Tory Majority Day 63: Renting In London on Housing Benefit, Unrentable To Rentable – Have I Found Somewhere To Live?

If I write this down will I jinx it? 

Yesterday morning I phoned one of the well known high street estate agents that has been so brilliant this week.

I called them first thing because, as I left the viewing of the postage stamp sized studio flat on Thursday, they mentioned that they’d got a flat that had just come on the books and: “the owner is nice, they might take an offer.”

As we walked back down the road we talked a bit more about it.

“Do you mean that she might be OK with My Situation?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said as he stopped to open his car, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get, do you?”

“Damned right!” I said.

I was struck by how this young man, dressed in a prim suit and as tall as the sky, was so nice and clear and even and professional. He is probably not more than 23 years old but he was one of the most pleasant people-people I’ve ever met.

Overnight I thought about it and when I made the call to him first thing, he suggested that I viewed the property and then “we can talk.”

I went to see it yesterday morning and it is BEAUTIFUL !!!!! It is perfect. It is set high in the eaves of flats above a row of Victorian shops. The shops are a feature near where I live and are red brick and all carved and ornate and crinkly.

To get there you have to climb up 2 flights of stone steps and then the fire escape but once you are there, it is light, roomy, nearly perfect in condition and has two double doors that open to look over the roof tops across London.

I said: “yes” on the spot.

Then we had to talk, of course. He got out his folder and he started writing things down.

How much??

The first thing was the level of the offer I was making. This flat – and it’s a one bedroom flat – is for rent for a staggering £1150.00 pcm. Any of you that think that I want a home that Donald Trump would be happy to live in, think again.

In my part of London the price point for 1 bedroom flats IS that much money and the single person’s housing benefit cap is £900.00 pcm.  That difference between the benefits I’m entitled to and the rent that is charged in London is the coalition cuts to housing benefit in action.

It is also why the Tory government’s policy of selling off affordable housing is UTTER MADNESS – a seriously damaging and flawed policy for people like me, who are unable to work and pull in a salary or for people on a low salary or keyworkers, like I used to be.

I cannot see this other than social engineering in action: making money for landlords and London affordable only to people who are rich. OK, OK, I digress into politics, I will get back to the story.

That’s quite a gap between what I get from housing benefit and what this rent will be.

Here’s the maths:

I get £500.00 pcm from ESA (Support Group)

£900.00 pcm from housing benefit

Both added together makes £1,400 pcm.

Out of my ESA I have to pay my bills wherever I live and pay for food.

You can start to see that the price of £1,150 was not going to be affordable. Affordable housing? Ha!

Here’s the offer

I asked the agent to offer £1000.00 pcm. That was the maximum I felt I could afford and that WOULD mean I’d be living on beans on toast. Just as well I like beans.

The agent asked for some details. He asked for my guarantor’s details, he didn’t ask for a deposit and at that point I realised I’d better phone my dodgy landlord to check what he meant when he told me last week:

“I’m not going to evict you due to repairs but I will need the flat back. I’ll be flexible with this, in an extreme example if you find somewhere in 2 weeks, I’ll let you go early.”

As I’m standing in the Lovely Flat with the agent nearby I discovered that the agent knows my landlord. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Goalposts – changed 

As I’m talking to my landlord his goalposts changed. I thoroughly expected they would do but he started mentioning my legal situation, that I’d be liable for the full rent if I moved early in a 2 month notice period and that I hadn’t officially given notice. I said: “what about the call last week? Wasn’t that, infact you giving me notice.”

No. It wasn’t. I had to email him to confirm I am leaving.

Then he told me that the situation IS always flexible, there’s a queue of people who want flats, someone who lives in my block who’s name is Mohammed wants to move and it might be that the move can happen more quickly if he wants my flat.

What about the repairs on my dodgy flat? What about the conversation we had about the mould? What about all that? – Forgotten.

How I keep my temper while I’m talking to him, I don’t know, but I did.

