Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt tries to inspect a house so dirty the police called the Housing Enforcers.
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The law says everyone has the right to a safe place to live.
This isn't about you, this is to do with the building.
But for thousands of people across Britain, the reality can be
more hovel than home.
The landlord's got concerns. He would be worried about fire risks.
In the battle between tenants and landlords,
it's local housing officers who are on the front line.
You can't start blaming the ills of society on the landlords. Do you know what I mean?
I'm Matt Allwright and I've been training hard,
ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.
Show me your rat holes.
Oh, my God, look!
'Tackling problem properties.'
They had to go through a whole winter with it like that.
There is fresh rat droppings down here.
'Dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours.'
-What was it that happened?
And everything in between.
I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.
-You like the big house?
Can you stop filming and leave my house?
OK, we're being asked to leave. We'll leave.
Today, we're trying to inspect a property,
but gaining access is proving easier said than done.
Any desire you might have to put this house right,
you're saying you're struggling to get in there to actually do the work.
Yeah, it is very difficult for us, you know.
We can't go out and look at houses all the time.
Housing officer Fern faces a tough case.
It could be that he has got a few weeks to live, a few months,
and we're just trying to do everything that we can
to have a roof over his head, so that he is comfortable.
And a tenant lives in fear of what's lurking in his loo.
You sit on a toilet, doing a number two and see a rat come up.
-Now if that rat would've bit me on the
-I would've been in hospital.
An Englishman's home may well be his castle.
But if that home is owned by somebody else, well,
you may need to know where to find your local housing officer.
They are responsible for making sure that landlords live up
to their duties and obligations.
Namely providing somewhere that is safe and decent to live.
But housing officers must also make sure grievances from tenants
and landlords are handled fairly.
First off, I'm on a shift in St Helens in Merseyside
where the council deals with around 700 housing complaints every
year - with antisocial behaviour by tenants high on the list.
Working with housing officers Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt,
we're on the way to a property which has been raided by the police
and found to be in a shocking condition.
We've found with these sort of jobs,
especially the ones with police involvement as well, we don't entirely...
We don't know with any house what we're getting into until we get there,
but we don't know what we're going to face and what the tenant's
reaction is going to be to being told their tenancy's at risk.
Despite alleged antisocial behaviour, the tenant is claiming
the property is in such poor condition they now want to be rehoused.
To determine whether the ultimate responsibility for the state
of the property lies with the tenant or the landlord, of course we'll
need to take a look inside.
The police are on stand-by just in case.
What should I know about this property before we hopefully
-get in there?
-First of all, we're going to see if she lets us in.
So we're going to go ahead first, ourselves here, and then the sergeant will follow us,
cos if the police come to the door, she might not be inclined to open it.
The word is there's three adult dogs in there and we hopefully should
meet with the landlord, so he should be around as well.
As I'm just a trainee, Chrissy and Pam want me to wait
until they have checked the safety of the property.
There doesn't appear to be an answer but I can hear a lot of dogs.
KNOCKING DOGS BARK
What have got there, Pam? No response at all?
No, but there's water running, and water running down the waste.
Whether it's just a dripping tap or there's someone in the kitchen...
It's Pam Coppock from Private Sector Housing. Can you open the door?
I believe you're not too happy with conditions.
It's urgent, we need to come in.
-She's in the bath, come back in ten minutes.
-We'll wait here, OK?
Well, it was never going to be easy but it gives me
a bit of time to test my housing knowledge.
Even my novice eyes can see the property is in quite a state.
-I've already spotted a couple of things.
-The safety of the porch area.
-Looks like it's rotting. I'd ask him to remove it completely,
or, well, replace it. I think it's beyond repair, certainly not secure.
On another point of view, we're looking at the tenant's safety,
there's no gate on the front there.
There's no way to keep those dogs outside in the yard but off the street, which is what you
-want - to be able to contain them outside somewhere.
It's a tricky one - there's no doubt the landlord has some repair work
to do - but clearly the tenant's really not helping matters, either.
