England

Luton homeless rent hike led council to move tenants

Milliners Court, Luton
Image caption Stef & Philips receives hundreds of thousands of pounds per year for the properties in Milliners Court

Tenants were moved out of homeless accommodation after a council claimed a property developer put charges up by thousands of pounds.

Stef & Philips bought the units in Milliners Court, Luton, in 2014.

But the local authority has said it could not afford a rent rise and some units were offered to a London council.

Stef & Philips said any suggestion its business is "all about money" is wrong as it does not "merely pick the most lucrative contracts".

The move echoes the eviction of more than 70 families in Peterborough by the same company earlier this year.

'Vastly inflated'

Luton Borough Council housing portfolio holder Tom Shaw said the authority had been using the flats in Milliners Court to house homeless tenants prior to Stef & Philips buying them from another housing provider for £4.25m.

The tenants were moved to new accommodation after Stef & Philips put the rent up to what Mr Shaw called "unreasonable levels".

He told the BBC tenants would have had to pay an extra £10 per night - an increase totalling an extra £138,700 a year. Stef & Philips denies that figure.

Image caption Luton Borough Council rented the flats to tenants who were homeless or under threat of being made homeless before Stef & Philips bought them

The London-based property firm approached Barnet Council which now rents 41 flats at the site, contributing more than £85,000 per year towards the cost.

Once housing benefit and rent contributions are added, Stef & Philips will receive hundreds of thousands of pounds each year for the properties.

Mr Shaw said the London tenants were paying "vastly inflated rents".

He said: "This company calls itself a social housing provider. There is nothing social about the rent levels they want."

He added Luton Borough Council had not been prepared to put up with a company "making profits out of people's misery".

Image caption Stef & Philips evicted more than 70 families from St Michael's Gate in Peterborough

In October, the eviction of families from Steph & Philips-owned homes at St Michael's Gate in Peterborough was revealed.

Peterborough City Council voted to accept a deal to replace tenants with people from its homeless list.

Stef & Philips had told the council "about 10 authorities would be interested in placing their homeless people" at St Michael's Gate.

Minutes from a meeting called to discuss the proposals show the council was concerned the company would make a deal with another authority.

The minutes said: "We know that Stef & Philips work with other councils... for example, Barnet Council".

In an email sent to the city council in October, one Stef & Philips employee also mentioned Milliners Court: "We offered 62 flats to Luton Borough Council. However, they were unable to give us a clear decision despite an extended period of engagement.

"Consequently, we offered these properties to a London borough council."

In a statement, Stef & Philips said properties in St Michael's Gate will house families living in very difficult circumstances.

It added: "We regret any distress experienced by current tenants."

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