Long Reads Tech The Hidden Housing Crisis

The hidden housing crisis: NHS staff, teachers and low-income workers reveal the realities of being a property guardian

People are living in Harrington Hill Primary school as part of a property guardian scheme (Picture: Vicky Spratt)

In short

  • i has discovered property guardianships being marketed in 54 cities and cities throughout the nation
  • Guardians have described rising prices, poor circumstances and in some instances being positioned in unsafe buildings
  • Cross social gathering calls are being made for the Authorities to behave to manage property guardian corporations

Except for the younger man wandering round in his dressing robe at 1pm, there’s nothing to recommend I’m not getting into a working main faculty as I’m guided via a set of double doorways with toddler-height handles.

I’m right here to see the now-disused Harrington Hill Main Faculty in North East London’s Higher Clapton, Hackney. There are not any classes being taught right here anymore. As an alternative, it’s house to ‘guardians’ who pay a month-to-month charge to stay there. They stay there as a part of a safety service property guardian corporations supply to house owners of empty public and business buildings.

‘Guardianships are touted as a win-win answer to Britain’s housing disaster – in principle they permit property house owners to save lots of hundreds on the price of safety and maintenance of buildings, empty areas are crammed’

Guardianships, just like the one I’m right here to view at present, are controversial. Guardian corporations current themselves as an ‘reasonably priced’ various to renting for an ill-fated era whereas critics model them ‘exploitative’ of individuals on low incomes. They’ve grown whereas home costs have skyrocketed, pushing extra individuals into the personal rented sector the place rents have been rising far quicker than individuals’s wages since 2011.

Immediately, in accordance with the Property Guardian Suppliers Affiliation, there are roughly between 5,000 and seven,000 guardians within the UK, the bulk dwelling in London. This isn’t an official determine and could also be greater. Guardianships are touted as a win-win answer to Britain’s housing disaster – in principle they permit property house owners to save lots of hundreds on the price of safety and maintenance of buildings, empty areas are crammed, and younger, hip guardians extol the virtues of renting under the market fee whereas attending to stay in an ‘uncommon’ or ‘quirky’ area.

Guardians: not simply younger millennials

Individuals are dwelling in Harrington Hill Main faculty as a part of a property guardian scheme (Image: Vicky Spratt)

Evaluation from the Mayor of London’s workplace exhibits individuals trying to lease a one bed room place in London – the type of people that may flip to guardianships – can be arduous pushed to seek out something underneath £950 a month in zones one to 5.

However this isn’t only a London phenomenon, neither is it simply younger individuals within the eye of the storm. Amid a burgeoning housing disaster, i has discovered property guardianships being marketed in 53 cities and cities resembling Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, Leeds and Hull. Most of the property guardians i spoke have been of their mid to late 30s.

In accordance with flatsharing web site SpareRoom, the variety of individuals dwelling in flatshares between the ages of 35 and 34 has risen by 400 per cent since 2008. The variety of individuals dwelling this manner aged between 45 and 54 has gone up by over 600 per cent 

Guardians like Jane*, 37, an grownup schooling instructor on the equal of a zero hours contract. She’s been a guardian since 2012 and has seen the worth of personal rents rise steadily, solely capable of look on as she turns into trapped in guardianships. “I might by no means have thought in one million years that I’d be three years off being 40 and I wouldn’t have a safe job or a safe house as a instructor.”

Or guardians just like the instructor his 30s who’s making an attempt to save lots of for a home by paying £450 per thirty days to reside in an previous police station. “There’s a college lecturer dwelling right here,” he tells i. “There are trainee academics. The oldest individual within the constructing was in his 60s however he determined this wasn’t for him. There are individuals of their 40s and 50s too. For a few of them I don’t assume this can be a selection – they appear jaded by it. They will’t afford to reside anyplace else.”

A room in an old-fashioned with no heating: yours for £475

People are living in Harrington Hill Primary school as part of a property guardian scheme (Picture: Vicky Spratt)Individuals are dwelling in Harrington Hill Main faculty as a part of a property guardian scheme (Image: Vicky Spratt)

Again in Higher Clapton, Cat* a consultant from International Guardians, is whizzing forward by means of the varsity hall in the direction of the health club. “I simply have to make it clear that there isn’t a heating on this constructing,” she informs us.  “No heating?” I repeat, shocked and forgetting for a second that I’m posing as a possible guardian. It’s freezing.

