Tag Archives: homelessness

Homeless Families Living in £3000 Per Week Hotels Due to Housing Benefit Reforms

homeless-familyNothing sums up the toxic mix of brutality and blundering at the DWP than the news that homeless families are being housed in hotels at a cost of almost £3000 a week.

BBC London last night reported on the families kicked out of their homes due to the Housing Benefit cap who are now being put up in hotels at huge cost to the tax payer – an entirely predictable scenario for anyone who has a basic understanding of the housing and benefits system.

The Housing Benefit cap was introduced after lurid stories appeared in the tabloids about families living in £2000 a week Kensington mansions.   David Cameron himself denounced the housing benefit system that led to people claiming £100,000 a year.  The truth was not so dramatic and it turned out that less than five families were actually receiving that much in benefits – which it should be repeatedly pointed out went into to the pockets of landlords, not claimants.  The average Housing Benefit award was just £85 a week.

This didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith steaming ahead with the Housing Benefit cap which has seen most of London become unaffordable for private tenants on a low wage or who are out of work due to sickness, disability or sky high unemployment.

At the time IDS claimed: “‘We have got to bring an end to the hysteria and scaremongering around housing benefit we have seen this week.  Our reforms are not about making people homeless.”

Since he made those remarks every measure of homelessness has risen sharply,  from the number of people living on the streets to the number of children living in B&Bs and hotels.

London Councils have been overwhelmed with homelessness applications, leading to some, like Westminster Council – a flagship Tory borough – housing families in hotels at astronomical cost.  Less than five families who were living in what was very likely temporary housing at a cost of £2000 a week have been replaced by possibly scores of homeless families living in hotels which cost £3000 a week.

These are families who have already faced the trauma of eviction due to the benefit caps.  Whilst the BBC points out that the shortage of accommodation is so acute that Westminster are sometimes using 4 star hotels, a posh carpet and and a concierge are unlikely to make up for large families forced to share a room without cooking facilities or any long term security.

When the overall benefit cap is introduced in Croydon, Haringey and Enfield in April, this is a problem that is only going to get far worse as even more families will find themselves unable to pay the rent and forced from their homes.

Iain Duncan Smith whinged in the Spectator yesterday that criticism of the upcoming bedroom tax is ‘pathetic’ and ‘scaremongering’.  Which sounds a lot like his tantrum when people warned the Housing Benefit cap would lead to a huge rise in homelessness in London.

IDS was wrong then, and he’s wrong now.  There will be no comfort in saying we told you so however when hundreds of thousands of children’s lives are shattered by the inevitable poverty and homelessness that is to come.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Squaring Up to The Bedroom Tax: Resistance Grows Around the UK

bedroom-taxResistance to the Bedroom Tax, which will lead to thousands of people at risk of imminent homelessness, is sweeping across the UK.

From this April, council tenants with a spare room will see vital housing benefits cut by an average of £15 a week.  This will see those who are unemployed, on low incomes, or out of work due to sickness or disability, facing paying a huge chunk of paltry benefits towards keeping a roof over their heads.

Along with changes to Council Tax Benefits, and soaring fuel and water bills, some claimants could find themselves left with virtually nothing left at all to buy food. Amongst those hit will be parents whose children have recently left home, separated parents, foster carers and disabled people living in specially adapted properties.  Around 660,000 tenants are estimated to be affected by the change.

The Government has demanded that tenants should just move if they have a problem paying the extra costs.  Yet there is a woeful supply of one bedroom social housing meaning transfers to smaller properties in most cases will be impossible.  This is likely to lead to an exodus of social housing tenants to the private sector – where rents are far higher.  Not for the first time this policy seems to be more about attacking the very poorest and undermining social housing then actually saving money.

Tenants are now acting together to resist these changes, with news of meetings, campaigns and actions happening across the UK.  Here’s a list, which is far from exhaustive, of some of what’s been organised so far.  Please feel free to add details of anything that’s been missed in the comments.

