Category Archives: Renters rights

Buy-to-let tycoon Fergus Wilson facing legal action after admitting he banned ‘coloured’ tenants making his homes ‘stink of curry’

fergus-wilson

Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord Fergus Wilson is facing legal action after defending his policy to direct his letting agents not to let his properties to “coloured” people whom he claimed make his homes “stink of curry”.

Mr Wilson refused to deny making a list of requirements for tenants in an email to a letting agent seen by the Sun newspaper. He did however say that it was “some time ago”.

Wilson, who has previous convictions for assault and who last year failed in a bid to run for the role of Kent’s police and crime commissioner, said the controversy started when he bought a house in Ashford at a discounted price because of a strong smell of curry.

“I said when I bought it that within six months it’d be sorted but we just could not get rid of the bloody smell – it absolutely stank of curry,” he told Kent News.

“The carpets had to come up and the whole job meant throwing £12,000 down the drain.”

Mr Wilson then bought another house nearby but said a mixed-race family left the house smelling of curry at the end of their tenancy.

“It was a case of once bitten, twice shy,” he said.

“Having spent six months on the first one I said ‘no I’ve have enough, I do not want to take on another house where I have to get rid of a curry smell’.

“Yes, I accept not every individual coloured person likes and eats curry but I think a high proportion do and I had to go on probabilities.

“It was done because I did not care to repeat the experiences of before.”

When challenged on the use of language many would find offensive, he responded: “I use the term ‘coloured’ because it’s quicker and easier than saying ‘people from India, people from Africa and people who are Arabic’.

“To anybody who says I’m racist, I’ve just employed a coloured person.”

“Battered-wife” letting ban

This is not the first time Mr Wilson has been in the public eye for discriminating potential tenants. In January he issued letting criteria which banned single mums, battered wives, plumbers and low income earners.

His ban on battered wives came following his attempt to run stand for election for Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner on an anti-domestic violence platform. In the end his candidacy was ruled ineligible by the election officer for his previous assault conviction. Wilson also claimed that if elected he would return illegal immigrants to France the day after they arrive in Kent.

Speaking to the Sun Wilson denied he was a racist saying “To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people. It is a problem with certain types of coloured people – those who consume curry – it sticks to the carpet. You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.”

He further claimed that while he doesn’t today employ a specific policy banning “coloureds” he estimates he’s only rented to 14 mixed-race tenants over his two decades in the property business.

“As long as their money is green, we’re happy to have them,” he said.

“But if the same situation happened again tomorrow, I would say the say thing, because I was being practical.”

Discrimination investigation

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the watchdog would be investigating the comments and warning Wilson that he could face legal action.

“These are truly disgusting remarks as well as being unlawful instructions from a landlord to a letting agent,” she said. “There are still deep inequalities in our society as our race report demonstrated and these comments show why.

“As a country we all assume we have left the dark ages behind, but clearly there is more to be done. We will investigate and will be asking Mr Wilson to explain his actions. Unless we are satisfied that he will not commit unlawful acts in the future we will take legal action”.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord bans ‘coloureds’ from renting his properties because they ‘make them smell of curry’

Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES

Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord has banned ‘coloureds’ from renting his properties because they make them smell of curry.

In an email to his letting agent Evolution Properties, Fergus Wilson, 70 from Kent said: “No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy.”

Wilson who is reportedly worth around £100 million is no stranger to controversy.  In January it emerged that he banned “battered wives” from his properties claiming he does not want to risk ex-husbands or boyfriends returning to destroy his houses.

Also included on the list of proscribed tenants were children under 18, single adults, battered wives, tenants without a rent guarantee, people on housing benefit, low income workers, zero hours workers, plumbers, smokers and pet owners.

Wilson, who at one point owned 1,000 homes in Maidstone and Ashford, was unrepentant when challenged about the latest ban.

“To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people.”

“It is a problem with certain types of coloured people — those who consume curry — it sticks to the carpet.

“You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.”

While Mr Wilson’s latest policy would not breach criminal law he could be sued in a civil court and has already been chastised by anti-racism group Hope Not Hate.

In December 2014 he banned tenants who shared his surname after several cases of ‘mistaken identity’ led to council tax disputes.

In the same year he sent eviction notices to over 200 of his tenants, many from low income backgrounds, claiming that he was “sending battered wives back to their partners to be beaten up again”.  He was also convicted in the same year for assaulting an estate agent over a broken boiler which he denied, claiming that he was “too fat to punch anybody or even tie his own shoelaces”.