“Clearly we’ll present a plug-in heater for each unit,” she says, “however there isn’t a heating anyplace within the constructing.”

“Proper…” I handle, “and the way a lot is it?”

The smallest unit is £475 a month together with payments, Cat explains. The ‘unit’ in query is a small former workplace with an enormous whirring IT server field overhead and desks nailed into three out of the 4 partitions. The toilet is throughout the hallway and consists of a flimsy momentary bathe unit. There are two of those between seven individuals. The communal kitchen accommodates two hotplates, microwave ovens, a sink and a fridge however nothing resembling an precise oven.

I ask Cat whether or not the desks shall be eliminated. “I’m ready for a solution on that from the shopper,” she says bruskly.

“However I’ll wrestle to get a mattress in right here in the event that they aren’t?”

“Oh God, I do know. You determine to take the room, I’ll let you understand what upkeep says. The server is certainly staying although,” she replies, shrugging. “I’m hoping will probably be resolved,” she provides.

£475 appears an excessive amount of for what’s on supply right here, regardless that it does embrace payments, and that’s earlier than you’ve factored in International Guardians’ charges. Cat explains I’d have to pay my first month’s licence charge up entrance, a deposit of 1 month’s licence payment, £75 for a fireplace security pack and £95 to be vetted by International Guardians.

Few rights, and you may be evicted at any level

The disused police station Ryan is living in DO NOT REUSEA disused police station Ryan Bassil lived in with greater than 30 others

Giles Peaker, a solicitor and housing professional at Anthony Gold solicitors who helped to draft the current Houses (health for human habitation) Act, describes property guardian licences as a authorized gray space which fall outdoors a lot of the laws that apply to tenancies and shield tenants. “A personal tenancy can solely be ended on discover – two months discover if there isn’t any fault – adopted by courtroom proceedings. Any tenant’s deposit needs to be protected in an permitted scheme. The tenant has rights about having repairs carried out, about their privateness and with the ability to exclude even the owner from their house.”

In the meantime, a licensee or guardian “solely has the appropriate to not be evicted with out 4 weeks discover and faces courtroom proceedings in the event that they don’t go. Their deposit doesn’t need to be protected and may be very troublesome to get again.” 

A clause in a licence settlement by South East Guardians is one other stark instance of the shortage of rights guardians have, even right down to the room they sleep in. It reads: “By signing this settlement you settle for that representatives of South East Guardians and/or the authorized proprietor of the property have the proper to enter the dwelling area together with the room you and your fellow guardians have chosen to sleep in, at any time. Underneath this settlement they legally share rights to that area with you.”

Homes in a number of occupation

The disused police station Ryan, a property guardian, was living in. His room was £600 per monthThe disused police station Ryan Bassil was dwelling in. He paid £600 per 30 days to stay within the constructing.

Now, probably the most urgent query is whether or not property guardian corporations ought to be registering their properties as giant Homes in A number of Occupation (HMOs) beneath new legislative tips.

Giant HMOs require a licence from the council to function and the lodging should meet a nationally prescribed commonplace. The regulation states that a house is a big HMO if all the following apply:

  • 5 tenants (who will not be from the identical household) stay there, forming multiple family
  • You share amenities like the bathroom, toilet or kitchen with different tenants
  • A minimum of one tenant pays lease

This licence is a vital measure for making certain the security of tenants. “For a licence to be granted, the native authority have to be glad the property is protected (together with hearth security measures), that rooms are of adequate measurement, there are sufficient toilet and kitchen amenities for the variety of individuals, and the managers are ‘match and correct’ individuals to fill that position,” Mr Peaker explains. He believes property guardianships ought to be classed as HMOs and fall beneath the phrases of the Housing Act 2004. “The definition of HMO refers to ‘models of dwelling lodging’ and cost being made for that occupation. Occupation underneath a licence definitely falls beneath these phrases.”

Harrington Hill doesn’t have an HMO licence. A spokesperson for Hackney Council stated their “new property licensing measures imply each HMO in Hackney should apply for a licence earlier than 1 March 2019 or danger hefty fines or courtroom motion. Harrington Hill Main Faculty doesn’t presently maintain an HMO licence however, if discovered to be rented out as an HMO after this date, shall be topic to enforcement by the Council.”