Liverpool – A wide network has emerged opposing the bedroom tax with a ‘Ruckus at Mutual Homes’ on Wednesday 7th February at noon.  Astonishingly the Chairman of Liverpool Mutual Homes proposed workfare for tenants to make up the rent shortfall.  For details of the protest visit: http://www.facebook.com/events/472210886178901/

Several local planning meetings are being held around Liverpool in the next few weeks – for full details visit: http://combatbedroomtax.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/liverpool-tenants-meetings-housing.html

Glasgow – Groups including Black Triangle Campaign, Govan Law Centre  and Glasgow Housing Action are all agitating against the bedroom tax with some form of action inevitable. A meeting has also been called by the Socialist Party Scotland on February 11th: http://www.facebook.com/events/615638345129882/ whilst Coalition Of Resistance have a meeting on the 13th.

Edinburgh – Similar mobilisations are taking place.  A call has also gone out on facebook for a protest against the bedroom tax in Scotland on March 30th: http://www.facebook.com/events/369488576491663/

Leeds – A website is up and a meeting has already been held in Seacroft, with a further meeting being held in Armley on February 14th.  Full details at: http://leedshandsoffourhomes.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/armley-stop-the-bedroom-tax-meeting/

London – A protest has been called on March 30th when campaigners will meet at Trafalgar Square then walk down to Downing Street to literally hand over the shirts off their backs – full details at: http://www.facebook.com/events/147409045413846/

A meeting in London recently took place in which a new network to fight all the welfare cuts was established including DPAC, Right To Work, Defend Council Housing as well as the PCS and UNITE Unions – more info at: http://www.dpac.uk.net/2013/01/campaign-for-benefit-justice-sign-up-to-our-statement-against-tory-attacks-on-the-poor/

And there is of course the inevitable petition aimed at scrapping the bedroom tax at: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Paul_Higgins/

Finally worthy of a mention is the SPeye blog which has featured some of the best coverage of the bedroom tax, including revealing that despite Tory lies, it seems many pensioners will be hit by the tax.

Please tweet, share and spread the word about all groups and events.  It’s early days yet and networks are still being formed and co-ordinated.  If your group is organising a meeting, action or protest then please spam the fuck out of the comments below.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Affordable Housebuilding Collapses – and it’s going to get worse

soup-kitchenFigures released today show that genuinely affordable housebuilding – meaning housing that most people can afford to actually live in – has dropped by 28% in the last year.

According to the National House Building Council, the number of public sector housing registrations dropped from 36,680 in 2011, to 26,390 in 2012.  This dwarfed a small rise in private sector house building, meaning the number of new homes built overall in the UK fell by 9% last year.

The devastating loss of social provision is only likely to get worse over the next year.  Social Housing providers have warned that they may have to cut new house building by 8% simply because of the impact of Universal Credit.  Early pilots of Iain Duncan Smith’s sweeping overhaul of the benefits system showed that arrears doubled in areas where the new payment system was trialled.  Housing Associations are stockpiling cash rather than building houses due to fears of an oncoming wave of arrears and evictions.

Not to be outdone, Housing Minister Mark Prisk is determined to make the situation even worse.  Prisk recently squandered almost a million pounds of tax payer’s money promoting the very same Right To Buy policies that created the desperate lack of affordable housing in the UK.

In many parts of the UK even so called ‘affordable homes’ can cost more in weekly rent than the wages from a minimum wage job will pay, or those on even average incomes can afford.  Recent changes to legislation could see Social Housing providers charging rents at 80% of the local private sector average.  In parts of London ‘affordable’ rents could be upwards of a thousand pounds a month, even in the outer boroughs.

With housing benefits being slashed, a collapse in social housing and private rents soaring out of control, millions may soon found themselves at very real risk of homelessness.   The safety net of the welfare state is no longer strong enough for even the working poor to be able to afford a place to sleep

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Rents Set To Soar as Wages and Benefits are Slashed

rent-risesOver one third of landlords are planning rent rises already this year, with around a quarter set to inflict an inflation busting 3% hike on struggling tenants a new survey has revealed.

