“Royal housing benefit” story is irresponsible

A front page from the Daily Mirror yesterday, with the paper's name in white on a red background in the top left corner. The lead story reads "The Queen & Charles cash in on benefits: Councils paying thousands to Royal Family for rent of hard-up tenants".The Queen and Prince Charles cash in on tens of thousands of pounds' worth of benefits every year - Mirror Online

The Daily Mirror yesterday ran with a story about how the royal estates, mostly owned by Prince Charles and the Queen, are raking in tens or hundreds of thousands from housing benefits every year — according to them the Duchy of Cornwall (Prince Charles’s estate) was paid “at least £111,000 from a string of councils providing cash to households”, while the Crown Estate received “at least £38,539” from just one council last year, and those figures do not include money paid first to the tenant. The sums, of course, are trivial, both for the royals mentioned and even for the councils, let alone the national budget. The Daily Mirror probably thought they were following an angle of “the rich are the real scroungers” in this, but they are wrong.

I know someone who lives on one of these estates in Dorset, and does receive Housing Benefit because she’s disabled. The fact is that the Queen and Prince Charles are just among the biggest landowners in these regions, and unlike many landlords, they own the properties outright, which means they can rent out houses and flats (and they are just houses and flats, not palaces) to Housing Benefit recipients. Landlords who are on buy-to-let mortgages can’t, because their banks and building societies specifically ban it. In addition, a dwelling on an estate owned by a prince is unlikely to be sold any time soon, so it is a more secure tenancy than one owned by a normal landlord (and tenants who are disabled or mentally ill need that security).

These journalists may think they are “bashing the rich” but many readers will look at it a different way: that councils are paying “work-shy” benefit claimants to live on royal estates, and they might recall that the right-wing press have run stories about families being paid housing benefit to live in Notting Hill town houses (which were slums a generation ago, but now sell for seven-figure sums). Any story like this runs the risk of seeming like money is being handed out by the state for luxury homes, even when the truth is nothing like that — the flat my friend moved into was a new build, and she had to supply the carpets and all the furniture and equipment. If there are not going to be council houses and flats anymore (because most of them have been sold off), social housing is going to have to be provided by someone, and if not Prince Charles, then it will have to be someone else. Do the poor and disabled deserve no better landlords than Rachman?

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