When pressed, Hackney Council affirm they personal the constructing.

‘Don’t speak to the press’

The disused police station Ryan is living in DO NOT REUSEThe disused police station Ryan was dwelling in with greater than 30 different individuals

Ryan Bassil, 26, is editor of millennial way of life web site Vice’s music part, Noisey. Till just lately, he was dwelling in a former police station with LOWE Guardians, paying £600 a month to reside with greater than 30 individuals. “A part of my bed room was an previous workplace and I had a lot area,” he says. “LOWE Guardians put in sofas and a pool desk which was a pleasant contact.

“The draw back is there have been solely three kitchens between 30 or so individuals. There was virtually sufficient area however you couldn’t actually prepare dinner correctly in there and it was all the time a complete mess.”

A kitchen within the disused police station Ryan resides in

LOWE Guardians confirmed the police station isn’t licenced as an HMO. The corporate stated every native London council offers with HMO issues individually and it’s “having discussions with the native authority” concerning the difficulty. LOWE Guardians added that “the necessity for a licence is pushed by how lengthy the constructing is more likely to be out there for guardianship use,” however the definition of an HMO is predicated on the variety of individuals occupying a property and never the size of time they occupy it.

For guardians, if a property is unsafe, overcrowded or with out correct amenities, it may be dangerous to talk out. Many guardians like Ryan should signal licence agreements banning them from chatting with media. Ryan says the police station he lived in had guidelines caught to partitions. “Considered one of them very clearly says: ‘Don’t speak to the press.’”

When requested why its guardians are prohibited from chatting with press, Lowe advised i authorized house owners of the property have “agreements” with LOWE and the corporate can also be not allowed to do media on or of their shoppers’ buildings with out looking for their permission. A spokesperson added: “All LOWE is doing is complying with constructing proprietor laws and defending tenants.”

The disused care residence now on the centre of a courtroom case

Nicola Gillin in her room at The Previous Rectory

The shortage of authorized rights and regulation imply circumstances could be poor for guardians, and even harmful.

Colchester Council is at present prosecuting Camelot Europe for failing to licence an HMO and numerous breaches of HMO laws at a disused care house referred to as The Previous Rectory in Lexden.

Till January 2018 Nicola Gillin, a 33-year-old analysis assistant at Anglia Ruskin College, was dwelling as a guardian on the care residence. She might not afford personal lease for a flat within the Colchester space, the place she grew up. “My choices have been both grow to be a property guardian or transfer again to my mum’s home,” she explains. “The licence payment was £320 and I’d been paying over £600 in personal lease.”

The Previous Rectory, a former care residence, the place Nicola Gillin was a guardian

When she was first moved into the care residence in March 2017, she was the one full-time guardian. “By June there have been six of us. I keep in mind actually clearly chatting with Camelot Europe and saying: ‘Sufficient now – we’ve acquired one working kitchen and one bathe. No extra individuals.’

‘The closest hearth escape to my bed room had been nailed shut. A damaged rest room was flooding the laundry room with human waste. It was harmful’

“They assured me they wouldn’t transfer anybody else in. However then we obtained to the stage the place we had 30 individuals dwelling there, nonetheless with just one working kitchen and one bathe we felt was protected to make use of. It was terrible.”

Later that yr, it transpired the constructing was not licensed as an HMO when a personal firm arrived to examine the hearth alarm system. They alerted Essex Hearth and Rescue who, in flip, contacted Colchester Council. After an investigation, they deemed the constructing not match for individuals to stay in.

“The closest hearth escape to my bed room had been nailed shut,” Nicola recollects. “A damaged rest room was flooding the laundry room with human waste. It was harmful.”

‘I stated from the beginning that an NDA was my purple line’

Water damage to a floor in the Old RectoryRoom 9 within the care house which was uninhabited due to flooding and water injury. Nicola says residents later discovered a leak was coming from a damaged rest room in Room 38 instantly above

Camelot Guardian Administration Restricted (a division of Camelot Europe) is due in courtroom in March this yr. A spokesperson for Colchester Council advised i they consider that is the primary prosecution to be taken towards a guardian administration firm for these offences. “Once we consider that lodging shouldn’t be being managed responsibly, the council will all the time take no matter motion is important to resolve this and hold residents protected of their houses.”