The stark warning was issued by letting agents Spareroom, who also recently revealed that rents for rooms in shared houses had rocketed by a staggering 7% in the last year.

Average rents across the UK were 4.7% higher in December than a year previously according to the Homelet Rental Index.  This makes a mockery of internet con-man and Tory Party Chairman Grants Shapps’ claim last year that rents are falling due to welfare reforms.

In fact it is tenant’s wages which are falling, by on average 0.3% over the year according to Homelet.

With the bedroom tax and benefit cap to come into force this April a perfect storm is brewing which could lead to unprecedented homelessness.  MPs voting through the freeze on benefits last night mean it is possible any explosion in homelessness this year will just be the tip of the iceberg.

Housing Benefits, a benefit available to those in and out of work alike – as well as parents, pensioners and disabled people – will only rise at 1% from 2014, no matter what happens to the rental market.  With falling or stagnating wages, cuts to other benefits and soaring rents, this will create an ongoing catastrophe in the lives of the very poorest.

Every year people with almost nothing will see incomes squeezed as they attempt to pay ever increasing rent rises out of slashed benefits or poverty pay.  This can only lead to one thing, and for many tenants that will mean the streets.

As greedy landlords cash in on the ongoing housing crisis, the Government seem intent on making things worse.  The appalling lack of social housing is one reason that rents are out of control, a shortage caused by the right-to-buy policies which began under the Tory Party in the 80s.

Astonishingly Inside Housing this week reported that the Housing Minister Mark Prisk is throwing tax payer’s cash around like confetti in a bid to extend the scheme.  Almost £1 million has been spent on marketing and mail shots to social housing tenants encouraging them to buy their properties.

Already polls show that the public is finally turning against the escalating war on the poor.  Homelessness is one of the most visible signs of both poverty and a fractured society.  Few will forgive this Government when they see for themselves the carnage that has been created in so many people’s lives.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

What Is Homelessness And Why Does It Happen?

HomelessWhilst people on the streets are one of the most visible signs of homelessness, the problem extends far beyond rough sleeping.  The majority of homeless people live in hostels, night shelters or B&Bs, but the impact of being without a home is still devastating.

Hostels and B&Bs provide relief in a crisis, and can be both the first step towards a solution, but also the first fall towards the streets.  The accommodation is insecure, short term and hugely expensive.  For single people it can mean sharing a room with strangers whilst parents are forced to share with their children.  In particular private sector temporary accommodation is often dangerous, damp, dirty and unmaintained.

Some hostels and night shelters are ‘direct access’ where most residents were formally living on the streets and have been identified by charity outreach workers.  These hostels have strict rules, sometimes not allowing access to the premises in the day time, with bed spaces being lost should a resident sleep elsewhere for the night.  Many long term street homeless people find adapting to such a regulated environment difficult, whilst others find the atmosphere, where drugs and heavy drinking are  commonplace (though usually banned), intimidating and frightening.

After a period which can be several weeks but sometimes months, most people are referred to longer stay hostels whilst waiting to be moved to some form of more sustainable accommodation – usually a council or housing association flat or bedsit.  Residents can be in long stay hostels for anything from six months to a couple of years.   Generally residents have their own rooms, albeit often little larger than a single bed.  Meals are sometimes provided and any facilities are shared.   Overnight guests, or even guests full stop, are often banned.  Homeless people aren’t allowed to have relationships.

Those in temporary accommodation, whether long stay hostels or B&Bs, have ‘licence agreements’ rather than tenancies.  This is more similar to the type of contract entered into when using a hotel and means immediate eviction should someone fall foul of the rules.

Temporary accommodation charges eye watering rents which are covered by housing benefits.  This makes it very difficult for those in long stay hostels to work.  Residents also pay a service charge out of their benefits to cover the costs of heat, light and water as well as food if available.  Service charge arrears result in eviction.

