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Archive for the ‘Food Banks’ Category

Benefits Freeze Adds to Universal Credit Misery.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon

More than the usual ‘system error’.

The controversy about Universal Credit continues to develop.

Today the Currant Bun, not the Claimants’ chum,  headlines

Universal Credit revolt by THIRTY Tory MPs as they urge Chancellor to plug £2bn black hole which will leave millions worse off.

At least two dozen have signed a letter to the Treasury highlighting their fears to the Chancellor – urging him that an extra £2billion is needed for the reform.

Around a million people are expected to go onto Universal Credit next year as part of the rollout to everyone over the next five years.

The letter reads: “As it stands 3.2million working families are expected to be worse off, with an average loss of £48 a week.

“Enabling hard working parents to keep more of what they earn and thus encouraging them to take up more work is at the heart of Conservative policy.

“This measure would boost the incomes of 9.6million low income parents and children.”

In July 2015, having promised £12 billion of welfare cuts – reportedly on the assumption that the Liberal Democrats would argue this down – George Osborne announced exactly that. Chief among these cuts was a further working age benefits freeze. So no matter what the rate of inflation was, benefits would not be increased in April 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2019.

One thing that risks being forgotten is the impact of the Benefit Freeze.

Last week (October the 13th) the Resolution Foundation published this.

Despite ‘the end of austerity’, April promises another deep benefit cut

Adam Corlett.

How important this nominal freeze would prove to be couldn’t be known exactly in advance – only predicted – as its real impact depends on inflation. At the time, it was thought that inflation would be below 2 per cent in every year, as the table below shows. At first, the inflation forecast actually proved too high, with very small price rises in 2015 and 2016. This meant that the benefits freeze had only a limited impact in its first two years. But with the Brexit vote and resultant price increases, CPI inflation reached 3 per cent in September 2017. Normally, that September figure would have been used to uprate working-age benefits for the next tax year but, due to the freeze, that didn’t happen. And now inflation for September 2018 is expected to be around 2.7 per cent. Working-age families will again be denied that inflationary benefits increase next April.

Overall, the real cut to many benefits from the four-year freeze is over 6 per cent (and that’s before considering separate or earlier cuts).

….

If we exclude pensioners and working-age non-parents, the impacts become even clearer. The average couple with kids in the bottom half of the income distribution will be £620 poorer in 2019-20 than if inflationary uprating had occurred since 2016-17, and the average poorer single parent will be £760 worse off. The April 2019 freeze alone will mean a £210 hit for an average poorer couple with kids and £260 for poorer single parents.

This chart is depressing to look at.

This, the long-term decline in the value of benefits, is significant.

Corlett’s conclusion is important:

Whether or not the final freeze goes ahead, there is also a tough question for the opposition parties. Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have all said they would end the freeze. But CPI uprating is already set to return from April 2020. The big question is whether those parties would actually undo the real term cuts that have already happened (i.e. though a real terms increase) if they got the chance, or if that £5 billion, 6 per cent cut will simply be accepted as a fait accompli.

The talk of the town may be of ‘the end of austerity’ and ‘Brexit dividends’, but for low to middle income working-age families – particularly parents – the outlook is quite different. On top of weak pay growth, their outlook includes a further benefits freeze, the transition to Universal Credit with its slashed work allowances, the phasing out of the valuable ‘family element’ and phasing in of a two-child limit. Ending the freeze one year early, with benefits rising just after Brexit day, would help to turn that outlook around.

This is exactly the issue, what exactly would the parties do to repair the damage caused by the benefit freeze?

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Written by Andrew Coates

October 15, 2018 at 10:30 am

As Revolt Against Universal Credit Grows Esther McVey Tries to Ban Charity Critics.

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Esther McVey: Needs Protection for her “standing and reputation”.

The world has turned against Universal Credit.

You know that when Gordon Brown attacked it, saying, “Halt universal credit or face summer of discontent” and and was followed by fomrer Tory PM, John Major rubbishing the hare-brained scheme.

And the Tory papers jumping on the bandwagon.

Not to mention yer actual present day Tory MPs:

The House of Commons,

Tory backbenchers have urged the government to slow down the roll out of universal credit. The new all-in-one benefit, which replaces six existing benefits, is being introduced gradually, but in areas where it has been implemented there have been multiple complaints about people being impoverished by having to wait for money. In an interview on the World at One, Nigel Mills said:

If you have any doubts that we can make it work for these volumes, let’s slow down. Let’s not get this wrong for the sake of sticking to a timetable.

