Meet Helena McAleer: a humane, thoroughly decent private landord who cares about her tenants

Image result for private rental sector

Five days ago, I wrote an article about why private landlords are calling for a ‘major overhaul’ of universal credit. I discussed why some are refusing to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants. Mortgage lenders often refuse to give mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants who claim welfare support. Universal credit has created further concern because of the larger shortfall in rent allowance and rent price, and the new policy is leaving large numbers of tenants struggling with hefty arrears in part because of the long wait for the claims to be processed, too. 

I also talked about Helena McAleer, a private landlord who was reduced to tears after NatWest said she had breached her mortgage terms by letting her two-bedroom property in Belfast to a tenant in receipt of support from the state. The tenant is an older woman, who suffers from mental health problems and would struggle with the moving process, Helena explained.

She was given the cruel ultimatum of making her tenant homeless or footing a £2,500 bill to leave the NatWest deal, after asking for a further advance from the lender. 

She told Mortgage Solutions: “I was angry at the fact that another human being could ask me to kick out another human being.

“It was very black and white…  they don’t think about that person, you’re just an anonymised piece of data… that’s what hurt me, that’s not fair.”

She added: “[The tenant] is a vulnerable older lady, she has mental health issues; I’m not putting her out on the street.”

The marketing innovation manager remortgaged to NatWest in January through broker Habito, providing information about her tenant’s situation to the digital adviser.

But when Helena approached NatWest about taking money out of the property to buy in London in September, the lender said it had not been disclosed that the tenant was in receipt of government support.

She refused to remove the tenant and asked NatWest to reconsider.

The tenant has been in place since 2016 and is set to stay for the foreseeable future.

Helena has been in touch to tell me about her petition, which calls on the government to stop banks discriminating against welfare recipients.

She says “Some banks refuse mortgages to buy to let landlords who let to welfare recipients. My bank instructed me to “seek an alternative tenant” if I wished to keep my mortgage because my tenant was a welfare recipient.

“The government must close these loopholes, as they are a breach of basic human rights.

“A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (welfare recipients).”

This isn’t only because landlords are discriminatory, many banks prohibit landlords from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. Welfare recipients are not 2nd class citizens they deserve access to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes as is their Human Right.

Helena goes on to say in her Facebook post: “You may not know this but I have a buy-to-let mortgage with NatWest and on the 27th September they asked me to “seek an alternative tenant” simply because my tenant is in recipient of “Social Security/Government benefits” or my other option is to find a new mortgage elsewhere and pay a £2500 penalty for moving.

“I was beyond disgusted by the statement. Actually more than that I cried my eyes out for hours, how could a bank, a person at a bank make the decision that I had to kick someone out of their home simply because of their circumstances, because fundamentally that’s what they are asking me to do.

“She has been an extremely reliable tenant for over 2.5 years and I have only had the NatWest mortgage for 6 months. They initially didn’t question the fact that the rent money was coming into my account from the NIHE (Northern Ireland Housing Executive), when questioned on this they said it wasn’t their job to check where the money was coming from only that i was receiving it. So as far as I am concerned they failed to do their due diligence and neither I nor my tenant should suffer because of this. They stated “the mortgage should not have been agreed by our underwriters if NatWest were aware the payments were coming from DSS.”

“Everyone here knows me, you know there’s no way I’d ever ever make someone homeless, so I am currently in the process of moving my mortgage to a more ethical provider and leaving Natwest, I mean moving my current account savings accounts the whole shebang. And knowing me, you’ll know that I won’t stop there, I will always fight to the end for something I believe to be right.

“However, what I have since discovered since this began, is that this policy is symptomatic of discrimination across the entire buy-to-let banking system. “A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (benefit recipients). A further 18% preferred not to let to them.” But this isn’t because landlords are necessarily discriminatory, that’s not the real story, this is because banks prohibit many landlords like myself from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. These people are not second class citizens they deserve the opportunity to live to the same standards as the rest of society.

“The facts are, that there are more than one million families in the UK waiting on the government to provide social housing. This could be alleviated by landlords being allowed to let to these families. According to Shelter, eight million people are only one paycheck away from being unable to pay for their home. This issue could affect us all, not just those currently receiving social benefits.

“In the last few weeks, I have spoken with several charities who have pledged their support, including Shelter who are supporting from a legal perspective, the battle isn’t over yet, so watch this space. I have spoken with the Labour Minister for housings’ office who is speaking directly with Natwest. The story has been published in the press and i’ve started this petition. I’ve been busy .

“So this is why I now need your help, I created this petition to get the government to put legislation in place that would prevent banks, even banks owned by the state, that’s you and me, from discriminating against people on benefits fundamentally denying them their basic human right to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes.

“To make this a success I need the support of as many people as possible, I need you to sign and share this petition as far and wide as possible to get the government to take action We need 100,000 signatures (that’s doable) to have this debated in parliament.

“Please sign the petition and share on Facebook, twitter and any other social platforms you happen to be on.

“We have a real opportunity to make a difference to so many people’s lives. We are lucky to live in a world where determined individuals can make an impact on the world in ways that might not have been possible before.

“If anyone has any contacts who would like to know more information to help me spread this story further, please get in touch.”

Please sign the petition and share this widely. 

Thanks.

Thank you Helena for your hard work. And for caring.

Some further information

Shelter has a guide on ‘convincing’ a landlord to rent to you. It says local councils may keep lists of private landlords who accept tenants on housing benefit, and that some websites such as SpareRoom allow you to select a “DSS OK” filter. There is also a website called Dssmove that connects tenants with agents and landlords “that say yes to DSS”.

Smartmove can also help tenants make a claim for housing benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments.

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on this issue. 

 

Image result for private rental sector DSS welcome

Related

Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

 


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5 thoughts on “Meet Helena McAleer: a humane, thoroughly decent private landord who cares about her tenants

  1. I’m not sure if this is helpful but I read the other day that local councils are approaching private landlords with some kind of guaranteed payment. (Can’t find the link) Is this another Tory make-do-and-mend solution? The problem with this is that there will be less houses for those who privately rent. As a private renter myself I appreciate all too well the pitfalls and catch 22’s, you’re never sure when your contract will end. From the time we got wind of the landlord wanting to sell our house to the time we moved into our present property was six months – it’s difficult to find a house – I wont say a home because it never is. The lady who owns our present house is OK, but she warned us that her relationship is dodgy and if it ends she wants the house back. We don’t even have a twelve month contract. In past times we were foolish enough to go to the local council. Let me warn all those in a private rent thinking of doing the same; the councils have no interest in those who have privately rented… but they will go through the motions for month after month and then offer you something unfit for human habitation. So there are lots of people with multiple problems regarding housing and things are getting worse.

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    1. Mine is a private tenancy. My landlord is a decent man, but because he live in the States, it can be a pain getting essential jobs done. I got left for weeks over christmas in 2017 with no working boiler, got example. No running hot water and had to heat the house with electric heaters. But the new boiler he arranged has been fantastic, and it’s checked every year. Cost effective too. He wanted to sell a couple of years back, but made it conditional on the buyer having me as a tenant. I actually found someone who wanted the deal, but my landlord decided in the end not to sell. I’ve been here 8 years, like it and don’t want to move. The house has been adapted for me.

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