A final large group of homeless people are the so called ‘hidden homeless’.  People sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying with family or squatting.  Other people live in a vehicles – whether on the side of a road or on a traveller site, some pitch a tent away from view, many sleep in derelict properties or abandoned garages.  This is often the first stage of homelessness as precarious accommodation collapses and people are left with nowhere to go but the streets.

Local authorities only have a duty to help those with children or who are ‘vulnerable’ which in practice usually means someone with a severe disability or those above pension age.   To qualify for help a homeless applicant must also have a connection with the local areas and not be judged ‘intentionally homeless’.  Families who are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’, having given up a property for some reason, or in some cases been evicted for arrears, may be told that the council will take the children into care but the parents can fend for themselves.  With huge strains on the amount of emergency accommodation available, most local authorities will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid helping anyone.

It has long been the fashion, amongst governments and homelessness charities alike, to insist that homelessness is something caused by people, personalities and individual behavior.  They point to some homeless people abusing drugs or alcohol, failing to find work, committing crimes and, worst of all, not doing what charity workers tell them to do.  But many homeless people are just poor and have run into bad luck, although it is hard to stay a perfectly productive member of society when your world has collapsed around you.  Homelessness drives more people to drink than the other way round.

One factor unites all of the experiences of homeless people and that is a lack of money.  Whatever other difficulties someone is facing there will always be a point on the journey to the streets where homelessness is a purely economic matter.

It could be an eviction or repossession, or someone unable to afford a deposit on a property or not able to pay for a cheap B&B for the night.  This is why the tsunami of cuts to welfare, and in particular housing benefits, will send homelessness soaring.  Because when people need that kind of help most, when life has taken a terrible turn, to strip away payments available for housing will mean the fall to rock bottom is assured.  People in desperate circumstances are not incentivised by having less money.  They are demolished.

Everybody knows that when people are under great pressure they do not always act rationally or in their own interests.  It is sheer bad luck that sometimes unfortunate and devastating events can happen in quick succession.  Desperate people do desperate things.  When a relationship breaks down, sometimes people turn to drink.  This can lead to problems at work and even dismissal, followed by depression and heavier drinking.  Benefits are unavailable due to being sacked.  Rent goes unpaid, friendships deteriorate, support networks dismantle.  Homelessness follows and it’s hard to sleep on a pavement sober.

None of this is unusual or outside of the realm of normal human behaviour.  It is called a downward spiral and it can happen in a million different ways to anyone.  There are former successful business people living on the streets of London right now, whilst the vast majority of homeless people had stable, fulfilling lives at some point.

It is only at the very bottom of this decline, that if you are lucky, the state might just step in and offer to try fix the problems they helped create.  And so begins a climb back through the system of night shelters, hostels and temporary accommodation that can take years.  One small slip along the way, breaching hostel or benefit rules, and it’s back to the bottom.

Homelessness has many contributing factors and subsequent effects, but remains at heart an economic problem.  That’s why, even before the cuts, a stagnating economy was causing homelessness to rise. The number of people without a home is set to soar due to a toxic combination of cuts, rent rises, wage or benefit freezes and law changes.  Every single one of those people will have a tragic story, and all too often one that begins with a letter from the DWP telling them that their housing benefit is being cut.

How to Create Mass Homelessness the George Osborne Way

Cardboard2This week’s move by George Osborne to cap benefit rises below inflation at 1% is the final deadly touch in a toxic series of measures likely to lead to unprecedented homelessness in the UK.

The Chancellor’s decision came in the same week that Crisis released a report warning that street homelessness has risen by a shocking 23% in just one year.  Every other measure of homelessness has also soared recently with the numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation up by 44%

These steep rises in numbers of those without a home have come before the impact of coalition cuts to Housing Benefits have largely been felt.

