Category Archives: Benefits

Over 630,000 living in ‘hazardous conditions’, report

A major report has revealed that 631,000 people in England are living in ‘hazardous conditions’.

In response to 2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster, and commissioned by homelessness charity Shelter, ‘A Vision for Social Housing’ consulted over 31,000 people from across the country and brought together 16 commissioners from across the political spectrum.

The report reveals that 3.1 million people in England need a social home – and of the 1.27m in greatest need: 631,000 live in hazardous conditions; 240,000 live in overcrowded accommodation; 194,00 live with ill health or disability; 128,000 are rough sleeping and hidden; and 79,900 are homeless and in temporary accommodation.

Asking ‘what is the future of social housing’, the authors state that the country is ‘feeling the effects of 40 years of failure in housing policy’ and specifically blame:

  • A failure to build enough homes. Over the past five years, housebuilding has averaged 166,000 a year, yet government wants to deliver 300,000 homes a year
  • Huge waiting lists for social homes. Today, 277,000 people are homeless
  • The explosion in the numbers renting privately, unable to buy or access social housing
  • Huge rises in welfare costs to government, driven by more people renting privately at higher costs

According to the report, if the crisis is to be solved, 3m new social homes must be built over the next 20 years.

The commission warns that without a ‘radically different approach’ the country faces a future in which:

  • A generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, while more and more will face living in dangerous accommodation or going into debt
  • By 2040, as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point
  • £billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords due to a lack of more affordable social housing
  • Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness by insecure tenancies and sky-high housing costs

Nadine, a private renter who contributed to the report, lives with her teenage daughter and works two jobs – yet still struggles to keep up with the rent. She said: ‘My rent is over half my monthly income, so that’s where most of my money goes. It’s hard to afford other things we need. I am cutting back and doing the best I can, but there are times we can’t live on the money we’ve got.

‘We budget on our food and it’s very rare that I buy anything full price. I shop around to take advantage of all the vouchers and deals I can get.

‘No one should have to spend more than a third of their income on rent. If they are going to set a minimum wage, then there should be places you can afford to rent on that income – how can it be a living wage if you can’t find anywhere to live on it?’

One of those who contributed to the report’s recommendations on reforming social renting was Rob Gershon, Lead of the HQN Residents’ Network, who said: ‘I’ve always thought of myself as incredibly lucky to be a social housing tenant… On the two occasions I’ve come to rely on social housing, it has been there to make sure my family has had somewhere to live.’

The commission recommends:

  • Setting clearer standards
  • Ensuring speedier redress for individual complaints
  • Proactive enforcement of regulation to protect social renters
  • Giving residents a voice in landlord governance and decision-making
  • Giving residents a voice in decisions made by national, regional, and local government

Click here to download the full report.

Government committee slams bank’s ‘DSS housing backlist’

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A bank’s refusal to re-mortgage a property because the applicant was renting to a tenant on housing benefit (HB) has been slammed by a government committee.

In October, NatWest came under fire after it refused landlord Helen McAteer’s application – and actually threatened revocation of the existing mortgage because of the sitting tenant’s receipt of HB.

She was told by the bank to either evict her tenant, a vulnerable elderly lady, or pay the early repayment charges and forego the mortgage as it was the bank’s policy not to allow rentals to a ‘DSS claimant’.

Now the Commons Work and Pensions Committee has stepped in, urging the government to intervene in the ‘housing blacklist’ run by lenders’ ‘no DSS’ policies.

In correspondence with the committee, NatWest’s CEO, Ross McEwan, expressed the bank’s ‘extreme disappointment’ with the way the case was handled, claiming it ‘did not reflect the values of [the] organisation’ and promising an immediate review its lending practices.

However, the CEO’s letter also states that ‘in line with a number of other lenders…our mortgage policy for landlords with smaller property portfolios…includes a restriction on letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. This reflects evidence that rental arrears are much greater in this segment of the market and we are satisfied that this restriction does not contravene equality legislation.’

According to the committee, there are 4.2 million people in receipt of HB in the UK – and research by the Residential Landlords Association found that 66% of lenders, covering 90% of the buy-to-let market, have this kind of prohibition on lending.

