can show that the decision to dismiss you was significantly influenced by your pregnancy, you can bring a claim in the employment tribunal for pregnancy discrimination and also possibly automatically unfair dismissal.

You would have to prove facts from which the tribunal could decide, in the absence of an explanation from your employer, that you were dismissed because of your pregnancy.

Employers rarely admit racist thinking.  You may have to build up a dossier of facts which, taken together, are sufficient to show that your pregnancy could have been the reason for your dismissal.

Such facts could include:

  1. Discriminatory comments made by your employer about you or other pregnant employees.
  2. Suspicious timing – was the dismissal shortly after you announced you were pregnant?
  3. Did your employer follow their normal disciplinary procedure? g. Did they normally carry out an investigation but they didn’t in your case?
  4. Was the dismissal unreasonable in the circumstances? E.g. Was there clearly insufficient evidence of your alleged misconduct? Was the misconduct so minor that dismissal was clearly an unreasonable sanction?
  5. Were there any non-pregnant employees who committed the same misconduct but were not dismissed?
  6. Evidence of your employer’s treatment of other pregnant employees. How many pregnant employees do they employ?  Have they dismissed other pregnant employees?
  7. Failure of your employer to give their managers equal opportunities training.

Nucleus specialising in helping with discrimination cases, if you have submitted a claim already or have been dismissed in the last 3 months ring us.

How to tackle Fuel Poverty.

We see more people than ever being in a situation where they are unable to pay their fuel bills as in the case below show. Fuel now takes up quite a high proportion of household expences – its nearly 12 % of all households.  For private tenants is a lot higher : 19% of households.

Amy is  a single parent with mental health issue, who was  on ESA HB CHB CTC and CTS  she had huge  fuel bills  and was being asked to make huge repayment or have a  prepayment meter, or money deducted from her  benefits

She was willing to make affordable repayments, but not the huge amount that was being asked for by the Fuel provider. Amy did not want any of the strategies offered, as she wanted to be able to make payment for her current usage plus something off the arrears, which would help her with budgeting.

We helped her to negotiate affordable repayment. Once the repayments were in place her adviser applied for a charitable grant which was successful and a debt of £1942.00 was written off.

Most of the big 5 fuel providers have charitable grant available to help people in need, but they will try to get the arrears paid off within the year, but you should only offer payments that are affordable for you Shopping for a better energy deal and switching tariff or energy supplier can make a big difference to your bills – around £300 a year.  You can save money and get the best deals.(see “Ofgem explain your energy bill”)

More guides on energy bills

Universal Credit is coming…..

Universal Credit (UC) is gradually being rolled out nationally and will be in full service soon. This means that all new claimants will have to claim UC rather than the legacy benefits of ESA, JSA and housing benefit.

If a claimant is living in supported housing or in temporary housing (effective from April 2018) housing benefit will be paid to cover the rent. If claiming UC it is important to remember to claim council tax reduction from your relevant local authority you live in.
If you receive a decision that your ESA has stopped due to failing the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), it is important to obtain advice before claiming UC. Once you claim UC you cannot return to legacy benefits unless you move to an area that is not a UC full service area.

What makes up UC?

Stella claimed Universal Credit (UC) as she could no longer work due to ill health.

However she approached Nucleus when she received a decision from DWP that she is fit for work despite having doctors’ letters stating she has complex health conditions preventing her from working.

Her first step would be to request the DWP to reconsider the decision, known as a mandatory reconsideration (MR).

The decision wasn’t changed and we assisted client to appeal to the Tribunal Service. She had a benefit cap applied to her UC award that reduced her basic UC award of £317.82 a month to £207.

The cap would be lifted if her appeal is upheld and she’s awarded LCWRA (equivalent to the support group of ESA). Happily her UC appeal was upheld with the LCWRA which will be backdated to the date she claimed UC.

New Regulations To Help Tackling Overcrowding (…but for HMOs only!)

vercrowding  in England

Levels of overcrowding in London are more than twice as high as the rest of England for every tenure ( but it’s worst for tenants).

In England: 

  • 1% of owner occupier households are over crowded,
  • 3 % of private tenants are living in overcrowded  housing and in Social housing
  • 4% are living in over crowded house holds

Over Crowding In London :

  • 3% of owner occupier households are over crowded,
  • 11% of private tenants are living in overcrowded  housing and in Social housing
  • 13% are living in over crowded house holds

Houses in Multiple occupation.

Londoners have it tough, with house and rental prices spiralling over the past decade, HMOs (home of multiple occupancy) have become a popular choice for the young single people and couples.

London has 40% of the country’s total HMO tenancies.