I just want a quick chat with you.
Give me a quick five minutes to have a chat with you.
Pam's gentle persistence pays off - the door finally opens.
You need rehousing, the conditions...
I'm on me own, it's disgusting.
OK. Well, what I'm going to is to make... You can't be rehoused without the report
saying what the conditions are, because you've got a tenancy.
Pam is desperately trying to get access to the house.
Bearing in mind Pam is trying to make
the situation inside the house better for the occupant.
She's not interested at all and she's gone back inside.
With the tenant holed up back in the house, Pam now needs to change tactics.
OK. I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.
-All right, love, you prefer it that way?
Basically, she doesn't want anybody to go into the house.
She wants to be rehoused and we have to do that defects list.
Obviously, we need to know what the condition of the house is.
They're not just going to give the tenant a house
because she says it's not fit. We have to prove it's not fit.
If it's as bad as I've been told, there are several options.
We can do the improvement notice. If it's that bad, we can do a prohibition order,
we can work with the landlord to get everything sorted.
But if we don't get in, we can't do that works.
And if we don't get in,
is she going to let the landlord in to do the work?
Well, doesn't seem to be. But the landlord...
When I spoke to the landlord yesterday,
apparently they have been trying to get in and had no success.
Well, we have the section 239 which is the power of entry notice.
And we can enforce it, we can go to court and get a warrant to go in.
I've just spoken to the landlord now and he's on his way,
so if we can hang on for a little bit and wait for him.
But the first words out of his mouth were, "I need to evict her."
Coming up - landlord Colin gets some bad news.
There's substantial damage inside that the police found when they went in,
so your property's getting absolutely wrecked.
Now if there's an issue that upsets tenants more than most,
it's animal infestations.
We're off to Tendring in Essex for a gruesome housing problem.
Tenant Martin Smith and his partner Paula are at their wits' end
after being overrun by rats.
I've got rats coming in the kitchen, I've got rats in the loft,
they're actually in the walls thereself.
At night, we can hear scratching and running across the loft.
I can't sleep properly at night
because I'm scared in case a rat comes on me.
Rogue rodents, and they are stubborn!
The landlord's sent a pest controller around to visit the property
but Martin still isn't happy
because this doesn't seem to have sorted the problem.
They've put the poisons down, they're saying to me
leave it for three weeks, then come back and bait it again.
In those three weeks, there's going to be more rats coming in.
Have I still got to live in a bungalow,
knowing I've got health problems, I've got a bad heart,
my girlfriend's got health problems, and they expect us to live in a place like this?
Understandably fed up with their infestation, Martin has
called in Tendring housing officers Grant and Ian to investigate.
Hello, from Tendring Council.
Mr Smith? Just come to look at your bits and pieces and whatever.
-How long has this been happening for?
-Now about a week.
I know this is not ideal for you because your house -
it's lovely in here - but we've got to look at it strategically
and the best way to attack it. Cos the last thing
I want is for it to be even worse to live in for you.
So I want to go and have a look round the property,
see where they're getting in, see what we can come up with,
see how the best way to attack this is.
It's thought that the UK's rat population may have doubled
in the last decade and of course rats spread diseases.
Grant and Ian need to find out where the rats are getting in. First stop, the loft.
Which Ian is enjoying a bit too much.
I want one to jump on his head - that would be excellent,
that would make my day, that would.
Don't look like a lot of movement up there, does it,
there's no evidence of any sort of droppings, what I can see.
Yeah, but you need to look in the bathroom, Grant.
Found another hole behind where your waste pipe goes through the floor,
and on the edge of this multi-quick, I've got actual visible teeth marks.
Cos normally what rats will do if they're in the drains, they'll go for light, so they'll come through
the back of these pan connectors cos they can see through them.
Looks like the rats are finding their way in wherever they can
and have the run of the place - from the very top to the very bottom.
You know, you sit on the toilet you're going a number two
and you see a rat come up.
-Now if that rat had bit me on the
I would have been in hospital.
