Now that so many Londoners need housing benefit to keep the roof over their head, lots people call our office with related questions, though Renters’ Rights London can’t actually advise on benefits. The issue of how to claim without a written tenancy agreement is a particularly vexed question. It can be done, though. Read on for more about that.
There’s a quick update on the campaign to end so-called ‘no fault’ evictions under S.21, the root of much insecurity and unhappiness. Also, a link to the useful, new MHCLG guide ‘How To Rent A Safe Home’, with an invitation to eat sweets and talk about renting with me, if you’re not going to Pride in London on Saturday 7th July.
Housing Benefit Without A Written Tenancy Agreement
Very recently, a renter contacted us, worried that she wouldn’t be able to claim housing benefit because she has no written tenancy agreement. As London rents have been rising three times faster than wages, more and more of us are entitled to housing benefit. In 2017, members of 208,000 working-age households claimed housing benefits towards the costs of privately rented homes around Greater London. Most of these (137,000 households) were people in work.
There are various free-to-use tools which will calculate your entitlement to housing benefit. For example, Policy in Practice and Turn2Us, where you can find out about all the help you might be eligible for.
The housing benefit application form asks for “proof of private rent or tenancy”. However, there is no legal requirement for a landlord to provide a written tenancy agreement (although it’s best to get one if you possibly can). A tenancy is created through practice, not paperwork. As soon as you move in and start paying rent, a tenancy is created under s54(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925.
Where there is no written agreement, your tenancy is still bound by certain terms, laid down in law. Some terms are ‘implied’, even though they have not been specifically agreed. For example
- the landlord is required carry out basic repairs, to ensure that installations which supply hot and cold water, gas, electricity and sanitation remain in good, working order
- you have the right to live peacefully in the accommodation, without nuisance from your landlord.
- you have an obligation to use your home in a ‘tenant-like’ way; using the fixtures and fittings appropriately and not causing any damage (although wear and tear through normal use is to be expected)
- you have an obligation to give access to your home to enable any necessary repair work.
Landlords are also bound by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, so you cannot be evicted unless a possession order has been obtained through the courts first. If there is no written tenancy agreement, then the landlord has no authority to make any deductions from a tenancy deposit, when you leave. If the landlord tries to make any deductions from a deposit, and you challenge the deductions, you will succeed at adjudication. You might be able to use these last two facts to leverage a tenancy agreement from the landlord/agent at the start of your tenancy.
Having no written agreement might make claiming housing benefit more difficult, but claiming is by no means impossible. The case of R v Poole ex parte Ross established that no written agreement is needed – simply the liability to pay rent.
Section 4.1 of the Universal Credit Guidance states:
“In the Universal Credit full service, if a private sector tenant hasn’t provided all the information required, DWP will contact them. If they don’t have a tenancy agreement which shows the current rent, a letter from the landlord or letting agent is acceptable.”
However, if you’re only making a claim for housing benefit, you apply through your local council. Again, you will need a letter from your landlord, confirming your address, when you moved in, the amount of rent you pay and how often you are required to pay, to make your claim.
If the landlord is unwilling to provide a letter, you will have to write to the landlord, requesting a statement under Section 20a of the Housing Act 1988. Under Section 20, tenants have a legal right to request a notice, in writing, of the terms of their tenancy. Any landlord who fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with a request within 28 days, is liable on summary conviction (meaning by Magistrates, in the lower court) to a fine.
Last month, Renters’ Rights London invited you to join us to launch the Generation Rent campaign to ‘End Section 21’. England and Wales are among very few countries in Europe that allow private landlords to evict tenants without having to give any reason. ‘No-fault evictions’ are now the number one cause of homelessness, while the threat of being evicted causes insecurity and stress for millions. Renters are suffering bad landlords and shoddy housing, too scared to complain in case a S21 notice follows.
Generation Rent sees the ability to remove tenants this easily as encouraging amateur landlords into the buy-to-let market, fuelling runaway house prices.
“With 4.7m private renter households, including half of 18-35s, 1.8 million families and growing numbers of pensioners, the time has come to abolish section 21 – the clause in the Housing Act that allows no-fault evictions – and give tenants more security, peace of mind and confidence to complain.”
The next campaign event is on the evening of Thursday 5th July, at the studio of Karakusevic Carson Architects, in Bermondsey. If you can’t register to attend, and haven’t yet done so, please sign the petition, calling for abolition of S21
How To Rent A Safe Home
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published a new ‘How To’ guide. The guide aims to help renters avoid renting a home from any landlord who cannot show that they have met their legal duties. Everyone has the right to a safe home and to enjoy time at home, undisturbed. This guide will help you to realize that right. Read and download >> How To Rent A Safe Home
If you’d like a hard copy of this guide, free of charge, come and collect one from Renters’ Rights London stall at Lewisham People’s Day, Mountsfield Park, Catford SE6, on Saturday 7th July.
As well as the MHCLG How To Rent A Safe Home guide, you can pick up copies for our zines, and collect information about your right to fire safety. There’ll be lots of great music, with other fun stuff and, of course, you are most welcome to talk to me about any aspect of renting, while sharing my sweets.