Dot Dot Dot’s response to Siân Berry’s letter to property guardian companies during the Covid-19 crisis
Siân Berry, London Assembly Member, recently wrote a letter to property guardian companies asking for information about how each company is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
At Dot Dot Dot, we are keenly aware of the impact that this crisis is having on our guardians, as on so many others, and we are conscious that our work to create inexpensive, well-managed homes and to support neighbourliness, volunteering and community-building has never been more important.
We believe that her letter raised some important issues. You can see our response to her questions below.
We will continue to communicate directly with guardians, property owners, government and public bodies throughout the crisis. The views and concerns of these groups play an important role in shaping our response.
We hope that our thoughts on the issues affecting guardians and the guardianship sector will also help to inform decisions that will impact thousands of people during the crisis.
1. Is it your understanding that you as landlords are also covered by this legislation and will you also be implementing a ban on evictions of your guardians, as well as not proceeding with any new possessions?
The legislation does not formally cover property guardian providers, as it is specific to assured shorthold tenancies. Property guardians are housed on licence agreements, which are unaffected by this legislation. However, Dot Dot Dot recognises that the intention is to allow people to be secure in their homes, and we are taking measures to ensure that this happens wherever possible.
Like other property guardian companies, Dot Dot Dot does not own the properties that we use to house our guardians. We depend on the monthly fees paid by guardians to sustain our business and to continue to safely operate. In some rare cases a guardian becomes unable to meet those fees on an ongoing basis, and is unwilling to find alternative accommodation. In those cases, we rely on having a mechanism to end the licences of guardians – if this is not possible, it could jeopardise the hundreds of homes that we provide.
We welcome steps to increase universal income and to increase local housing allowance, since this will assist many of our guardians to pay for their accommodation, and therefore to maintain the option of keeping those buildings in use as homes. The best possible outcome is that our current guardians are offered financial support allowing us to house them throughout the current crisis.
2. Please can you also tell me what your policies will be in terms of seeking possession in cases where you have already begun proceedings – will these be halted during this crisis?
Dot Dot Dot does not have any possession cases in progress.
3. I would also like to ask you to communicate to all the property guardians who hold licenses with you to confirm that any terms of their contracts relating to benefits and debts will be suspended during the crisis.
Many of our guardians face serious financial disruption as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We encourage guardians to take proactive steps to protect their own financial situation during the crisis. This may include taking up benefits or taking other measures to manage debt. We expect guardians to make responsible financial decisions, and we are committed to working with individuals who are doing so. Taking up benefits as a result of the current crisis will not jeopardise a guardian’s housing with Dot Dot Dot.
We have had assurance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that the Department for Work and Pensions will accept guardians’ licence agreements as proof of their need to receive the housing component of Universal Credit.
Our licences do not impose the restrictions that you indicate, and our advice to guardians about facing financial hardship during COVID-19 makes it clear that we encourage and expect guardians to take up benefits where relevant.
While a number of properties currently housing property guardians are residential flats, I am aware that others are public buildings that might be required to be returned to public authorities for use in providing services during the crisis.
4. Under these kinds of unavoidable circumstances, where property guardians will need to urgently find new homes, will you make a commitment to rehouse all guardians, either in your own buildings, as close to their current homes as possible, or by providing other assistance, for example by working with local authorities to find alternative buildings, and that no-one will be made homeless as a result?
Where we have to ask guardians to leave a building, we have a policy of seeking to re-house those affected. In many cases we are able to find suitable housing in other properties that we have available.
During the current crisis, we will work with property owners to manage the impact if a building needs to be returned. In some cases it will be in the interests of all parties to delay or defer this change. Where a building is needed by a public body during the crisis, we will try to identify whether other local properties are available that could be used to rehouse guardians. The good relationships that we have with property owners, and our shared commitment to healthy communities, provide a strong basis for these discussions.
Many of the properties that are made available for guardianship require work to bring them to a safe standard for residential occupation. We hope that work of this sort, to bring new inexpensive housing to the market, will be supported during the crisis, and that such work is allowed to continue where it can be safely managed.
Further, on a practical level I am aware that many guardian properties do not have hot water in bathrooms and kitchens, although hot water may be available elsewhere in the building or expected to be obtained through other nearby facilities.
5. Can you confirm you will now seek to install hot water in all bathrooms and kitchens now, so your guardians can follow the best hygiene and stay at home guidance from the Government and health authorities?
The provision of hot water is a basic amenity. All of the properties managed by Dot Dot Dot have hot water both for bathing and for washing dishes. We are prioritising repairs to hot water systems during the COVID-19 outbreak so that guardians can maintain hygiene and sanitation in their homes.
6. Would you also tell me what guidance you are issuing to your property guardians to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus between guardians in properties with shared facilities? As you are aware, limiting the contagious effect of the virus is a key factor in preventing spread, infection and an even more severe health crisis.
Dot Dot Dot has provided guardians with an overview of COVID-19 control measures, and how these are being stepped up in line with increasing risk. To accompany this, all guardians were directed to government guidance and offered specific advice to plan for regular cleaning and hygiene measures in shared facilities. It is important for guardians to have a plan that will allow them to self-isolate in their properties, and we have advised guardians to plan how the facilities in their property can be used to support self-isolation by some or all residents.
Dot Dot Dot is actively supporting our guardians to take appropriate measures, including specific support in identifying the best method of self-isolation in individual buildings where guardians have concerns. Because Dot Dot Dot guardians are chosen for their willingness to help others, being part of our community has made self-isolation safer and more manageable for many people who might otherwise be facing the crisis alone.
7. To help your guardians maintain clean and safe environments, will you be providing suitable disinfectants and equipment to head guardians so they can implement appropriate measures in their homes?
Dot Dot Dot properties with significant shared facilities are provided with cleaning equipment, and our larger properties are also supported with cleaning services to improve overall hygiene. We are contacting guardians in properties with shared facilities to ensure that they have access to suitable materials and will be offering support as required.