So where predominantly do you hear them, actually?
In the kitchen, in here and all in the walls. I hear at night..
What, in the internal walls?
Yes, I hear...
-What, in there?
-In there. In the walls. I hear scratching.
Not loud, it's sort of like...
And I hear actual running across.
The team heads outside.
The presence of the rats, big gap we've got there,
is obviously an access point.
I'm trying to identify where they're potentially coming from, what
they're attracted to there and why they're getting into the property.
Maybe in some instances you may have a tenant that's feeding birds
etc, you may have areas where rats can take harbourage and live
and if you've got a food source, they'll come out.
Here, get a couple of snaps in here. Ian, can you see the bait they are in?
The big blue pasta bait, isn't it?
Yeah, the bait hasn't been taken.
What did you find under there, Ian? What's happened here, Ian?
I think that's a wooden trap, isn't it?
I actually can't see any droppings in this area, which
surprises me, I thought we would, but he has baited. I don't know.
Oh, I can see one or two little droppings there, on reflection.
Martin doesn't want to take a closer look...and I can't say I blame him.
Oh, there, yeah, that's pretty good, that.
So that's where the rats are getting in. But what's attracting them
in the first place?
Coming up - it looks like there may be a very ready supply of food
and shelter just next door.
They're picking this up and they'll pick that as well.
This sort of rubbish, they'll live amongst that under sheds.
I can't get it shifted cos I...
And I haven't got the money to get the stuff shifted.
In 2013, the social housing sector was hit by one of the most
controversial welfare reforms for a while - spare room subsidy.
It's become known as the bedroom tax and it reduced the housing
benefit of tenants considered to be under-occupying their homes.
One year on, nearly half a million households have been affected.
We're in the Borough of Stevenage, where it's
the job of housing officer Simon Nuttall
to make sure that all the households affected in his borough
know what support is available.
When it first happened, our arrears calls tripled.
It is kind of starting to peter down
as people have got used to it, but a lot of people are unaware
of the options that are available to them.
Once Simon's made contact, he assesses each tenant to find out
if they qualify for a discretionary housing payment.
I'd like to find out more about the effects of the spare room subsidy,
so I'm going to help Simon on some of his house calls...
Don't worry, I've checked. He is old enough to drive.
So you have to use your own car?
Yes, I do, I only passed my test about a month ago. If that.
-Is it rude of me to ask you how old you are?
-I am 23.
-I am nearly twice your age.
-That's all right.
It doesn't matter, because you are my boss.
-That's what counts here.
An upwards star.
'Now I really do feel like a mature student.'
I used to volunteer for the Citizens Advice Bureau before I did this.
That's where I got the bulk of my knowledge.
You kind of have this rose-tinted view of tenants
and how they are - you think that they're really hard done by.
You learned that lesson very young, if you don't mind me saying, Simon.
-That is fine.
-You're not going to get all cynical, are you?
Because you have... To do this job, presumably
you have to be motivated by wanting to do the right thing for people?
-And help people?
-Well, yes, and that is why I went for this role
because I do want to help people.
So in Stevenage, what sort of council stock have you got?
We have just over 1,000 properties in Stevenage.
Have you got any idea how many of them are under-occupied?
Yes, there are 668 at our last count who are under-occupying.
It is your job to get, well, our job to get...
-Well, yeah, our job today.
-..to get round all of them.
-If we can.
Simon is only 23. I'm roughly... I'm not quite twice his age.
But I have been previously, during the last year or two.
I have been twice his age.
He is my boss, he can tell me what to do today.
He seems to know what he is doing, anyway.
So that is a good thing.
-OK. Let's go, boss.
It's the first appointment - let see how it's done.
This doesn't bode well, does it? This is not looking brilliant.
We are bang on time as well.
So I'll give it, like, a big knock?
-Go for it, give it.
-Give it a...
Got about 400 of these left to do.
Simon is trying to get round to your houses, people of Stevenage,
to let you know how you can deal with under-occupancy.
