Tag Archives: housing benefit cuts

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.

Lord Fraud Spins Out of Control As Homelessness Starts to Soar

A new independent study was published this week which reveals that over half a million families could face homelessness in the next year due to the Government’s brutal cuts to Local Housing Allowance (otherwise known as Housing Benefit).

Around a third of private sector landlords who currently let to LHA claimants have said they will stop, or are considering stopping, letting to claimants in the next 12 months.  This could remove the availability of around half a million homes from the low paid, pensioners, disabled or unemployed people.

The number of people claiming LHA has soared to over 5 million, up 25% since 2008, largely due to huge numbers of people only being able to find part time work.  The figure, which includes over a million pensioners, show that around 1.6 million of the total number of LHA claimants are private tenants who will be affected by the cut to the Local Housing Allowance.

The study released this week is the first part of a piece of research commissioned by the DWP to track the effects of the vicious cuts to LHA.  Astonishingly Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform has claimed:

“The research published today gives us an early insight into what is really happening and I am encouraged that it shows that the many scare stories about the effects of housing benefit reform are not materialising.

This represents a staggering misreading of the report which includes a survey with 1,910 current LHA claimants.  The surveys were carried out in Autumn last year meaning the vast majority (1,356 claimants) have not so far been affected by the caps.  Only those who have started new claims since April 2011 will have felt any effect from the cuts.  One of the most devastating changes, which will see those aged under 35 only eligible for a room in a shared house, has still not yet been implemented.

Despite this 67% of tenants claim that there is a shortfall between the LHA they receive and their rent – and this is before the cuts have been introduced.  12% of tenants are currently in arrears, and 43% say they are currently finding it very difficult (23%) or fairly difficult (20%) to meet rent payments.

Of perhaps most concern is that 93% of current LHA claimants say they don’t know very much, or know nothing at all, about the upcoming changes to their LHA payments.  This suggests the Government has failed dismally to explain the upcoming devastation set to be caused by the drastic cuts, which will only now be beginning to affect some, though not all, of existing claimants.

Lord Fraud’s claims that all in rosy for LHA claimants either reveals startling naivety or gross  dishonesty.  This report suggests that huge numbers of people were struggling to hold onto their homes even with the system as it was before the cuts.  With homelessness agencies reporting a 16% rise in homeless households in the first three months of this year, the crisis is already escalating.  It will not be until towards the end of this year that the full extent of the LHA cuts will be felt, and even then the £500 a week benefit cap will not yet have been implemented.

Ever the willing lapdog, the Daily Telegraph has hailed the results of the study as a triumph.  Completely misreading the situation, the paper hails the news that a quarter of LHA claimants were looking for work to help meet rent payments.  This is hardly surprising news, given that 21% of those surveyed were in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance, a condition of which is that the claimant must look for work.  It is unlikely that the 25% of those on LHA who are claiming a pension are out looking for a job to avoid impending homelessness.  The study also neglects to inform us whether any of those looking for work have actually found a job, something which is increasingly unlikely in the current climate.

It is the results of the survey of landlords which perhaps reveals the grimmest view of the future.  Out of touch ministers believed that landlords would negotiate and lower rents due to LHA reforms.  The Telegraph hails the new study as evidence that this is taking place, claiming that of those who have attempted to renegotiate rents with landlords, around 1 in 4 were successful.

Many of those people will have renegotiated rents before the cuts – it remains to be seen whether landlords will agree to a further decrease in rent levels when the LHA cuts take effect.  In fact the study is quite explicit in its findings stating that: “in this early stage of the reform, the LHA measures had not, in practice, resulted in an increase in negotiation between claimants and landlords over rent levels”.

Of more concern is the result that 30% of London landlords are already not renewing tenancies due to the LHA changes, whilst only 5% may be prepared to negotiate a lower rent with an existing, or prospective tenant.  Landlords are more encouraged to lower rents if LHA payments are sent directly to them, reducing the risk of arrears building up.  This will no longer be an option when Universal Credit,the new benefit system, is finally implemented.

Lord Fraud can spin all he wants, but this report makes bleak reading.  The Telegraph claim that only 3% of people have been forced to move due to LHA cuts.  What the report actually shows is that 3% of people were having to leave their homes due to LHA rates being too low before the cuts were implemented.

Even with the system as it was huge numbers of people were struggling to pay their rent, and most are unaware of the upcoming tsunami.  The vast majority of landlords are not prepared to make any concessions, and with rents soaring as home ownership becomes an unaffordable dream for most, why would they?

On top of this comes the news that 4000 bed spaces for homeless people have been lost due to cuts.  A perfect storm is coming that may well see homelessness on an unprecedented scale in the UK .  Lord Fraud’s spin will seem as empty as his policies when sleeping bags once again line the streets of London.

Credit to Black Triangle Campaign for spotting the study which can be read at (PDF): http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2011-2012/rrep798.pdf

Claimants Who Can’t Pay Rent Will Be Intentionally Homeless Say Westminster

The Tory vermin at Westminster Council intend to abrogate their responsibility to families unable to meet excessive rents by claiming any eviction due to rent arrears may be considered ‘intentional homelessness’.

With thousands in the borough facing shortfalls in their rent due to the Housing Benefit caps, Westminster Council warn:

“If you do not make up the shortfall in your rent, take insufficient action to resolve the situation and are evicted for rent arrears, you could be considered intentionally homeless.”

When someone is declared intentionally homeless this means that the council no longer has a statutory duty to provide housing, even for vulnerable residents.  This can often apply to those with children.  In the past this has led to some homeless families being informed that a council will house the children (by issuing care proceedings) but the parents are not eligible for help.

Westminster Council are encouraging people on benefits to move out of the borough completely.  With the plans to criminalise street sleeping and ban soup runs, the social cleansing of Westminster, first dreamed up by Shirley Porter, will be complete.

As part of the third National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts a demonstration and mass free food give away has been called for outside Westminster City Hall on the 14th April – 5pm.   Other London events and actions are also planned – watch this space.

Benefit Claimant Fightback Begins – December 15th 2010

It’s starting small, embryonic even (as in going to get a lot fucking bigger) but the fight back against benefits cuts has begun.

A group of autonomous benefit claimants from around the country have called for a National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts on December 15th.  They call on all claimants, unemployed action groups, service users and service providers to organise protests in their area.

Suggestions have included sit ins at Civic Centres, Town Halls and MP constituency offices, mass sign ups to the housing register or why not call a Christmas party in your local Housing Benefit office.

London claimants will be attending the Housing Emergency Demonstration at Downing Street at 12.30pm, organised by newly formed Housing Emergency Coalition.  Bring cardboard and sleeping bags to create a cardboard city and then onto Trafalgar Square at 3pm for Christmas fun under the tree.

Rumours abound of events already being plotted in Edinburgh and possibly Brighton.  Please join the event page on facebook and help spread the word far and wide.  This is our first chance to say no to these cuts and warn we won’t pay for their crisis.

The students have shown the way, now it’s our turn.

Talking of students, they’ll be getting up close and personal with Lib Demmers at their London conference on Saturday whilst elsewhere activists will be visiting Top Shop’s flagship store at Oxford Circus.