Evolution, which manages hundreds of Wilson’s properties, has also condemned the policy and said it would never implement it. Evolution’s manager, Roy Fever, said: “We don’t condone this at all.

“We would never implement a policy like that. We put through anyone to the landlord and it is up to the landlord who they take on.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Manchester’s looming housing crisis set to worsen sharply as population growth outstrips new build

Manchester housing cris
Manchester’s brewing housing crisis set to worsen over next five years.

Manchester’s growing housing crisis is expected to worsen sharply over the next five years. New analysis reveals that the city’s population is growing almost 15 times faster than new homes are being built.

Property adviser JLL predicts that house prices in Manchester are expected to increase by 28.2% due to growing demand from a surging population and insufficient supply.

In  2016 alone, Manchester residential property capital values grew by 16%. Overall prices in the North West are predicted to rise 18.1% until 2021.

Low levels of new-build

The North West’s and Manchester’s imbalance between supply and demand is the main reason property value growth rates are currently outpacing the rest of the UK.

According to the latest official figures, just 290 homes were built in Manchester in 2015-16. This brings the total number of dwellings (houses and flats) to around 218,500. At the same time, the city’s population increase by 10,000 according to population projections based on  2014/15 figures.

The imbalance between population growth and new-build is now one of the worst across the whole of the UK. Only Westminster and Kingston upon Thames in London saw a bigger gap between the rate of population growth and new houses being built.

Greater Manchester

The housing crisis is not confined to the city center alone. In Oldham the population is growing at five times the housebuilding rate. Meanwhile, the populations of Stockport and Salford are both growing three times faster than new homes are being built in the area.

Across the conurbation only two boroughs, Bury and Wigan, saw the number of new homes grow faster than the population increase.

Manchester’s housing shortfall is now publicized widely on property investment forums. In January, the letting agent Martin & Co identifed Manchester, Cardiff and London as the most lucrative places to invest in buy-to-let properties. Rental demand was cited as one of the strongest indicators for profitable buy-to-let locations.

Once again renters will be the biggest losers. According to John Goodall, CEO of Landbay: “Tenants will have little choice but to compete for what properties are on offer. As a result we expect rents to rise faster than the pace of inflation next year, with growth tripling to 3% by the end of 2017.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Sheffield Landlord with two previous criminal convictions for harassing tenants again found guilty of harassment

judge

A buy-to-let landlord in Sheffield with two previous convictions for harassment has been ordered to undertake 180 hours of unpaid community service for harassing a tenant and failing to adequately manage his property. Nilendu Das, of Carterknowle Avenue, who was convicted at Sheffield’s Magistrates Court, was also been ordered to pay £2,412 in court costs, fines and compensation.

The court heard how on one occasion Das sent ten text messages in a three minute period to one of his tenants. On another occasion, 15 messages were sent to the tenant in one the day, which included a text informing the tenant that he must vacate the property.

In addition to the harassment charge,  Das also pleaded guilty to four health and safety breaches relating to the property on Sackville Road, Sheffield. The court heard that there were damaged fire doors, an unprotected means of fire escape and faulty fire alarm systems.

Well known in Sheffield housing circles, Mr Das has previous convictions for harassment in February 2012 and August 2013 with the latter resulting in a 49 day prison sentence. Das was also convicted of failing to comply with a council improvement notice and failure to adequately manage properties.

During his 2013 trial, it was revealed that Mr Das sent his son to private school while falsely claiming £17,000 in council tax benefit and Job seeker’s allowance over two years. At the same time his tenants were forced to live in properties with mouldy walls, broken doors and lack of insulation.

Das was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison for fraud for four failures to comply with improvement notices and harassing a former tenant. While awaiting sentencing, Das was also serving a suspended prison sentence for changing the locks at the flat of another tenant who had complained his home was unsafe. Das had written into his tenancy agreements any tenant who complained would be charged £350.

In his defense Das’s lawyer claimed that his client had ‘got lost in a fog of figures’. “This is a man who operates with an IQ of one, only just above the base line.”

Speaking about Das’ latest conviction, Councillor Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield City Council, said: “This case is serious. The landlord has been convicted twice before for similar offences and he knows how strictly the court treats these matters.