No, no answer.
We have kind of struck out a bit.
-Feel like I have disappointed you.
I don't hold you responsible in any way.
Not a great start - so we've decided to try our luck across town
cold-calling on known under-occupiers.
I can already see it's going to be a problem.
You see, you have a few things in your favour. You are...
My charm and good looks?
You have got charm and good looks.
You're fresh, if you don't mind me saying so, fresh-faced.
-You are youthful, you've got the enthusiasm.
I have got so much against me.
-On that score.
-I think you are putting yourself down, unreasonably so.
I look like the sort of guy who is only there to deliver bad news
and to be honest that is what I have spent my career doing...
-so far, so I'm...
-A face for disaster.
A face for disaster, exactly.
I can't get any more doors slammed in my face.
I'd better get my spiel right!
So what I am planning on saying is, "Hello, we've got
"you on a list as under-occupying this property. Did you know
"there may be ways we can help you with that situation?"
-Yep, that's good.
-Let's give it a go.
Belt and braces.
'Why am I so nervous? I'm here to be nice.
'Makes a good change.'
It's all right, it looks like you're getting out of it.
-On to the next.
-'This is frustrating...they could at least make the effort to be in.
'OK, Simon can do the next one.'
Some of these situations can be very complicated.
For instance, the age of the children in a family can decide
whether their house is fully or under-occupied.
Have a lovely day. Sorry to drag you down.
So the situation there - she was on this list for under-occupancy...
-..but then it sounds like
she'd fulfilled all the criteria to have all those rooms filled.
Yes, she mentioned that she wasn't any longer, since December.
Her daughter has just turned ten.
So because she has turned ten, she wouldn't be expected to share with anyone.
So at that point, she is no longer under-occupying.
So it's not one person, one bedroom.
The rules state one bedroom should be allocated for:
Anything else is considered under-occupying.
And that's a lot tougher than I thought.
I mean, that is a busy little household there, isn't it?
So you can hardly... That doesn't look under-occupied.
-But she took it well.
You know, she could have got shirty and said, "I'm fine here." But she didn't.
Right, where are we going next?
OK, we tried.
Is that about right for your strike rate?
Ish, it is a bit hit and miss.
We do try and do evening visits where we can increase
the chances of them being in.
-Right, no answer.
'I think the people of Stevenage may be hiding from me.'
Well, Simon, you know we fought the good fight,
-we tried to bring people...
-That's all we can do.
..some good news. They chose not to be in.
I do feel a little bit like a double glazing salesman going door to door.
Maybe I'm the problem.
Coming up, Simon actually does meet a tenant
suffering from spare room subsidy woes.
I don't really know, I've got no choice.
If I don't pay, I get rent arrears
and that is when they threaten to evict me.
She has paid over £1,000 alone
so far just on under-occupation charge alone.
Keeping a roof over the head of your family can be a struggle at the best of times.
In 2013, there were 57,000 families living in temporary accommodation.
Lots of us lose our homes
and a lot of the time it's through no fault of our own.
One of the best parts of being a housing officer is to help
people out of exactly that situation.
And at Waveney Council in Suffolk, housing officer Fern Lincoln
is hosting a drop-in service to find out what each person needs.
People will come and see us for different things.
Normally would be because they are either losing their home
through rent arrears or mortgage repossession,
Perhaps a parent that is evicting their children
because they can't manage anymore.
There is a lot of people that are very vulnerable and are
actually sleeping rough and they have been sleeping rough for months.
We try and assist them as much as we can to give them
as many options as we can within our statutory obligations, to see
whether we can provide emergency accommodation for them.
Or whether we can assist by doing referrals,
offering hostel accommodation or any other available options, really.
Today, Fern's meeting 38-year-old Neil Cowell
and his family, who are facing some really difficult housing problems.
After the breakdown of his marriage, Neil had to leave his home.
He's now in temporary lodgings, which are fine,
but they are not working out for him.
I currently live in a room above a pub.
That is not really a life, it's just living in a bedroom.