It is often the cheapest form of housing available to people and can have a reputation of being a bit “scuzzy”   and the choice of poeple with no other choice.  But most working people in London living on their won live in a HMO.The biggest complaint is small hutch like units as developers try and sqeeze and squash in as many in a building as possible.The New regulations, which came in on 1.10.18 may just start  to tackle the biggest problem.

  • Bedrooms must not fall below a minimum room size(6.52 sqm for one person and 10.23 sq. m for two persons). Only rooms that meet the minimum room sizes  can now be occupied for sleeping in in a licensed HMO, whether the room is in a shared house or is a bedsit.
  • he definition of an HMO : for licensing purposes, from 1/10/18 , will be ” any property occupied by five or more people, forming two or more separate households” and must be licenced by the local authority .
  • new minimum /standards/ numbers of bins and storage facilities for waste  to be setWe think that as the biggest change will be  that rooms  under 4.64 sqm cannot be used for sleeping ( plus the fact that any  floor area under a height standard of 1.5m is not included in the calculation.) will have the biggest change. Council can make it better Local councils   can  also apply further conditions to licence HMO local IE  building on the minimum room sizes, amenity standards (kitchen facilities, number of bathrooms etc)  the standard of HMO accommodation may , at long last , improve.
    We think that LA need to set the agenda for higher standards – they have the power to demand higher standards and should do so  for the benefit of local residents. Rogue landlords often try and cram as many bedsit units in as possible to maximise their rental income. This has been standard pratice in central London.We hope local councillors will aim to set higher standard local : they have the power. If you think people in bedsits need more room than 1 single bed plus a coffee table please do rise this with local councillors

If the above effects you please do ring us on 02073734005

Justice week

Nucleus was pleased to  support the first ever Bar Justice week at the beginning of November. Highlights of the week were 25 events inside and outside of Parliament, the issue of eight specialist reports (‘The Justice Papers’) a petition to extend legal aid and the release of a short film. All made the case for free and affordable legal services for the public at a time of unparalleled demand in many areas of advice work.

Now provision is only available to a small minority and the majority of defendants in the County Court have no representation at all, having to struggle with the complex provisions of the rules of the CPR and The County Court Practice (known as The Green Book) by themselves. Faced by the power and resources of financial institutions, utility companies, state agencies and local authorities many defendants are unable to adequately present their case and defend themselves.

Legal aid and funding for social welfare law : law which affects the poorest and most vulnerable has had a huge effect on people.
Locally, we  can only take 1/4 of the benefits cases to tribunal compared with 8 years ago.
With family , directly due to cuts in legal aid and private provision, demand for help has risen form the 15th most common query to the 5th in the  last 8 years.

A short film   Justice cuts: the stories behind the numbers has been released highlighting the issues:

Nucleus can confirm the lack of legal aid is particularly acute in debt and money advice work and despite the huge increase in debt and enforcement proceedings in England and Wales since 1990;  full legal aid provision has never covered many common debt problems and has now been removed from many housing and benefit cases entirely.

These views are backed by an academic study. Justice Week promoted the findings of   Professor Martin Chalkley for the Bar Council revealing that justice funding has been cut by 27 per cent in real terms over the last 10 years as public spending actually grew by 13 per cent. Nucleus re-organised itself over this period in 2007 to specialise in money and debt advice but nonetheless experienced directly the effects of the major cuts of 2008-2011 in legal aid funding for housing, welfare and administrative law, a process continued in 2014-16.
https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/688940/funding_for_justice-_the_last_10_years_version_-_professor_martin_chalkley.pdf

The impact across the justice system is revealed further in The  Justice Papers written by practising barristers and workers in charities, a series subtitled ‘At the sharp end of the cuts’.

To read five of the Justice Papers published in Justice Week giving personal insights on the issues:

 

See: https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media-centre/the-justice-papers

Further discussion of the issues with take place at the Bar and Young Bar conference in London on 24th November 2018.

 

 

 

London Legal Walk 2018

A big thanks to all of the fantastic walkers,  trustees, staff and volunteers  who joined  13,000  other walkers from  over 750 teams to help raise funds for legal advice centres across the south east.

Left to right : Zee, Roy, Jose, Jan, Pat,Iliyana, Abu  and Baljit ( behind the camera).
To sponsor  any of them  click here

Funding from local and central government as been cut between 40% and 85% for most areas of work. We work with the most vulnerable often when they are at their lowest. We help with access to benefits , employment rights, housing and indebtedness.
Most of the cuts have been to prevention work – providing people with the right advice at the right time to promote independence and self reliance to get back on their own two feet.

Who is it all for?

Why We Walk Graphic