There will be a considerable lag before people made homeless end up either on the streets or presenting as homeless with local councils.  Many local authorities will not even accept a homelessness application until someone has been formally evicted from their home.  This means many of those affected by the last year’s Housing Benefit cap will be waiting to be evicted before they can get help from the council – and no doubt building up significant debts whilst they wait.

The Housing Benefit cap was implemented depending on when claimants made their initial claim for the benefit, meaning some people will only have seen benefits slashed in the last couple of months.  It is likely that virtually none of the recorded rises in homelessness seen so far are due to the vicious cuts to housing benefits, but simply the predictable consequences of a fucked economy.

The new rules for those under 35 – which mean that Housing Benefit will only pay for a room in a shared house – are likely to have now come into force for most claimants.  Once again there will be a lag before many affected are picked up in the homelessness figures.  Younger people make up one of the largest groups of ‘hidden homeless’, generally those sleeping on friend’s sofas or squatting.  For some this temporary support is enough, but for others it can be the start of a decline which ultimately leads to the streets.

Squatting recently became illegal in even abandoned ‘residential’ properties, so this vital lifeline has been cut short.

Next April the overall benefit cap of £500 a week is introduced – no matter where someone lives or the size of their families.  This will make much of the South East of England unaffordable for those on benefits with children.  If this wasn’t enough the Bedroom Tax, to be introduced at the same time, will see housing benefits cut for people who have a spare room for a carer, or happen to have children who have just left home.

For those hit by this measure, the path to finally losing homes will be long and drawn out.  Claimants living on just £70 a week unemployment benefit could find themselves paying £10, 20 or even more each week towards their rent.  Few will be able to manage without falling into arrears.

Many people are already paying a significant amount towards rent out of meagre benefits after the Government down-rated Housing Benefit payments to the bottom 30% of the housing market.  Just three out of ten properties in any local area are now affordable to those on benefits. Previously Housing Benefit would cover the bottom 50% of rents in the market, so some claimants are stuck in properties which housing benefits won’t pay for and are desperately trying to cover the shortfall themselves.

It is impossible to predict how many people may find themselves homeless over the next two or three years due to the Government’s cuts.   The Government themselves estimate 50,000 families will be affected by next year’s benefit cap alone.  According to the Children’s Society this could mean 80,000 more homeless children from next April.

It will not just be those on benefits affected by the changes.  Housing Benefit is an in work benefit and an increasing number of claimants have full time jobs.  The so called fall in unemployment has really just been a rise in workfare, sanctions and part time work.  Economic conditions alone would be enough to trigger a housing crisis in an increasingly unaffordable rental market combined with sky-high unemployment.

But the Government aren’t content to stop there.  George Osborne’s latest cuts will ensure that the mass exodus into hostels and B&Bs or onto the streets, is now enshrined within the welfare system.  Housing Benefit will no longer be pegged to the local rental market, or even inflation as had been first announced in 2010.  Despite rocketing rents in some parts of the UK,  Housing Benefit will now only rise at a rate of 1% a year.

To place this in context, it has been estimated that London rents soared by 32% in the last three years.  A property which cost £200 a week in 2009 now costs on average £264.  Under Osborne’s new measures,the amount of Housing Benefit available for that property would have risen by just £6.  Even outside of London rents have risen 7% over three years, so someone in a £150 a week property would need to find an extra £6 a week out of their benefits.

This is £6 a week is on top of the shortfall many people already face due to the cuts and before the benefit cap/bedroom tax have been introduced.  Crisis estimate the average shortfall facing many Housing Benefit claimants is £23 a week.  When Universal Credit is introduced, those on benefits or low incomes may also lose some  Council Tax benefit .  In the worst case scenario, people on Job Seekers Allowance could find themselves paying out almost half of their £70 a week in rent and Council Tax.

Half a million benefit sanctions were handed out last year, which leave  claimants forced to live on £42 a week ‘Hardship Payments’ – and only then if they qualify.  When Universal Credit is introduced the number of sanctioned claims is expected to rise.   Rent payments are usually still covered during a sanction, but housing benefit often needs to be re-applied for.  This can take considerable time and lead to arrears and even eviction.  As Housing Benefits increasingly don’t pay the rent, claimants living on £42 a week, could see the bulk of it swallowed up by trying to keep a roof over their heads.

