Tag Archives: benefit caps

Iain Duncan Smith Fudges On Women’s Refuge Closures

It appears that a partial climb down on the upcoming Housing Benefit changes set to decimate the Women’s Refuge network and other supported housing services is being considered.

Iain Duncan Smith is wobbling so fast on welfare reforms that it’s becoming near impossible to keep up.  Even whilst I was writing this piece passing on the warning from Women’s Aid about refuge closures, IDS and Lord Fraud were already spinning out of control in front of a Parliamentary Committee.  Whilst there has been no formal announcement from the DWP, it seems that some changes may be made to the proposed new rules for Housing Benefits.

For many years vital services such as women’s refuges or homeless hostels have depended on high Housing Benefit payments to cover staff costs.  Next year the housing benefit caps, already introduced for private tenants, will be extended to all forms of housing.   Another benefit cap, £500 a week, is to be introduced for families, no matter how many children they have or what form of housing they live in.

These brutal cuts will destroy the refuge network for people fleeing domestic violence where rents can be as high as £600 a week for the most basic accommodation.

IDS and Lord Fraud were questioned about the problem at this week’s meeting of the Select Committee for Work and Pensions, the parliamentary group responsible for scrutinising the switch to the new Universal Credit benefits regime.  Apparently they are ‘looking into it’.  Lord Fraud suggested that supported housing may be taken out of Universal Credit altogether with payments made direct to hostels and refuges.  This seemed a shock to Iain Duncan Smith who said that the Discretionary Housing Fund may make up the shortfalls in rent.  It seems that the two posh boys are for turning, just unfortunately not in the same direction.

One thing they both seemed to agree on was a move towards to localised system of funding for supported housing.   With Housing Benefit about to be taken out of local council’s control it appears the DWP intend to reform it, and then reform it back again just for shits and giggles.  Whatever happens will almost certainly mean cuts.

There appears to be no change to one of the main areas of concern for those fleeing domestic violence or those who provide support for them.  Despite the Government today acknowledging that financial coercion can be considered a form of domestic abuse, plans to make all benefit payments to a single family member will go ahead.

There are wobbles on direct payments which mean that housing payments will no longer be sent straight to social landlords but instead land in the bank account of even the most vulnerable tenants.  Once again however there is no real details, merely some mumbles that some people may be taken out of this regime.  How these people will be identified by the faceless computer based system which underpins the new ‘digital by default’ benefit system has not been explained.

It’s clear that Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Fraud are making it up as they go along.  If they weren’t being paid billions of our money you might almost feel sorry for the poor bastards designing the new labyrinthine computer system which  Universal Credit will depend on.  Almost everyday Iain Duncan Smith moves the goal posts or adds new layers of complexity to the project which is already running behind schedule and over budget.

What is truly terrifying is that these problems are only just occurring to to the out of touch millionaires at the DWP.  Almost any housing or social worker could have warned them about the problems which will face refuges and homeless hostels when Universal Credit goes ahead.  Iain Duncan Smith has spent years plotting welfare reform yet even now he doesn’t seem to have  any understanding of how the system he’s reforming actually works.

The latest fudge suggests that there might be three rates of the Housing Element of Universal Credit.  This will mean one rate for mainstream housing, one for temporary accommodation, which Lord Fraud suggested might be £40 a week more, and one for supported housing such as hostels and refuges.  Who decides which is which and how is still unclear.  This mess will be further confused by the fact that not all claimants will be subject to the benefit cap, although the vast majority will, whilst housing support rates will be different depending on how old the claimant is.

Meanwhile Housing Benefit is to be taken out of local authority control, except when it isn’t and rent payments will always be made direct to claimants themselves,  except when they won’t.  This is Iain Duncan Smith’s idea of simplifying welfare.

The hapless Work and Pension Secretary has made much of the terrible complexity of the benefits system as if it were some kind of socialist plot designed to confuse him.  As his hare-brained welfare reforms grow ever closer he is starting to understand exactly why that complexity developed.

With no clear proposals in place the axe still hangs heavy over every women’s refuge, homeless hostel or other supported housing project in the UK.  At very best a new funding regime might be introduced, which will almost certainly mean cuts.  The Discretionary Housing Fund, which was intended to cover the shortfall already being experienced in Housing Benefit payments, is nowhere near enough to accommodate paying for hostel rents as well.  And George Osborne doesn’t look like he’s sending the DWP more money any time soon.

