An influential voice in politics is looking to prevent a repeat of the St Michael’s Gate saga by lobbying the Government to change the law.
Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, said the eviction of dozens of families from their homes to bring in homeless people should not be allowed to happen again.
The peer said reading the Peterborough Telegraph’s coverage about St Michael’s Gate, and speaking to the city council last week, had convinced him that change was needed nationally.
He told the PT: “Serving section notices (to seek possession of a property) is designed for landlords to get unreasonable people out of properties. It’s not for the wholesale decampment from estates.”
Explaining the new guideline he wants the Government to adopt, Lord Porter of Spalding added: “It should be that only so many people can be served (a possession notice) in a certain area in a certain amount of time unless there has been large scale unreasonable behaviour.
“Where it’s being used just because there’s a better offer around the corner, you can’t do that at scale because the impact is far greater.”
At St Michael’s Gate, 72 tenants (revised down from an initial total of 74) were forced to leave their homes by landlords Paul Simon Magic Homes.
The evictions were carried out by the managing agents of the homes, Stef & Philips, which then negotiated a three-year deal worth nearly £1 million a year with Peterborough City Council so the authority could use the homes as temporary accommodation for homeless families.
The council, which uses Travelodges for overnight stays for the homeless, said if it had not agreed the contract with Stef & Philips then the firm would have signed a similar deal with another local authority.
St Michael’s Gate resident Jelana Stevic welcomed Lord Porter’s announcement.
She said: “”I think anything the LGA can do to help stop people being evicted on a large scale would be a good beginning to start protecting people who rent privately from misery, stress and financial strain.
“It is morally wrong for these companies and landlords to do this purely for financial greed and not for any other reason. Let’s hope government is willing to implement this and it’s not just words and no action.”
The PT launched a campaign last December to call for the Government to change the law to prevent a repeat of the St Michael’s Gate saga.
One of the backers of our campaign was city council leader Councillor John Holdich, who wrote to Lord Porter in December saying: “We believe that the local government sector should not be forced into a position similar to our own where we have no control over the eviction of many of our own households.”
Cllr Holdich met Lord Porter last Thursday alongside council housing needs manager Sean Evans and cabinet member for communities and environment capital Cllr Irene Walsh.
During the meeting the peer said that even though the shortage of temporary accommodation is a national problem, it was St Michael’s Gate which convinced him something needs to change after he read the PT’s coverage and spoke to the council about it.
Now, Lord Porter, who is leader of South Holland District Council, has to wait until May 24 to find out if an LGA board will adopt his recommendation to lobby the Government into changing the law, but the peer added: “I would be surprised if something like this meets much resistance.”
Cllr Walsh said: “This will restrict that business model we are so concerned about.”
Cllr Holdich added: “We thank Lord Porter for coming down and listening to us and taking something away which will help the situation in the future.”
MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson said: “I did hold a debate in parliament and the minister did indicate they are looking at the legislation.
“I did lobby Lord Porter and I fully support the intention of the LGA to formally press for a change in the legislation. I think it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s not just a Peterborough issue, it’s an issue across the country, and I think the PT is absolutely right to push its campaign. I will add my voice to it so current legislation is not misused as it was at St Michael’s Gate with adverse consequences.”