The UK's biggest landlord has defended his decision to evict tenants who are claiming housing benefits, saying that if he is heartless "all landlords are".
Fergus Wilson, who with his wife Judith owns nearly 1,000 properties around the Ashford area of Kent, made headlines at the weekend when the Guardian revealed he had sent eviction notices to 200 tenants who paid some of their rent with welfare payments.
On Monday night he told Channel 4 news that the decision was purely based on financial reasons, and that rent arrears were running at more than 50% in the homes he let to those receiving benefits.
"If I am heartless all the other landlords are heartless, because we're all doing the same," he said. "All the landlords will tell you that there is so much default now with housing benefit tenants that you are just simply better off with somebody working."
Wilson admitted he did feel guilty about the people he was evicting, suggesting that some could be in dire circumstances. "It is very, very sad," he said. "Particlarly, I feel sorry for battered wives who have come to us because we are very much consigning them to go back to their husbands to be beaten up again, but the situation is it cannot go on."
Asked about rising rents, Wilson said it was "common sense" that they rose at a time of rising house prices. "If house prices go up 5%, 8% or whatever, then the rents go up in proportion – that's common sense. All our properties have to stand on their own two feet, it's not a house of cards.
Although there have long been landlords who would not let homes to people on benefits, with "No DSS" not an uncommon feature of letting agents' adverts, there are signs that choice is becoming more limited for those who claim help with their rent.
Research by the National Landlords' Assocation (NLA) in December suggested its members were become more reluctant to offer homes to welfare recipients, with just one in five still willing to do so.
The NLA said there were parts of the country where investors would not be able to avoid taking tenants who received some kind of support with housing payments, but in areas where they had a choice many were opting not to let to them.
"It's a business decision and you look at the risk of not being paid. It quite often comes down to the local authority and what it is like at making payments on time," the NLA's head of policy, Chris Norris, said.
"There is certainly a lot of concern about what happens when universal credit comes in and people receive one salary-type payment a month. For most people it won't make a difference, but there will be a small but significant number of people who struggle."
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