Universal Credit is fast collapsing into a tragic farce.    Yet Iain Duncan Smith will carry on regardless whilst Lord Fraud seems to think it’s all some big game.  They are playing with the very survival of those who depend on the scant social protection provided to those who’s lives have run into the most horrific difficulties.  Abused children, victims of domestic violence and  homeless families will be the first in line to suffer at the hands of Iain Duncan Smith’s bodged experiment at the DWP.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

It’s Landlords Not Tenants Getting Rich on Benefit Payments

As a somewhat naive, northern teenager I found myself in London with no money and nowhere to sleep. After some days and nights wandering I ended up in a night-shelter. It wasn’t very nice.

Sharing a room with four others, we were booted out at 10am and not allowed back on the premises until 6pm when we were fed a meal of out of date frozen pizza and oven chips donated by the local supermarket. For this we paid £10 a week, whilst Housing Benefit covered the considerable rent of around £150 a week.

After a few weeks of this I opted to move into the salubrious surroundings of a DSS B&B in Paddington. This time I shared a small twin room with just one other person, an ever so slightly psychotic heroin addict. The room was barely large enough for two single beds, with a small shower unit in the corner that didn’t work properly.

The nearest toilet was down two flights of stairs and was shared with around 15 other residents. It was rarely, if ever cleaned and the task of scrubbing away the dried shit and blood did not appeal. There was no kitchen. The manager was an amiable enough geezer with a hint of menace about him. He claimed dealing with dead bodies was a regular part of his job. Before even being handed the keys I was required to fill out a Housing Benefit form. Aside from a letter informing me I had been awarded Housing Benefit of £148 a week that was the last I heard of it. The cheques went straight to the owner of the B&B, whoever that might have been.

This was in the early 90’s under the last Tory administration and long before Paddington began to move upmarket. Housing Benefit rates were somewhat random back then. It seemed the trick the B&B owners employed was to apply for £250 for everyone and then take whatever came back. My room mate was receiving about £180 a week for the exact same room, although his bed was nearer the window I suppose.

All the residents agreed it was a fucking rip off.  Dodgy bastards providing sub-standard hovels at huge cost to the tax payer. It was impossible to secure employment, which was forbidden under the terms of the B&B’s licence agreement, in case it affected our Housing Benefit.  What I didn’t realise until this government was that this was all my fault.

These are the circumstances some of the families affected by the new benefit caps will be enduring. Despite repeated claims made by the Government of luxury houses many are in grotty temporary housing which will cost the state a fortune, of which they themselves will never see a penny. Unable to move because they can’t afford the huge deposits demanded by landlords these days, they will also be unable to stay because they can’t afford the rent. Huge swathes of the South East will now be out of reach for large families.

Some of these families may be unemployed, some may be to ill to work, it matters not to Iain Duncan Smith. As many as 100,000 people, children, parents and pensioners could find themselves in an impossible position. Local councils are also now placed in a paradoxical situation. The Housing Act attempts to ensure that no child is ever forced to sleep rough. Many Tories, including Eric Pickles and Westminster Council are desperate to change this.

At present however they are legally bound to place homeless people with children in emergency accommodation. The problem is the temporary accommodation they have used traditionally will charge rents which places them out of reach due to the Housing Benefit cap. If IDS noticed this gaping hole in the legislation, which may cause some councils to either break the law or fund huge rents via Council Tax revenues, he didn’t care.

The DSS B&Bs have long gone from most parts of London. Where I stayed in Paddington caters to tourists now. Much temporary accommodation is now privately rented flats and houses or hostels. Hostels, many run by charities, say they need high rents to pay staff. It is quite possible these cuts will force their closure. Private landlords will no doubt give their properties a lick of paint and rent them on the open market, one of the few sectors that appears to be booming. There is no evidence to suggest that landlords will cut rents to accommodate the changes to Housing Benefit. The opposite seems to be happening.

Councils will very likely claim that families facing eviction are ‘intentionally homeless’, a sinister phrase that means you and your family are stripped of all rights to support. Eviction for rent arrears has long been a way for council’s to avoid responsibility for homeless families. Whether that will still apply if the arrears were due to benefit cuts will no doubt form the basis of a court case at some point. In the meantime Local Authorities will try it on as much as they can.