I turned and looked at the Tall Agent and said: “Look, I’m sorry. I’ve got no idea why but my landlord has changed the goalposts again,” the agent looked a bit anxious.

“This decision will rest on whether I want to lose a month’s rent that is tied up in my deposit with my landlord,” I said. “If I go earlier, he’ll keep my deposit,” I said, mentally watching me losing that money as I said it.

(That’s the deposit that was going to pay back my sister for the money she’s lending me to move..)

The New Flat 

The owner of the Lovely Flat wants someone in there soon. Very soon. My moving in quickly is part of the reason that the agent thinks she’d accept me.

The counter-offer 

After putting in my offer of £1000.00 pcm, the agent called me and said that she wanted £1050.00 pcm:

“She’ll put in a dishwasher and a freezer for that.” I back pedalled madly. “I’ve got hands, I don’t need a dishwasher!” I said, “and I can live without a freezer.” There was silence at the end of the phone.

“Are you saying that she simply wants £1050.00 pcm and the dishwasher and the freezer are the carrots?”

“Um. Yes.” was the reply.

I was standing in a pub loo while he was speaking to me. I’d just logged into their internet to email my landlord with the notice.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror and said: “Look. I appreciate everything you are doing, really I couldn’t be more thankful, but the thing is I can’t afford that extra £50.00….if she doesn’t want to proceed, I’ll understand, really.”

“It’s a good offer at £1050.00 pcm,” was his reply. I think she’d like to meet you, she was asking lots of questions about why you have a guarantor and what you do all day. She asked if you do voluntary work..”

“I’m MORE than happy to meet her,” I said, “Of course I will.”

And we rang off. By now my stomach was in knots and my head was pounding and both wasn’t because of the altitude of the flat either. I had to sit down. I walked outside and sat down in a local park.

I called my Dad. I explained the situation. He said he’d pay the extra £50.00. I went to see Crystal and did that stressed laughing and crying thing, where you have tears falling down your face at the same time as laughing. I said to her that I might not be able to afford to pay to see her any more. She told me the organisation has a charitable component and they might be able to pay for my sessions for me.

On the way back I called my father again. “Dad. I can’t afford what they are asking. Could you pay £100.00 each month to help me with the rent?”

My silver surfer Dad is living on a state and occupational pension. He’s living on a bit of my mother’s pension too – he has that paid to him after she died.

“Yes,” he said. I can pay that. What’s the difference between the asking price and what you can afford?”

“About £175.00 per calendar month, Dad.”

“Ring them and tell them I’ll pay it.”

For a moment my heart sort of flip-flopped and in the same instant I made a decision that no flat is worth my pensioner Dad paying £175.00 pcm. £100.00 is one thing, that extra £75.00 – No.

I called Tall Agent. I told him he had his extra £50.00.

I said: “Look, I know you are showing the flat today. I want you to know that if this doesn’t happen for whatever reason, I will understand.”

“Oh, I think it will,” was his surprise reply, “just let me know when your landlord has agreed he can release you…”

“As soon as I know, you’ll know,” I said.

And we rang off.

DO I HAVE A FLAT OR NOT???

I have NO idea but if this comes off I will be stunned. Honestly, I’m not getting my hopes up or even thinking about it, imagining how I’d move in or anything. I am wiping it from my mind totally.

IF it starts to look likely, then I’ll mentally start moving in. For now I’m off on a one-night holiday cat sitting for my sister and her husband, my guarantor, today.

I really need a break. One 24 hours away will hopefully do that. I’m packing sun tan lotion and my swimsuit because it’s going to be a scorcher in London today.

I’m going to do nothing but have a long hot bath at the end of the day and swan about like I’m in a hotel near a beach. I’m going to walk down the long canal near their house in the early evening sunshine and I’m going to pet their cats, a lot. Those cats will have 24 hours of perpetual attention.

I’m not thinking about the Lovely Flat either….

Or the fact that I am able to proceed in this way because I happen to have people around me who have some disposable income. What happens to those who don’t in our society ?

© Lindy 2015

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