“We don’t just investigate issues where we hear about tenants being threatened or evicted illegally. As this case shows, we also prosecute when there is lower-level harassment and when the landlord acts in a way which is outside the law.

“Everyone deserves to live in safe, good quality housing regardless of whether they rent or own their home. I am determined to carry on clamping down on the very small minority of bad landlords in Sheffield that treat their tenants badly and tarnish the private rented sector.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Electronic tagging order for rogue landlord who waged ‘unforgivable’ harassment campaign against single mother

Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC
Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC

A landlord has been fitted with an electronic tag after a “campaign of harassment” against a tenant that including switching off her heating and electricity in the middle of winter.

Joel Zwiebel who waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against single mother Angela Agyemang received the electronic tagging order after losing an appeal last month against a conviction for illegal eviction.

Miss Agyemang incurred Zwiebel’s ire after she complained that damp conditions, leaks and serious disrepair in her south London flat were damaging her son’s health.

After Mr Zwiebel and his company refused to carry out repairs, Miss Agyemang began withholding her rent prompting Zwiebel to begin eviction proceedings. Zwiebel finally locked her out of the flat with all her possessions inside leaving the pair homeless and forced to find temporary accommodation.

At this point the council intervened and negotiated a compromise agreement in which she would pay the rent she owed and he would carry out the necessary repairs.

However within days Mr Zweibel reneged on the deal. Instead of fixing the defects he sent Mr Stuart – who had previously been the subject of a BBC Rogue Traders investigation – to the property who switched off the gas and electricity supply even though it was the middle of winter.

A few days later Miss Agyemang returned to the flat to find the locks had been changed and she could no longer enter her home. It took her 18 months to eventually regain her possessions, most of which had by that stage either disappeared or been broken.

Conviction

Zwiebel, of Hackney, and his property company Interpage, were found guilty last November of harassment and carrying out an illegal eviction in a case brought by Wandsworth Council at Wimbledon magistrates court.

In February, Mr Zwiebel and Interpage lost their bid to overturn the magistrates court conviction and sentencing when their appeals were thrown out by a judge at Kingston Crown Court.

On Monday this week, the judge imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel. Zwiebel was ordered to wear an ankle tag and comply with an overnight curfew for three months between the hours of 9pm and 7am. He was also ordered to pay £4,000 in costs and £1,000 compensation to his victim. Interpage Limited was fined £4,000 plus costs of £3,500 and £1,000 in compensation.

For his role in the eviction, Mr Stuart, from Newham, was fined £1,500, with £2,500 costs and also ordered to pay a further £1,000 in compensation.

Wandsworth’s housing spokesman Cllr Paul Ellis said: “This was an utterly appalling display by these men. They waged a disgraceful and unforgivable campaign of harassment against this mother and her son.

“To switch off their gas and electricity in the middle of winter showed a shocking lack of compassion so I am pleased the court has upheld these convictions and imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel and his company.

“Let this case and its outcome serve as a salutary warning to other landlords thinking of following the same illegal path.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Eviction Notice

An average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Speaking in a debate about the Housing and Planning Bill, the Labour MP Karen Buck claimed that over the last eight years only 2,000 landlords have been prosecuted for housing disrepair across the whole of the UK. The low number of landlord prosecutions stands in sharp contrast with the estimated 700,000 privately rented properties which have a category one hazard which include faulty electrics, damp and broken boilers.

The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector in February. During the session, Ms Buck asked the Government’s Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, whether the low number of landlord prosecutions provided irrefutable evidence that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.

Mr Lewis was also asked whether laws should be passed to allow tenants to take civil action against rogue landlords when their properties are unfit for human habitation. In response Mr Lewis claimed that the proposed Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions. It was also stated that councils would be permitted to issue civil penalties against landlords of up to £30,000 and issue rent payment orders for up to 12 months’ rent.

Also participating in the debate was the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq who asserted that many of her constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions. This comes despite the practice being made illegal for rental agreements signed since 1st October 2015.

Revenge evictions still a problem

Revenge or retaliatory eviction is where a landlord threatens to evict a tenant for requesting repairs or complaining about conditions in their home. It often this affects private tenants with assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreements since they are the easiest to evict. ASTs are currently the most common type of tenancy agreement in the UK and is usually the default contract type for private sector renters.