We have got shared facilities.
Um, we've got a bathroom I share with three other rooms. That's it.
We've got no cooking facilities at all.
If I want to eat, I have to go down the pub and buy a meal.
It is not like a home, living there, no.
But Neil's situation is much more serious than it first appears.
Neil's always been a healthy child.
Um... Doctors was for wimps.
12 months ago, Neil's Mum Janine received a call that changed
all of their lives for ever.
His wife did ring up and tell me that he was ill.
Apparently, he started having seizures.
When he went into hospital,
they found out that he had
type 1 diabetes.
They said he was epileptic and then they gave him the bombshell -
that he had a cancerous brain tumour.
An operation to remove the tumour was partially successful,
leaving Neil with limited mobility and prone to frequent seizures.
'I don't know, I don't know when I am going to have a fit. I really don't.'
I had five blackouts over one weekend.
I did, at the pub the other night, fall down the stairs.
Neil's quality of life has been greatly affected
and his prognosis is bleak.
It's a type of tumour that creeps,
so, apparently, although they have operated on Neil...
..it has got everywhere.
It's like a vine...
..and it's...it will kill him.
Neil has struggled so far to find anywhere that is right for him to live.
Finding a home through the council could be the only hope for him and his family.
Fern really has her work cut out.
This sounds like a really complicated and sensitive case.
So you came over to Lowestoft because your mum is here,
-and she is good support to you, yeah?
We want to make sure the accommodation
we provide is suitable for your needs.
So would you prefer ground floor accommodation? Yeah.
Neil will be banded by the council from A to E.
The higher the banding, the more urgent the case.
Our medical officer will look at what banding we can give you.
And if we can get that banding reassessed to enable you to be
boosted up to a better queue position, then hopefully
you will be offered something through the register.
Once given a band, tenants are able to bid on two council-run
properties every week.
The highest banded will get first refusal.
We don't know at this stage how serious the situation is.
It could be that he has a few weeks to live, a few months.
So he's going through treatment, he has had an operation,
and we are just trying to do everything that we can
to make his life the best that we can,
to have a roof over his head so that he is comfortable
and lives near his mum for support.
To have Neil close by...
..in a safe, comfortable environment.
I think he deserves, for the little bit of life he has got...
-..to feel safe.
The best thing the council could do for me is finding me a bungalow,
one bedroom, near my mum, just to make it easy.
I don't want to be away from my mum...
at the end of the day. I feel that I need that help.
Later, we'll join Neil as he begins his search for a new home.
I think I'd be happy here. It is wicked.
It's the job of housing officers across the UK to
make sure that people have a decent place to live.
I'm really concerned about how you are living here
and I want to get it fixed for you.
I'm going to be working alongside the men and women who do just that.
That thing in the corner there, growing out of the skirting,
it looks like a sea sponge.
I'm hitting the streets,
I'm learning on the job...
-We call that flash banding.
-A temporary fix, isn't it?
..to find out what it takes to make sure that every house
is fit to be called home.
I know I've only been in the job for a bit, but this is a shocker.
You've got three boys? Where does everybody sleep?
You seem to get very angry.
I've had too many people mug me off.
In Tendring, tenants Martin and Paula have been plagued by rats.
I've got rats coming in the kitchen, I've got rats in the loft,
I've got rats obviously in the bathroom.
I can't sleep properly at night
because I'm scared in case a rat comes on me.
To help solve the problem, they've called in local
housing officers Grant and Ian to investigate.
I can see one or two little droppings there,
actually, on reflection.
Oh, there, yeah!
They've spotted where the rats are getting into the house,
but Grant and Ian want to know what's attracting them.
It's not long before attention turns to next door.
There's boards around back there, ain't there? Potential...there.
-And there's food...
-And there is food and there's shelter as well.
That is what you need.
That is definitely a food sauce. Look, the grain is all on the floor.
That is like taking candy from a baby.
Look...straight there, so...
-It is ideal for...
-We've got to deal with that.