Councils will offer to take the children into care, the parents will be told to fend for themselves. This is not scare-mongering, it already happens to families deemed intentionally homeless. When these new reforms come into effect, if you become sick, disabled or unemployed you will face not just losing your salary, but possibly your home and even your children.

It’s true the Daily Mail has been able to find the less than a handful of families living in what appear to be nice properties at huge expense. All systems will create anomalies. However a cap that makes most of London out of reach to families on benefits is obviously not intended to address the 2 or 3 families who were living in 2 grand a week Kensington pads.

Most people are living in average accommodation, in average areas. Not just Kensington, but Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark and in fact almost all London boroughs will now be out of reach to low income families. Housing Benefit will already now only pay for rents which are in the bottom 30% of the market up to the point of the caps, which are far below rent levels. Children are already expected to share rooms, up until the age of 11 if they are the opposite sex or 16 otherwise. Many families affected by the caps will have rented the property before the relentless onslaught of gentrification sent private rents soaring in London.

It is true that soaring rents and unaffordable housing is a fuck up on a national scale. Greedy buy to let landlords and a desperate shortage of Council Housing are largely to blame. This Government instead has chosen not just to blame the tenants, who never see a penny of the Housing Benefit payments, but to force them into homelessness. The costs of this, both financial and social, will be huge. It seems even in times of banker enforced austerity the purse is bottomless when it comes to dismantling the Welfare State.

Meanwhile IDS and his vile cronies continue lying that people living on a pittance, vulnerably housed in some of the shittiest properties London has to offer, are somehow living it up at the expense of the tax payer.

I was in the B&B for about four months and then managed to secure a place in a longer stay hostel. With a list of rules and regulations so long it was similar to an open prison, but at least I had my own (tiny) room. Housing Benefit were paying around £170 a week. I could be evicted with only 24 hours notice, and almost was more than once. Whilst not written into the licence agreement, working was discouraged, again because it would affect my benefit entitlement.

I managed to last a year in the hostel before we became decidedly intolerant of each other and I moved into a squat. And got a job.

The reason I had found myself in this position was my previously declared naivete. Up north back then few landlords charged deposits and for those that did you could apply for a Social Fund loan. I assumed the same applied in London. It didn’t. After a couple of days trawling LOOT for properties I thought were cheap enough to be covered by Housing Benefit and another couple of days sat in DSS offices finding out they wouldn’t lend me the deposit I realised I was in the shit. It didn’t help that the vast majority of landlords refused to rent to benefit claimants anyway, although I had no real scruples about lying to them about my circumstances. Eventually I threw myself on the mercy of a now closed advice centre for young homeless people who referred me to a night-shelter.

Had I been eligible for a Social Fund loan I would have easily been able to secure much lower cost accommodation all by myself, saving the state thousands. And I’d have had to pay the money back.

Tomorrow the Lords will be discussing an amendment in the Welfare Reform Act which will abolish the Social Fund completely. Yet another piece of car crash legislation that will cause social chaos. That the impact and cost of all these changes may well see the undoing of Iain Duncan Smith’s political career will be of little comfort to the children and families whose lives will be devastated by the upcoming carnage.

As unemployment sky rockets more and more people are going to be forced into poverty and desperation as the the state support they paid for is stolen to fund tax cuts for the rich and new nuclear bombs. It is difficult to predict what hundreds of thousands of people who can’t afford to feed their children will look like. Last Summer’s riots may well be seen as little more than youthful exuberance compared to what could be about to come.

This government should be careful what they ask for, because they might just end up getting it.

Take action against the Welfare Reform Bill this Saturday 28th January.

Iain Duncan Smith – Lying or Stupid?

It’s becoming increasingly hard to tell.   Iain Duncan Smith has supposedly been working on benefit reform for ages, yet he still seems blissfully unaware of how Housing Benefit works.

He talks with great angst of poor families on 20k a year who couldn’t afford to live in city centres, whilst the poor cavort in our Mayfair mansions.  Does he not know that Housing Benefit is an in-work benefit?  Has he not realised that a family with two kids on 20k a year could claim over £200 a week in Local Housing Allowance in some areas?  Has he even bothered to actually look at the Housing Benefit rules?  Is he just really fucking thick?

Or is he just a lying piece of Tory scum?