‘We are not a charity’

An eloquent argument for social housing came from an unexpected source on Panorama last night.

The programme covered what it called a new housing crisis: homelessness and the private rented sector. The hook for Britain’s Homeless Families was the fact that the number of people being made homeless by private landlords has trebled in the last five years but it also looked at families stuck in temporary accommodation and facing eviction because of the benefit cap.

It began with the case of Vicky, who was forced to leave her home in Kent because she was on housing benefit despite the fact that she had never been in rent arrears and never had a complaint about her. ‘I’m a bit shocked actually,’ she said. ‘If you treated the property well and you paid your rent I couldn’t see what the problem would be.’

When I tell you that she was one of 200 tenants on housing benefit evicted by the same landlord in Kent you will probably guess that the landlord in question is Fergus Wilson. The man dubbed the king of buy to let justified the decision in the blunt language we’ve come to expect. ‘We are in business to make money, we are not a charity.’

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Appearance and reality in the 2014 housing market

Combine one ex-PR man prime minister with one lucky homebuyer who’s also an estate agent, then add one ex-teacher turned buy-to-let mogul. Welcome to the New Year recipe for housing, where perceptions are everything.

David Cameron used Help to Buy as a metaphor for the Conservative message about economic recovery and opportunity for all when he took part in a photo op in Southampton with a young mum and her toddler and had tea in the new home she’s just bought through a government scheme.

It seemed standard, if rather awkward-looking fare, until this post appeared on the internet claiming that the young mum, Sharon Ray, was actually Sharon O’Donnell, a sales director with the estate agent that allegedly sold the home. That was followed by a typically sexist story about the ‘attractive blonde’ in the Mail and this corrective about some exaggerations and errors in the original post. Cue a Twitterstorm and debate between those seeing the whole thing as an example of Tory fakery and those outraged by the hounding of a young woman who’d done nothing wrong.

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