The committee says it is ‘deeply concerned about the extent to which mortgage providers are therefore preventing landlords from renting to benefit claimants, especially given the desperate shortage of affordable housing and the large numbers of claimants now dependent on the private rented sector’.

Committee chair Frank Field MP said: ‘The government claims its welfare reforms are intended to drive employment, but allowing banks to operate a “no DSS” policy is a return to the wicked old days of housing discrimination, with claimants effectively blacklisted for housing and at risk of being senselessly evicted for no greater crime than receiving housing benefit.

‘NatWest is now taking a look at its policy, and other mortgage lenders will no doubt follow suit. If the change we need to protect people is not forthcoming voluntarily, we may need to look to regulation.’

Universal Credit plunging ‘people into misery and despair’

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Universal Credit (UC) has finally gained international recognition – and it isn’t good.

After a 12-day visit of Britain, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has concluded that the government’s flagship reform of the benefit system has ‘plunged people into misery and despair’.

Speaking at the end of his tour, during which he spoke to Brits living in poverty in cities such as Newcastle, Belfast and Glasgow, professor Philip Alston said ‘if a new government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money’.

And what of the present government trying to run the UK? Well, they’re not having any of it, with a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson saying that ‘we completely disagree with this analysis,’ adding that the changes had led to the highest ever household incomes, record lows of children living in workless households, and one million fewer people living in poverty than in 2010.

In Newcastle, prof Alston visited the country’s largest food bank, which led him to say: ‘The picture I got in Newcastle, in particular, was a pretty grim one. I think local government cuts are draconian and will change the fabric of British society, but particularly in an area like the North East where you don’t have the same degree of economic vibrancy as you have in London, where these policies seem to be being designed.’

According to the special rapporteur’s report 14 million Brits are living in poverty, of which 1.5 million are classed as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston’s study contains particular scorn for UC, noting: ‘No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than UC. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.’

Though he admits that the plan to rolling six different benefits into ‘makes good sense, in principle’, the professor slammed the DWP for being ‘more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting’.

Responding, the DWP said that UC is ‘supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

‘We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.’

The special rapporteur’s full statement can be read here.

Benefit sanctions ‘harmful’, ‘counterproductive’ and ‘pointlessly cruel’

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The government’s benefit sanction regime on people with a disability or health condition ‘does not work’ and is ‘harmful and counterproductive’, the Work and Pensions Committee has found.

In its newly published Benefit Sanctions report, the committee concludes that the ‘human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions appears simply too high’.

According to the committee, back in 2012 the then coalition government ‘had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime’ when it introduced the sanctions.

At that point, the coalition promised to review the new rules’ impact and whether they were achieving their aims on an ongoing basis – but the committee says that six years later the government ‘is none the wiser’.

One expert witness told the committee that ‘if it was not for the embarrassment, the government would have suspended ESA sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work’.

The report reveals that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of benefits, and that until the government can ‘show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot justify these groups continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.

The committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, said: ‘We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.’

UN extreme poverty expert to inspect…UK

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is to start a fact-finding tour of the UK, which doesn’t exactly make you swell with pride, does it?

Between 5-16 November, Philip Alston will visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, London, Newcastle, and Jaywick, wherever that is, to examine the effects of the government’s austerity measures, such as cuts to benefits and local government funding.

Mr Alston said: ‘The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries in the world, but millions of people are still living in poverty there.

‘I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet.’

Mr Alston – who has been designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on extreme poverty – will meet with government officials and people affected by poverty to learn about their experiences.

During the two-week visit that is guaranteed to send the Daily Mail absolutely bananas, some of the topics the Special Rapporteur will address include Universal Credit, child poverty, and the implications of Brexit on the UK’s poorest.

Additionally, he’ll look at the impact of the government’s increasing use of digital on the most vulnerable, such as making access to Universal Credit ‘digital by default’.

‘Poverty is intertwined with human rights standards that the United Kingdom has ratified, including the right to food, housing, and an adequate standard of living and it affects access to civil and political rights,’ the Special Rapporteur said, adding that the ‘government has made significant changes to social protection in the past decade, and I will be looking closely at the impact that has had on people living in poverty and their realisation of basic rights.’

The man’s preliminary observations and recommendations will be shared at a news conference at the end of his mission on 16 November, with his final report presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2019.