Camelot Europe didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark.

‘The significance of fireside security in properties with many occupiers shouldn’t have to be emphasised on this time after Grenfell’ – Giles Peaker 

Mr Peaker stated: “The significance of fireside security in properties with many occupiers shouldn’t must be emphasised on this time after Grenfell. Anybody failing to make sure security requirements is placing lives in danger.”

Nicola was pursuing a Lease Reimbursement Order (RRO) to get well the £2881.70 she spent whereas dwelling at The Rectory herself by way of a property tribunal. In a telephone name, a senior determine at Camelot Europe requested if she would settle out of courtroom. She declined as a result of it will have required her to signal a non-disclosure settlement.

Final week, Nicola says Camelot Europe despatched her an unsolicited cheque within the publish for £2,000, adopted by an e-mail asking for her tribunal to be dismissed. She advised them: “The cheque was for the incorrect quantity” and she or he that want to go forward with the listening to. Following this, they despatched her a cheque for £962.01 and she or he is not pursuing a tribunal.

“I stated from the beginning that a non-disclosure settlement was my purple line,” she says. “Property guardian corporations attempt to wriggle out of their duties by arguing that property guardians aren’t tenants and, subsequently, that now housing legal guidelines apply to us. The entire expertise has been actually traumatising.”

‘We had deep considerations about our security’

The nursery school Gemma and other guardians were living inThe nursery faculty Gemma and different guardians have been dwelling in

Till November final yr, Gemma,* a 26-year-old who works at a council-run artwork gallery and earns £19,000, was a property guardian in a disused nursery faculty owned by Southwark Council. She licensed the area – “an empty open plan space the dimensions of a number of garages” – together with her boyfriend from International Guardians for £850 a month. For months she has been locked in a dispute with the corporate over her deposit and compensation for water injury to her possessions after she was served what she believes was a revenge eviction discover for complaining about circumstances.

After paying her deposit and costs, Gemma tells i International Guardians postponed the transfer in date as a result of the constructing was unsafe. “It was solely once I requested all of my charges and deposit again that I used to be advised we might transfer in.”

From right here, issues solely acquired worse. “We had deep considerations concerning the security of the property. We raised these with International Guardians on quite a few events and have been ignored.” She says the one hearth escape was “wedged shut,” security assessments solely befell weeks after she had moved in and she or he solely realised these have been happening when “unidentified workmen banged and tried to kick in our entrance door one weekend, clearly considering the property was nonetheless vacant”.

Glass in all places and faeces on the ground

A toilet in the care home Gemma lived inA room within the care house Gemma lived in

“Once we seen the property we have been advised it was going to be repaired and cleaned so it was in an honest state earlier than we moved in,” Gemma recollects. “However once we moved in there have been damaged home windows, glass and particles in all places, wastewater and even faeces on the ground. We had wastewater seeping throughout our bed room flooring for a month. We have been advised time and time once more that it might be solved however no motion was ever taken.”

Gemma says she was left with out electrical energy for nearly one week through the winter and when she raised considerations with the security of the constructing’s electrics, an electrician attended the property and declared them “a direct danger” however no additional motion was taken by International Guardians.

A toilet in the disused care home Gemma was moved into‘That is what ended up being our solely working rest room, says Gemma. ‘That is how we discovered it once we moved in’

Gemma is fearful about talking out as a result of she is now utilizing a special guardian firm. “These corporations scour the web for any type of report from their guardians, so I actually can’t be named. I do know individuals who have been evicted for talking out and I can’t afford personal lease. I’m between a rock and a tough place.”

International Guardians advised i all their properties are visited by property inspectors every month and their findings are documented. “Throughout her occupation of the area no such points have been discovered and positively nothing that had a possible Well being and Security impression. We now have strong processes in place to make sure our properties are in possession of the legally required documentation resembling Hearth Danger Assessments, Fuel Certification and Electrical Certification.”

A kitchen guardians had to use in the care home Gemma lived in‘This was the one kitchen,’ says Gemma. ‘There have been leaks and cabinets filled with rodent droppings once we arrived’

The corporate stated Gemma’s complaints have been raised a month after she gave up her position as Guardian and “have additionally been linked to a transparent request for monetary compensation.”