Despite the new revenge eviction laws, many private tenants are worried that if they complain too much they will be evicted. Furthermore, figures gathered by Radio 1 Newsbeat through Freedom of Information requests show that more than half of local councils across England have not used their new powers under the revenge eviction law. Tightening of council budgets is also claimed to be a further impediment to investigating housing complaints. The Housing Law Practitioners Association is also concerned that the way the law is designed is too complicated.

The extent of the housing crisis comes as data show that private sector rented housing is the most expensive and has the lowest standards of any housing type.  According to Parliament reports, private renters now spend an average of 49% of their income on rent despite nearly one-in-three privately rented houses failing to meet minimum government housing standards.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nearly 30 per cent of Privately Rented Properties in Britain Fail to Meet Minimum government Housing Standards

poor housing renters alliance

Nearly thirty per cent of privately rented properties in the United Kingdom fail to meet the  British Government’s minimum property standards. Perhaps more alarmingly a research paper published last year by the House of Commons research department admitted that since 2006 there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England.

Although there are rules which govern the actions of private landlords in the UK which include repairing obligations, these are virtually impossible to police by local government housing officers. Currently the enforcement of housing standards in England and Wales is carried out using a risk-assessment based regulatory model which replaced the Housing Fitness Standard in 2006.

According to the British Parliament research report, the private rented sector has the worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing. Furthermore, the report states that since the abolition of the Housing Fitness Standard “there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Since the 1980s proportion of the UK population who are homeowners has declined steeply as new house building has failed to keep pace with population increases.  At the same time,  Britain’s private rented property sector has been largely deregulated in a process begun under the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Prior to this UK local government authorities maintained large numbers of properties which were let to the public on long-term letting contracts.  The government’s holdings of this housing stock has been reduced greatly as many properties have sold to the public leaving the property rental sector increasingly dominated by private landlords.

The seriousness of the housing crisis in the UK is often the subject of debate in the British Parliament. In February the London MP Karen Buck claimed that nearly 750,000 properties in London have a category one hazard which includes excess cold, fire hazards, asbestos and carbon monoxide among other risks. Ms Buck also added that despite the severity of poor and dangerous housing standards in the British capital, only 250 landlords had been prosecuted for poor housing per year over the last eight years across the UK.

There have been several attempts to introduce minimum housing regulations in Parliament. In late 2015 Ms Buck proposed a “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. This proposal however failed to progress past the second reading stage and was dropped from Parliament’s schedule.

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, council authorities in the UK are also struggling to deal with complaints about poor housing. Last year in the House of Lords the Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Bakewell, revealed that in 2012-13 little over half of housing complaints resulted in a council inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

Besides having the lowest property standards, privately rented properties are the most expensive housing type in the UK. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% for those in the social rented sector. These findings come as 11 million people now rent privately in the UK, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set to increase to around 22 million by 2030.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Private renting virtually impossible for benefit claimants

House to rent no dss

Increasing numbers of Housing Benefit claimants are being excluded from the private rental sector as the number of properties listed as ‘No DSS’ grows according to a House of Commons Briefing Paper. ‘No DSS’  (standing for “Department of Social Security” which was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions 16 years ago) means the landlord or agent won’t rent a property to someone on housing benefit or local housing allowance.

The House of Commons reports corroborates anecdotal evidence from the Hackney-based private renter information and campaign group Digs which found only one studio flat on the market available to Housing Benefit claimants in a survey of 50 local estate agents between December 2015 and February 2016.

Despite calls from  renters rights groups to outlaw the proscription of renters receiving state benefits on discrimination grounds, the House of Commons briefing paper stated that such restrictions on Housing Benefit claimants is “unlikely to amount to direct discrimination as income and employment status are not protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.”

The paper also highlighted other factors which may be exacerbating landlords’ reluctance to let to Housing Benefit claimants which include:

  • uncertainly around the roll-out and implications of Universal Credit
  • the payment of Housing Benefit in arrears
  • restrictions in mortgage agreements and insurance requirements
  • impending tax changes resulting in landlords focusing on “less risky” tenants.

The House of Commons report was soon followed by significant coverage of the publication of a list of banned tenant types from Britain’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson, which included tenants receiving benefits. Mr Wilson also included workers on zero-hour contracts, single parents, battered wives and plumbers on his list of undesirable tenant types.