It's time to have a word with the neighbour.
The reason why I wanted to speak to you, sir,
is because your neighbour here has got a problem
with rats under his floors.
I get them from underneath my shed.
It's coming from that lot down there.
The culprit could be the neighbour's cat food,
which is basically a ratty ready meal.
Do you see her much, or he, the cat?
He does come occasionally, yeah.
Because the trouble is, again, that is offering...
That's a food source. Really need that off the floor.
They are picking this up and they'll pick that as well.
-I've only come to...
-They'll pick anything,
anything that's a food source, that's encouraging them.
This sort of rubbish, they can live amongst that, under the shed...
I can't get it shifted. I can't get it shifted cos I'm out of shape
and I haven't got the money to get the stuff shifted.
Cos the problem is we will serve a notice if you don't do it,
unfortunately, because it is a potential for a food source.
-Well, I will get it done.
Perhaps the mystery has been solved.
We've got the food source next door, in the garden.
And there's an opening, it's like, "Come in and have a party."
So that's where I think they're getting in...OK?
I think the best way to go now is get all these holes filled up
in here and we'll speak to the landlord via the managing
agent to do these works.
OK, right. Thank you for your time anyway...and we'll be in touch.
Grant and Ian head back to the office to contact the landlord.
Hopefully, I don't get no more rats coming in from next door,
if he has had them, and hopefully I want to solve the problem
and get on with my life, live in my bungalow and get on with day
to day work, and that's it. That is all what I want to happen.
Despite the neighbour clearing the yard of the cat food and rubbish
that was attracting the rats, the council and the landlord are
still working to completely clear the infestation.
Fingers crossed Martin and Paula can finally get rid
of these pests once and for all.
Back in Lowestoft,
Neil Cowell is urgently trying to find a new home.
His failing health means he needs to move closer to his family.
12 months ago I found out I've got brain cancer, level three...
epilepsy and diabetes.
I was all healthy before that. Never been out of work in my life.
It was all pretty good until then.
Neil's currently living in digs above a pub.
He's applied to Waveney Council for help.
His living situation and poor health could put Neil near
the top of the housing list, which for mum Janine would be a lifeline.
With his condition, he really,
really does need a ground floor flat...
..hopefully a bungalow, because he is having fits.
And...if the council couldn't help Neil out,
we would just have to go looking at private property.
But the minute that I mention that Neil has got health issues,
they don't want to know.
For Neil, a new home couldn't come too soon.
I'd like to be in a house that is safe and secure.
It is quite hard at the pub.
At Waveney Council, housing officer Fern has news of Neil's application.
We have looked at his medical information
and, as a result, we have awarded a banding on his medical needs.
It is quite severe...
to the point where we don't know how long he has got.
It is very hard to talk to someone that is in that position.
All we can do is encourage him to bid for properties
and when that property comes up, he can apply for it.
Neil's been given an A banding, making him a high priority case.
He's now able to bid for properties on the council register.
The property that I have applied for last night is a one-bedroom
flat...that is on the first level.
But it is a good property, it looks like,
and it is only just down the road, so it is not far away at all.
Today the family are all going to check it out.
I think it looks really nice from the outside, yeah.
Housing Association representative Debbie Pryke
is there to show them around.
Now the steep stairs could be an issue...
but once upstairs, things start to look good.
It's all right, innit?
-A nice size.
-Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Your bed could go there...
sort of a long there,
and you could have your wardrobes there and...
-You like it?
They are nice flats. There is not a lot to dislike about them, is there?
-We have got a really nice outlook, haven't we, Neil?
-Is it gas central heating?
Yes, which is obviously a bonus for you, isn't it?
This is nice.
'First impressions of the flat are that it is really nice.'
The kitchen is lovely, same as the bedroom.
The lounge needs repainting but that is about it.
They've got social housing here to help me with...just keeping sorted.
If I have an epileptic fit,
someone will be about that I can get hold of,
so I think that will be a good thing.
I think that I will be happy here. It is wicked.