“We have now adopted by way of together with her complaints and are awaiting her response to most of the requests we’ve made to her so we will finalise this.”

Gemma additionally had a clause in her contract, seen by i stating guardians should not “converse to the media…with out prior written permission from G100”. International Guardians denied having clauses in its present Licence Settlement “that in any approach prevents a Guardian from talking with the press”. When pressed on this, the corporate stated it had eliminated this clause from contracts “a while in the past”.

On inews on Monday: I’m paying £550 a month to reside in a disused faculty – the closest water was disconnected and we had no smoke alarms

The Authorities should select which aspect it’s on

'This is a window that was broken,' says Gemma. 'And that’s a plastic bag that had been shoved in the window. We found it like this the day we moved'‘This can be a window that was damaged,’ says Gemma. ‘And that’s a plastic bag that had been shoved within the window. We discovered it like this the day we moved’

The proof of a necessity for a rigorous examination into the property guardian business is mounting. Liberal Democrat Peer Olly Grender, who efficiently campaigned for laws to ban tenants charges, has raised her considerations relating to hearth security and authorized protections for property guardians with the Authorities. She informed i: “Increasingly more individuals are dwelling as property guardians in buildings which might be harmful and insanitary and the regulation doesn’t shield them. Safeguards have to be launched earlier than the Authorities has one other tragedy on its arms like Grenfell. This can be a hidden disaster for individuals caught in a lure of poverty and lack of respectable housing and wishes pressing consideration.”

Labour MP Karen Buck, who has labored on circumstances within the personal rented sector, is unequivocal that the Authorities must act to guard guardians, telling i: “[While] property guardianship might have labored nicely for some individuals, we now see the proof piling up that others are being put at appreciable danger from unsafe circumstances, with out the authorized rights to guard themselves.

“The Authorities should select which aspect they’re on – they acknowledge the sector exists, however gained’t act to guard these concerned.”

‘The Authorities should select which aspect they’re on – they acknowledge the sector exists, however gained’t act to guard these concerned’

When requested for touch upon the state of affairs, a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Native Authorities spokesperson informed i the Authorities has no plans to cease using property guardianship schemes and believes individuals ought to “be free to make their very own housing decisions”.

They added: “We’re dedicated to making sure greatest follow within the sector, and that people perceive their rights and obligations when deciding to turn out to be property guardians.”

The cash being comprised of housing individuals like this

'Broken glass in the door when we moved in' - Gemma ‘Damaged glass within the door once we moved in’ – Gemma

Some councils, which might in any other case be shelling out hundreds for personal safety corporations, additionally obtain a reduce of the cash made by property guardians when their public buildings are used.

Freedom of Info (FOI) requests put into London councils by i reveal in 2017, Camden Council acquired £1,235,129 from guardianships, which they are saying was cut up equally with the guardian firm. A spokesperson for the Council stated guardians “assist the Council to stop squatting and in addition to keep away from the price of safety guards or patrols” and that the cash is used to pay for operating prices.

Waltham Forest stated for the interval 2018-19 they acquired £63,zero19.30 from property guardian corporations. A spokesperson stated: “The guardian operators give us a month-to-month contribution in the direction of operating prices in accordance with the variety of guardians in occupation.” Barnet Council advised i it acquired £eight,580.00 in 2015, £37,260.00 in 2016 and £47,084.65 by property guardian corporations in 2017.

Learn extra on what councils are receiving from guardianships right here

Hackney Council is phasing guardianships out, having lowered the variety of council-owned properties occupied by guardians from 217 in 2014 to only one in 2018. The place attainable, they’re making an attempt to make use of “empty properties ourselves to offer higher high quality and cost-effective momentary houses to homeless households as an alternative choice to nightly paid lodging”.

Southwark Councillor Victoria Mills, Cupboard Member for Finance, Efficiency and Brexit, advised i the shortage of rights for guardians as tenants is a “fear” for the council and so, “as an authority, we’re contemplating each our future use of guardians and, if we do proceed to make use of them, how we will guarantee the security of guardian.”

