Opinion: Allwright at the frontline of housing enforcement
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Legal
Opinion: Allwright at the frontline of housing enforcement
Received from an anonymous and tongue-in-cheek source, the following account of TV sensation ‘The Housing Enforcers’ takes a look behind the scenes at the programme that is fighting to right wrongs and reach amicable, legal resolutions between the UK’s tenants, landlords and housing officers.
In this first instalment, the crew member who acts as Matt Allwright's stunt double - whose identity is guarded at the BBC with a similar level of secrecy as that used for The Stig - dumps some of his thoughts into a heart-rending account of what's really happening on the frontline of the private rental crisis.
In scenes cut from the final series for being too awesome:
Weekend – Preparation
Matt seems really happy. The team spent the whole weekend getting set up here in Sandwell ready for our first foray into hitting the books and working shoulder to shoulder with housing officers.
Julie from editing said she was worried that sequestering the language from the ‘War On Terror’ might not be the best way to frame the relationship between housing officers and the outside world, but Matt said 'Shoulder To Shoulder' is mostly just used to say you're helping people with stuff.
Matt's such a great guy. I've worked with him before; I did all the scenes where he had to kick in doors in ‘Saints and Scroungers’, and was his chief taste-tester on ‘Food Inspectors’. There's not much that can break a team when they've shared a few beers, curries and a couple of cases of botulism. We didn't share the botulism so much, that was mostly me, but the principle holds. Go team!
Most of Saturday morning was spent doing jiu-jitsu and then trying to find the best coffee shops in Sandwell. Matt says he's hoping we don't need the jiu-jitsu this time, but none of us can really forget what happened to Bruce Rolo, the stand-in stunt double guy, after a misunderstanding during a shoot on ‘Rogue Traders’.
Julie programmed the SatNav wrong and we ended up in a running street battle with the crew from ‘Hairy Bikers’. Those fellows seem so nice on the telly, too.
We met up with the team of housing officers at the coffee place we'd found at the weekend – ‘The Shorn Bean’. They serve a mean macchiato, and despite Julie's protestations about the chocolate in their cakes having been farmed by low-paid labourers, Matt doesn't have the same get-up-and-go on a shoot unless he's stuffed a muffin and supped four kilojoules of caffeine first.
Matt had the ‘Dummies Guide to Housing Law Enforcement’ wedged under his arm (he seems really keen to cover the theory side) and Vincénte from wardrobe has fixed him up with a pretty intellectual-looking red cardigan. We are so far from ‘Rogue Traders’ leather chic, I can hardly believe it.
Our first two housing officers are Crockett and Stubbs. Tim Crockett used to be a nightclub bouncer and lion-tamer, but he became a housing officer to get away from the humdrum nature of his other careers.
Loretta Stubbs seems to have dedicated her whole life to social justice, with housing officer being the latest in a long line of righteous crusades that previously covered being arrested for trying to stop the flow of Russian oil; being arrested for trying to stop the trafficking of heroin from the Middle East; and even a short stint on ‘Ross Kemp on Gangs’. That is a weapons-grade CV.
After coffee, Loretta and I spent some time in the car park comparing commando roll techniques. What she doesn't know about bracing your knees and coming up feet first probably isn't worth knowing. I'm even starting to wonder if Matt might not be the only one of us suited for this housing malarkey – perhaps I could have a good stab at it, too.
It's all kicked off. After an overnight stakeout, where Matt got some great shots on the night vision camera (even some urban foxes we're going to sell to ‘Autumn Watch’) we all moved into position this morning ready to swoop on a den of illegals.
When we set out to make the show it was going to be about giving a voice to under-appreciated housing officers as they take on rogue landlords - but this opportunity seems too good to miss.
One of the streets on their patch has a number of houses containing immigrants from all over the country – Matt says there are even some Welsh people there who've left their home to come over here and get housing, right here in Sandwell!
These offenders have made the mistake of crossing Sandwell's legal department and expecting a council tax reduction, too – the cheek of it! This stuff is TV gold!
Julie says many of the suspects might have been driven out of London by high housing costs and welfare reform policies that amount to social cleansing. I saw her early this morning whispering with Loretta when I went to polish my door-kicking boots in the wardrobe trailer.
Vincénte said they'd been in there for ages discussing residents’ requirements. Julie has always been a bit right-on, but I think she might be letting the needs of tenants take too high a priority here. This is supposed to be entertainment, after all. What better way of improving ratings than showing people abusing the generosity of local authorities?
Even though Matt has been brushing up on the legal side of things; Quentin Fortesque-Morris came down from Sandwell's legal team to brief us all on council policy. This education session has led to a delay in the sting operation, but he explained slowly and clearly that you can't just have people arriving willy-nilly in the borough and being eligible for a safe and decent place to live.
We should be kicking in doors tomorrow. Spirits are high and I don't think it's just because of the Macchiatos.
Something has gone horribly wrong. As I left wardrobe this morning after the fitting of my new ‘’Matt Wig’, which is Allwright at the front, and Allwright at the back but may need a few more curls in the sideburns, I overheard Julie and Loretta talking – they were questioning Quentin's assertion that these tenants don't qualify for a council tax reduction!
Really starting to wonder who to trust. I think the only thing likely to resolve this is Matt's newfound legal expertise.
We rely on the legal teams from local authorities to guide the producers through the housing law minefield, but Julie says Quentin's interpretation of this 'residence requirement' (not resident's requirement, how silly of me!) is valiant, but that she much prefers the construction of the arguments on financial considerations, material considerations, free movement and discrimination, and the public sector equality duty put by the appellants. She's been reading @nearlylegal, I think; http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2014/08/just-bonkers-absolutely-bonkers/
The operation is a whitewash, and we've had to edit the first show down to a landlord who thinks he knows the law better than Matt (Ha!), an infestation of Great Tits in a building in Westminster and the tragic case of a lady pensioner near Hyde Park who is worried that the spare rooms at her palace will soon be subject to the bedroom tax.
It's not all bad news – Quentin says there are a bunch of disabled extremists who have been refused Discretionary Housing Payments because Sandwell counts their Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments for the purposes of ascertaining their income.
We're going after them in the next episode - the full weight of housing law behind us this time, Matt says.