But there is one problem.
-It has got a bath.
You can't have a bath, Neil, there is no way.
And for Neil, this is more important than most.
I am fitting once a week at the moment,
so ideally there would be a shower here that I could use...
and I wouldn't drown in it.
Having a fit in the bath could be fatal,
but Debbie might be able to help.
So you would be interested if there was a shower?
It is a really nice flat.
So the next move is then I will go back and I'll discuss
as to whether we can put a shower in here for you.
-I should be able to get that reply for you today, so...
-Nice to meet you.
-Thank you, yeah.
'It would be almost the perfect house without the bath.
'He can cope with the stairs for now, but the bath, definitely not.'
The lady that viewed with us, she's going to head back
and have a word and contact me today.
I feel happy about the idea of having my own place.
Yeah, just...chilling out in life a little bit.
All the family can do now is wait.
The wheels are in finally motion to re-home Neil
and they could be one step closer to getting a bit of peace of mind.
But, unfortunately, Neil was unsuccessful this time.
An updated medical report issued to the housing team has made it
quite clear that the house would not be suitable for Neil's needs.
Initially, when we assessed Neil's case,
we did look at his disability and his condition.
Although we said that he needed a ground floor,
we thought maybe we can stretch.
And if there is a few steps, he might be able to manage those.
But after the few tests that he had with the specialist,
and the report that we had from the doctor,
we realised that we had to make sure that it was just ground floor
with a level access shower.
However, this new medical report means that
when Neil does find a home, it'll be the right one for him.
Now my banding has improved,
hopefully that will sort things out a bit.
Fern has been really helpful...
trying to sort this out.
I feel hopeful that I will find somewhere.
Well, I'm delighted to say that Neil's hard work finally paid off.
He's managed to find a new tenancy in Lowestoft,
on the ground floor, complete with walk-in shower.
I'm back in St Helens after a police raid on a rented
property revealed it to be in an appalling condition.
I've joined housing officers Pam and Chrissy to investigate further.
There doesn't appear to be an answer but I can hear a lot of dogs.
You can't be rehoused without a report
saying what the conditions are.
Now the tenant is demanding to be rehoused,
but she's refusing to let us in.
I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.
All right love, OK.
Landlord Colin then arrives, and he's in for a bit of a shock.
-You're not aware of the problems that are in the property?
The police haven't told us.
-Nobody told us.
-What's actually happened...
we've been told that the police have been here on numerous occasions,
but nobody's told us...
That's why we wanted you to come today.
That's why we've made the phone call to you.
My side of things is to work with you and support you
because she's causing a problem in the street.
There are reports of... There's three dogs and nine puppies,
plus there's substantial damage that the police found when they went in,
so your property's getting absolutely wrecked.
Not what Colin wants to hear, I'm sure.
While he thinks about his options,
Pam and Chrissy try and reason with the tenant.
I can't hear what you're saying.
Just come to the door so we can hear you.
What about tomorrow? If we come back tomorrow?
If we say 12.30?
All right, I'll be back tomorrow at 12.30.
The tenant isn't going to open up,
so we have no choice but to retreat for now.
Landlord Colin has a lot of properties
and he admits he can't watch all of them all of the time.
It's clear, with this one, he has really got his hands full.
So, Colin, how are you enjoying being a landlord?
-It has its ups and downs.
Out of 350 houses that we manage and own altogether,
this is not the rule - it's an exception.
We don't... Fortunately enough, we don't have many like this,
but when they do happen, it's big money.
She's wrecked the front door there.
It's just a joke, really.
It's very difficult now because a lot of the laws and rules are
very much in the tenant's...territory.
It's to their advantage all the time.
Despite any desire you might have to put this house right,
you're saying you're struggling to get in there to do the work.
Yeah, a lot of them just won't let us in.
Well, not a lot of them,
but people in houses like this won't let us in.
We find that we can't evict people.
It takes us three months to evict people.
By the time you get to court, it could be five months.
It's very difficult for us.