Guardianships are not any fast repair to the disaster

'As an ex-primary school Harrington Hill poses its own challenges. Within this property are very large, totally clear spaces that lend themselves well to temporary occupation, others are not as immediately viable', says Global Guardians ‘As an ex-primary faculty Harrington Hill poses its personal challenges. Inside this property are very giant, completely clear areas that lend themselves properly to momentary occupation, others are usually not as instantly viable’, says International Guardians

My tour of Harrington Hill Main Faculty (or what’s left of it) attracts to an in depth. “So, are you ?” Cat asks me. She’s received one other viewing on the opposite aspect of London to get to.

“I want to consider it,” I say, and depart.

Strolling away, I scroll again over International Guardian’s web site. “This property will go quick,” it advises. The itemizing describes the varsity, with its flimsy short-term bathe cubicles, lack of heating and rooms you possibly can’t get beds into as “a tremendous alternative to stay within the metropolis of London at a fraction of the price”.

Maybe, for somebody, it might be simply that, however, as I make my means residence I hold considering of the individuals who can not afford personal lease. I consider Gemma’s nursery nightmare, Jane’s worries concerning the future and Nicola’s hearth security ordeal.

‘It’s within the contract which you could’t have youngsters and be a guardian. I’m frightened about turning 30 and nonetheless needing to reside like this due to cash’

Guardianships may appear to be a fast repair, however they’re to the housing disaster what zero hours contract are to employment: a sticking plaster on a damaged leg. “Being a guardian doesn’t clear up my issues,” says Gemma. ”It’s within the contract which you can’t have youngsters and be a guardian. I’m nervous about turning 30 and nonetheless needing to stay like this due to cash.”

The business says it’s self-regulating, in response to a report from the London Meeting’s housing committee supported by the College of York Regulation Faculty, however as we all know with the personal rented sector, turkeys won’t ever vote for Christmas.

The systemic points that are notably acute in London however being felt throughout the nation – more and more unaffordable rents and home costs – gained’t be solved by guardianships. The closing down and promoting off of publicly-owned buildings has fuelled enterprise for guardian corporations simply because the social housing scarcity has been a boon for personal landlords.

Maybe, then, guardianships are usually not a lot a ‘answer’ to the housing disaster as a symptom of the issue.

A spokesperson for International Guardians stated: “Every of the properties presently beneath our administration are very totally different, some supply trendy, nicely outfitted and open plan areas, others are in interval properties with the quirks typical of those buildings. As an ex-primary faculty Harrington Hill poses its personal challenges. Inside this property are very giant, completely clear areas that lend themselves nicely to short-term occupation, others are usually not as instantly viable. As a safety firm we don’t pressure individuals to take rooms which are unsuitable for occupation however do present the variability obtainable in every property.

“One of many key advantages for people pursuing Guardianship is a drastically decreased value when in comparison with conventional tenancies, this value is impacted by the areas out there in addition to the required flexibility inside the momentary dwelling license preparations. Our obtainable areas all conform to the minimal necessities laid down in regulation, i.e. 6.51m2 when occupied by a single individual. We make sure that all occupied areas have home windows to the surface, are simply ventilated and [have] energy for heating and so forth. It have to be said that [what] is seen as a suitable area could be very a lot a matter of particular person selection and lots of people are grateful for the low value of the areas out there by way of Guardianship.

“Close to safety of tenure for a Guardian we adjust to the “Safety from Eviction Act 1977” in that if we require a discover to give up, and the Guardian is unwilling to vacate after the usual 28 days’ discover interval, we petition the courtroom. By this course of we voluntarily undergo the common scrutiny of the courts. This offers peace of thoughts to our Guardians and our Shoppers (the proprietor of the property).

“International Guardians consider wholeheartedly in elevating, and implementing, the requirements during which Property Guardian corporations function. As an organization we’re lively members of the BSIA, are ISO9001 accredited amongst others and function in a totally clear approach. We have now engaged with the Authorities instantly about introducing laws that deliver confidence and safety to the Property Guardian sector and the Guardians themselves.”

A spokesperson for LOWE Guardians stated: “LOWE believes there’s a position for guardian corporations to offer housing for individuals on decrease incomes and younger key staff. LOWE can also be dedicated to making sure top quality guardian schemes – LOWE have labored to determine the newly shaped Property Guardian Suppliers Affiliation of which LOWE is a founding member the PGPA was welcomed by the Home of Lords in a current evaluation and debate and the PGPA have produced a white paper to determine requirements and procedures for good guardianship.”

Further reporting by Elsa Maishman

*names have been modified to guard identities