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In addition the the reluctance of many landlords to rent to people on benefits, mortgage lenders may also be exacerbating this situation. In 2012 for example, the buy-to-let lender, The Mortgage Works, stated that no new mortgages would be advanced to landlords whose tenants received benefits. This condition was later withdrawn after significant negative press coverage. Other property letting websites also include a search filter to screen out properties which do not allow tenants on benefits.

This situation is of such importance to large numbers of renters that the housing charity Shelter has published a guide for benefit claimants to  convince a landlord to rent to them.

 

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Renters in shared housing to gain from increased protection

housing_inspection

Around a million renters living in HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) will soon benefit from extra protection from rogue landlords being planned by the government.

HMOs, familiar to many students and flat sharers, are defined as properties shared by more than one unrelated persons. Typically these may be groups of friends such as is common for student accommodation or by strangers.  Typically the house sharers will have their own bedrooms but will share communal areas such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Under the government’s proposals, tenants living in a HMO may soon benefit from:

  • minimum room size standards (6.52m2 for one person rooms and 10.32m2 for double rooms)
  • improved waste disposal facilities
  • tackling rogue landlords through the introduction of a fit and proper person test for HMO landlords

Most significant is the proposed extension of the HMO licensing regime to include small HMOs which are currently exempt from mandatory licensing.

To date only large HMOs (3 stories or more) require mandatory licensing. The government seeks to extend HMO licensing to all properties irrespective of size and will push all HMOs with five occupants or more from two different households into the mandatory HMO licensing regime (with the exception of purpose built flats).

Due to the higher risk of poor quality housing in HMOs complex licensing regimes exist which may vary significantly across the UK. The move to license all HMOs will also help reduce such  regional variation in licensing regimes and housing standards. These extra renter protections will enhance currently existing license checks for properties which currently include minimum building quality standards (gas/fire safety) and the payment of a license fee.

Currently landlords operating an unlicensed HMO which requires licensing are liable for criminal prosecution and may be subject to an unlimited fine. Under such circumstances tenants may apply for a Rent Repayment Order to receive  refund of up to 12 months’ rent on the property.

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Britain’s biggest landlord bans ‘battered wives’ and zero hours workers as tenants

Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES

Britain’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson has banned “battered wives” from his properties claiming he does not want to risk ex-husbands or boyfriends returning to destroy his houses.

Perhaps Britain’s most notorious buy-to-let landlord, Wilson is no stranger to controversy.  In 2014 he sent eviction notices to over 200 of his tenants, many from low income backgrounds, claiming that he was “sending battered wives back to their partners to be beaten up again”.  He was also convicted in the same year for assaulting an estate agent over a broken boiler which he denied, claiming that he was “too fat to punch anybody or even tie his own shoelaces”.

Posted for residents of Ashford (Kent), the list of unacceptable tenants include:

  • Zero hours workers
  • Battered wives
  • Tenants on housing benefits
  • Tenants with children under 18
  • Single parents
  • Plumbers
  • Smokers
  • People with pets
  • Low income workers

Despite Mr and Mrs Wilson’s estimated wealth of £200 million, the couple are known for penny-pinching. In 2014 Fergus Wilson lost a court battle to charge a tenant £3,000 for a broken toilet lid even though the tenant had offered to replace it out of his own pocket. Judith Wilson is also believed to owe £3,000 in court costs after a failed attempt to sue a gas engineer for £5,000. The Wilsons had claimed that the engineer’s decision to issue an “At Risk” notice on gas equipment in one of their properties had made the house unrentable. Such considerations factored into Fergus’ decision to ban plumbers as tenants in his latest letting criteria since he believes they “rip him off” about repairs and “invent” problems with the properties which he says they bill him for.

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Fergus Wilson’s ban of domestic abuse victims comes after the 69-year old’s unsuccessful bid  to stand as an independent candidate for Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner last year which was blocked  for incorrect submission of nomination papers. It was also expected that Wilson’s candidature would be deemed ineligible for a conviction of assault for which he was fined £500. Wilson, who planned to stand as an independent, intended to run on a platform of tackling domestic violence saying that he was particularly concerned by two domestic abuse cases involving Kent Police and would have used his £85,000 salary to fund a rapid-response team of four officers.

Commenting on the tenancy rules Fergus said the criteria are revised every year and are concerned with “financial fine tuning of the business” adding: “it is just economics… I live in the big bad world of reality, if I do not let properties and do not get the rent then I do not eat, I starve to death… it is the Government’s job to help poor people.”

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