We can't go out and look at houses all the time.
The relationship between landlords and tenants
can sometimes be tricky and, understandably,
it seems Colin's reached the end of the line with this tenant.
Despite returning the next day,
Chrissy and Pam were again denied access,
and a few days later, the tenant was finally evicted.
Earlier on, Simon and I hit the streets of Stevenage to try and
talk to tenants who've been affected by the spare room subsidy...
but we didn't have much luck.
Right, no answer.
Now I've gone, though, fresh-faced Simon
is able to get on with his job,
advising social housing tenants how they can
apply for a discretionary housing payment to top up their rent.
Since the welfare reform, we realised that there are a lot of people
out there who are really struggling.
Hello, my name is Simon Nuttall.
There is a lot of help that we can provide,
but people aren't necessarily aware that it is out there.
I've learnt that in Stevenage,
no fewer than 650 homes are affected by the spare room subsidy,
and in those homes, there are more than 800 unoccupied bedrooms.
Simon's meeting tenant Shirley Brown,
who lives in one of the affected homes
and who, like many others, is trying to make ends meet.
It has been a struggle,
and all the commitments of other bills and things.
Shirley's two daughters have left home, leaving two empty bedrooms.
The new rules state that if you have one spare bedroom,
14% of your housing benefit is deducted.
Two or more means a 25% deduction.
So Shirley's liable for the maximum penalty,
which means £30 less housing benefit each week,
which she's got to make up from her other benefits.
Once I've paid for the bedroom tax and the gas and electric,
that was well over half of our benefit. It is a big hole.
I mentioned to her she has paid over £1,000
so far since the introduction,
just on the under-occupation charge alone.
A key reason the spare room subsidy was brought in
was to persuade smaller families to downsize, freeing up bigger homes.
In Stevenage, 92 households have moved to smaller houses.
Many are still waiting on a smaller property to become available.
But for others, like Shirley, moving is not just
a question of cutting back on space.
Is there any other reasons as to why you don't want to move,
other than the fact that you have been here for a long time?
Any health issues or anything?
I think moving to a completely new house
would really turn me upside down.
Shirley has a medical condition, which means she could qualify for
a discretionary payment.
It would last for 12 months and is designed
to give her a chance to sort out her financial and housing situations.
If, obviously, in the future, you do want to move,
please don't feel like you can't.
We do have an under-occupation advisor
who tries to help people to move.
She tries to match people in terms of what they are looking for.
Obviously, as I said, if you don't want to move, you don't have to.
Simon is optimistic.
'It went quite well.'
Her circumstances are quite good,
in terms of the discretionary housing payment,
because there are issues there
and we could argue that it would be unreasonable for her to move.
She has lived there for almost 30 years.
It is their home. Even though it is owned by the council,
it is where they live, it is where they've made their memories,
and I wouldn't want to leave if that was me.
All Simon and Shirley can do now is wait for a decision.
Two weeks later at council HQ,
Simon's received some news about Shirley's case.
They have agreed to pay part of the amount
she's losing as a result of the under occupancy,
so they are going to pay an extra £15.57 a week,
and they are going to do that for 12 months.
The council has agreed to contribute more than half
of her spare room subsidy.
So, Simon, one down, how many more to go?
I have completed about 225 visits, so keep on going.
What worries me is that he seems to do so much better without me -
this could be career-ending.
Somebody else doing a good job is Ian and Grant in Tendring.
They discovered the rats in Martin and Paula's house were coming from
broken sewage pipes before setting up home in their neighbour's garden.
Their landlord had offered them another property,
which they refused as it was smaller.
But they have now found an alternative home
and are moving out soon.
The landlord plans to make all necessary repairs to the
bungalow once it is empty.
That is it for today's show. Join me next time, on the front line,
with Britain's housing officers.
Matt Allwright tries to inspect a house so dirty the police called the Housing Enforcers. What is it like to live with rats in the walls? Plus a man with a terminal illness who just wants to spend his final weeks in a house near his mum.