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Taxpayers lining the pockets of private landlords.

Byline: Mehreen Khan Staff Reporter mehreen.khan@trinitymirror.com

TAXPAYERS forked out a massive PS1.2 BILLION on housing benefits across the West Midlands last year, the Mail can reveal.

A study by the GMB union revealed how private landlords are making fortunes from the subsidies - with more than PS6 million paid out over the last 12 months.

In one case an estate agent enjoying large payouts told the Mail he has been helping to evict tenants for the family business since the age of ten.

The huge PS1.2 billion figure included PS549 million in Birmingham, PS135.5 million in Sandwell, PS100.6 million in Dudley, and PS113.7 million in Walsall.

The overall figure has risen by more than PS200 million from PS976.4 million four years ago and has nearly DOUBLED from PS635 million a decade ago.

Payouts are also made to private landlords to plug gaps between market rates and what tenants can afford. Councils in the West Midlands region handed over PS6,032,997 to 65 estate agents and private letters in 2012/13.

Paul Kenny, the GMB's general secretary, said housing shortages and rising rents meant housing benefits were lining private pockets across the region. He said: "This expose shows the rich and powerful sucking up taxpayer's money through housing benefit.

"This is made possible by out of control rents and a lack of affordable and council homes that so many hard working people and their families desperately need."

Sanjive Mahandru, of Muskaan estate agents in Bearwood,receivedPS67,000 from Sandwell council for tenants who are eligible for housing benefits.

Mr Mahandru says on his website: "At the age of ten I was helping my Mum and Dad to evict tenants."

He told the Mail that he had also been in court every month in the past year to remove tenants who could no longer pay their rent, but insisted it was always a last resort option.

"Benefits paid directly to estate agents are a good thing as they minimise arrears and saves tenants mis-spending their rent money" he said.

"One of my earliest childhood memories is of me collecting rent for my parents. I would collect go on to buy a tricycle with my rent payment in Edgbaston. Now I'm 45 and have more issues collecting rent than I was 10."

More than PS50,000 was also paid out by Dudley to a caravan-retailer based in Manchester, Glossop Caravans.

Other recipients of welfare payments include the dener, country's largest residential property owner, Grainger Residential Management.

al The Newcastlebased company, which made pre-tax profits of PS64.3 million in 2013, received PS15,553 from Solihull Council, while its subsidiary company, Northumberland and Durham Property Trust banked another PS30,4313 in rent benefits.

-thham ked rent Another estate agent based in Yardley, Black & White Residential Lettings, was paid more than PS80,000 in housing benefit rent through Solihull Council. The agency's directors have also established a company called 'Remove a Tenant Ltd.'.

Solihull Council said the PS800,000 given to landlords represented only 1.4 per cent of the borough's overall budget allocated towards housing.

Councillor Robert Hulland, the cabinet member for resources said: "These figures represent a small percentage of the overall housing benefit budget in Solihull. Like other authorities in the country, Solihull does have a shortage of council housing and private landlords are meeting a legitimate need."

The figures were revealed through a Mail Freedom of Information request for the 20 landlords who receive most housing benefit in Birmingham, Sandwell, Dudley, Solihull and Wolverhampton.

Private landlords in Wolverhampton received PS1.6 million on behalf of their tenants, while Dudley dished out PS1.5 million and nearby Sandwell Council PS1.15 million.

Just under a million pounds was given to property letting companies in Birmingham last year.

The largest was paid out to City Estates Midlands, a company with an estimated net worth of PS4 million, and which received PS183,637.

Paul Reynolds, general manager of City Estates, said: "Most of the properties we manage are in Winson Green, Handsworth, and Hockley, and around 95 per cent of our tenants are eligible for housing benefits.

"At one time there were lots of owner-occupied houses in these parts of the city but they have moved out in recent years.

"At the moment, benefit claimants are being demonised. One of the James Turner Street residents is a tenant of our landlords. And we refused to take part in that. The camera crews wanted to stage an episode in our office where we were threatening them with eviction.

"At claim dem Jam idla re th w so we them "Bu be ev "Th "But we said we wouldn't be evicting them.

"The family were dealing with severe learning diffi-culties and the landlord, who is as good as gold, won't be evicting them."

Many property managers in the region also told the Mail that they had been dealing with increasing number of tenants from London who were being relocated by their borough councils as they could no longer meet their rental payments.

A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: "Unlike many other authorities we still have council owned stock and are also engaged in a building programme for more council owned housing.

"However, we still have a waiting list of 30,000, so many people in receipt of housing benefit live in housing provided by housing associations, not-forprofit organisations, charities and private landlords." Councillor Pete Lowe, cabinet member of finance for Dudley council, said: "Our housing benefits are set to a government formula irrespective of house size and is calculated based on a number of factors, including the income and expenditure of a household, how much rent they pay and how many people live at the property.

"The vast majority of our housing benefit claimants in the Dudley borough are in social housing."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Housing Benefit provides a meaningful safety net for people whether they live in social housing or in private rental properties, and it's sensible that both of these options are available to people.

"Our reforms are bringing the growing Housing Benefit spend under control, after it increased by around 50 per cent in just ten years."

WE SAY THERE is something grotesquely wrong when wealthy businesses make a fortune from this country's hardpressed welfare budget.

But that is exactly what is happening to housing benefit paid to tenants who live in homes owned by private landlords.

At the root of this, of course, lies the nation's chronic shortage of housing.

Put simply, far too few homes have been built, are being built and are likely to be built in the foreseeable future.

Thus families and individuals on modest incomes cannot afford to buy their own homes and the poor cannot find council or third sector accommodation.

Sadly, there seems to be no change on the horizon.

'"This expose shows the rich and powerful sucking up taxpayer's money through housing benefit. paul kenny

CAPTION(S):

Sanjive Mahandru, and, right, James Turner Street, aka Benefits Street, which caused a stir on television recently Sanjive Mahandru and right Jam T St t k i ht J
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 25, 2014
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