And even those paltry benefit rates are to face a cut in real terms, along with in work benefits such as Working and Child Tax Credits.

It is scandalous that so much of the benefits bill ends up in the pocket of grasping landlords.  It is a tragedy just how much social housing provision has been eroded by successive governments. But Housing Benefit is the most vital and life-saving part of the benefits system – keeping a roof over the heads of low paid, sick, disabled, unemployed or retired people alike along with millions of children.

It is not our fault the housing market is so fucked and that rents are unaffordable.  Whilst the pampered middle classes gushed about their property prices in the house market boom and buy to let landlords pushed up rents to new heights a social time-bomb was being created which housing benefit ended up paying for.

The victims of rampant property speculation and soaring rents are now to be punished again as Housing Benefits are stripped away.  For every latte slurping Tarquin’s property portfolio, there is now a family of homeless children whose lives have been destroyed before they have barely even begun.

Homelessness Charities Slam Floundering Work Programme

Three of the UK’s largest homelessness charities have issued a scathing report condemning the Government’s Work Programme.

According to the report there is currently no provision on the Work Programme for homeless people in London, 22% of homeless claimants have had benefits sanctioned whilst on the scheme and Work Programme contractors are picking up huge job outcome fees for work the charities have done themselves.

The report, authored by St Mungo’s, Crisis and Homeless Link, comes in the week that performance figures are expected to be released showing the Work Programme is an hugely expensive disaster.

St Mungo’s have already handed back their Work Programme contract after claiming they were unable to place a single person into work under the scheme.

Whilst these charities were only too happy to endorse the scheme when they thought there might be some money in it for them, this report does suggest a change in direction from some of those in the third sector.  The report warns of the crippling poverty inflicted by sanctioning vulnerable claimants and also highlights how many homeless people had been forced to give up college or volunteering to attend the Work Programme.  Showing that these charities have a long way to go before they truly get behind there service users however, the report stops short of calling for an end to the brutal sanction regime.

Concerns are also raised about how claimants are treated on the scheme, with 58 per cent of homeless people surveyed stating they were not treated with ‘dignity or respect’ by Work Programme providers.

The report also claims that Work Programme contractors such as A4e and G4S often pick up huge job outcome fees for claimants who found work through schemes the charities themselves ran and funded.  This means that someone could successfully find work after a course with a homelessness charity – funded by donations from the public or other funding body – and all the Work Programme contractor has to do is get some paperwork signed and they can trouser up to £6,600.  The most lucrative benefit scam in  history is taking place right under the noses of the DWP and yet still  Iain Duncan Smith sings the praises of the whole shabby racket.

The document also highlights how in some cases the Work Programme has effectively destroyed people’s lives:

Sam lives in a St Mungo’s hostel. When he told his Work Programme adviser that he wanted to work in construction, his adviser suggested that Sam become self-employed.

He was assured that he could claim different benefits and led to believe that his income would not be affected. Sam followed this advice and signed-off JSA, which meant that his housing benefit was also stopped. He tried to claim benefits for those who had declared themselves self-employed, but was told by the Jobcentre that he was not eligible.

“They said I would get help and my benefits wouldn’t get cut off, but that’s not how it went – it put me in jeopardy for three or four weeks. My housing benefit was cut off, my JSA stopped….I was misguided.” He was left with no income apart from a £51 one-off grant from the Work Programme provider. After several weeks Sam started to receive JSA again.

Around this time he was planning to move-on into more independent accommodation but he had to abandon this move because he had no housing benefit to pay the rent. Because he had signed off JSA, Sam also became ineligible for Social Fund grants that would have helped him to furnish a new flat.

The report can be read in full at: http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/policy_research/TheProgrammesNotWorking_final_23-11-2012_PDF.pdf