Buy-to-let gurus: 'Benefits tenants owe us £800,000'
Controversial landlords Fergus and Judith Wilson say they have tenants on benefits that are £800,000 in arrears
Former maths teachers Fergus and Judith Wilson have built up a buy-to-let empire Photo: Christopher Pledger
By Richard Dyson
Landlord Fergus Wilson is owed £800,000 in rent by hundreds of tenants on benefits, he claimed.
That astonishing arrears figure is partly explained by Mr Wilson’s vast portfolio of properties. With his wife, Judith, he has owned between 700 and 1,000 homes in Ashford and Maidstone, Kent, since around 2006.
The pair became famous a decade ago for plunging into buy-to-let on such a scale. Modest and plain-talking in their TV and press interviews, they made unlikely moguls, even though their empire is conservatively valued at £120m and generates about £6m a year in rent.
The Wilsons did not confirm these figures: they are estimated on the basis of likely average prices of the properties they tend to buy, mainly detached and recently-built houses - not flats. But what Mr Wilson did say is that their portfolio is mortgaged to 60pc, suggesting their equity is worth £40m or more.
The couple have never sought to make money selling their buy-to-let knowhow in the form of property clubs or books, unlike many other self-styled buy-to-let experts. But the Wilsons were often invited to talk to audiences rapt to learn how such a bricks-and-mortar fortune could be amassed.
The adulation turned to criticism, though, as the financial crisis took hold from 2008, and the Wilsons have been controversial ever since.
Mr Wilson flashed back into the headlines this week as, along with raising the rents for his tenants in 2014 by 8pc, he served notice on the 200 in receipt of housing benefits. He said: “We do have a social conscience, but we’re in business.”
Mr Wilson said housing benefit available to tenants today fell far below achievable rents on the open market. He says that while benefits might cover rent for a two-bed property at £550 per month, he could obtain £800 or more on the open market.
He now insures against tenants’ inability to pay, but the insurers require credit references and rent guarantors. And tenants must be employed. “We have £800,000 arrears for those on housing benefit,” he said, “whereas in the past two years we have not had one person with a rent guarantee fail to pay.”
In a document entitled "The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth", he criticised councils that paid off arrears of tenants on benefit: "Are you happy to reward wrongdoing by paying off the housing benefit claimant’s debt? Is it fair on the tax payer to reward wrong doing?"
He also said: "In 1997 the Tories were knocking mums on benefits and it cost them the election. There was much public sympathy for those on benefits. The world has changed. There is now no public sympathy for those on benefits who are looked upon as skivers. Are landlords being heartless? No, they are taking very sound business decisions.
We have £800,000 arrears for those on housing benefit. In the past two years we have not had one person with a Rent Guarantee fail to pay a single penny.
What is required is a Property Czar independent of all Political Parties.
I think that there needs to be a Housing Crisis Debate. The housing crisis is with us for the next twenty years. We are 3million homes short and we build 150,000 a year. That is the long term fix but what is the short term fix?
What is the fix for those on benefits? Perhaps it is to get a job and come off benefits and that will ensure a passport to being housed.
We need to protect those who are ill and old but everyone else needs a job.
All those in the north of England with no job should be given a ticket to the South East of England."