Another Tory backbencher, Johnny Mercer, said UC was “politically undeliverable” in his Devon constituency, and called for a planned increase in income tax thresholds to be scrapped in order to make the benefit more generous. The MPs spoke out as Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, said some claimants would be worse off under UC, despite Downing Street saying otherwise. (See 4.59pm and 5.04pm.)

Guardian.

One of the things that stuck in the craw was McVey’s claim that if people lost money under Universal Credit they could always earn the shortfall by working more.

But, there you go….

Then there was this yesterday (Independent):

Some people “could be worse off” when they switch to universal creditEsther McVey has admitted – directly contradicting Theresa May’s pledge to “protect” them.

The work and pensions secretary said “tough decisions’ had been made which would hit claimants – following reports that she told the cabinet their loss could reach £2,400 a year.

The admission comes just one day after the prime minister told the Commons that current claimants “will not see any reduction”, promising: “They will be protected.”

Thin-skinned Esther is not one to take this lightly.

The Independent reports today:

Charities working with Universal Credit claimants required to ‘sign contracts to protect Esther McVey’s reputation’

Charities and companies working with Universal Credit (UC) claimants have reportedly been required to sign clauses pledging not to damage the reputation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.

At least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with programmes getting the unemployed into work, The Times reported.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denied they were “gagging clauses” intended to prevent criticism of ministers or their policies, insisting they were just “standard procedure”.

However a spokesman confirmed that the contracts did include references to ensure both parties “understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests”.

Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed in recent weeks a string of stories about charities, such as CAB,  being contracted to do the DWP’s work….

As in, “Citizens Advice to provide support to Universal Credit claimants.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fund Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support from April 2019, the government has announced.

The support scheme will help claimants through every step of making a Universal Credit claim. It will offer people the comprehensive and practical support they need to get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives.

Universal Support provides advice and assistance to help claimants manage their Universal Credit claim, with a focus on budgeting advice and digital support. Since 2017, Universal Support has been delivered by individual local authorities, funded by grants from DWP.

From April 2019 Citizens Advice (England and Wales) and Citizens Advice Scotland will take on the responsibility for delivering a strengthened Universal Support service, a move which will ensure a consistent and streamlined service for claimants across the country.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey said:

Since becoming Secretary of State in January, I have listened to the concerns of claimants, constituents, charities, welfare organisations and colleagues and I have made significant changes to the system, like extra support for those with mental health conditions, more support for vulnerable young people and more support for families who look after other family members’ children.

I have always said we will steer a new direction and work with partners to deliver vital services, and get Universal Credit right. The state cannot, and should not work in isolation and must reach out to work with independent, trusted organisations to get the best support to vulnerable people.

This brand new partnership with Citizens Advice will ensure everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable claimants, get the best possible support with their claim that is consistently administered throughout the country.

Citizens Advice are an independent and trusted organisation, who will support people as we continue the successful rollout of Universal Credit.

But….

The signatories to contracts must undertake to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the Work and Pensions Secretary, the newspaper reported, adding that they must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her.

A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s completely untrue to suggest that organisations are banned from criticising Universal Credit. As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.

Even the Murdoch press is turning:

As the Mirror says,

The Times said at least 22 organisations signed the pledge as part of contracts worth £1.8 billion to run projects getting the unemployed into work

Written by Andrew Coates

October 12, 2018 at 11:04 am

Gordon Brown Joins Charge Against Universal Credit: Warns of coming “Summer of Discontent”.

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Sign the Petition from Our Friends from the Mirror!

It’s obvious that Universal Credit is going the way of the Poll Tax.

People you would not expect to talk about these things are angry about it at the drop of  a hat.

The local CAB is jammed with the number of cases they have to help.

MPs, including Ipswich’s, are besieged by those in dire straits because of the system.

I would hazard a guess, just a little guess, and say that the DWP is well aware of the train crash that is Universal Credit.

Now after John McDonnell called on Sunday for getting rid of the system Gordon Brown is set to make this speech.

Halt universal credit or face summer of discontent, Gordon Brown tells PM

Guardian – Larry Elliott

Britain is on course for a summer of discontent and poll tax-style chaos unless Theresa May scraps plans for a full national rollout of universal credit next year, the former prime minister Gordon Brown is to say.

In a ferocious attack on the government’s flagship welfare reform, Brown predicts that a complex application process alongside Treasury spending cuts will plunge a million more children into poverty and increase reliance on food banks.

The former Labour leader, who sought to tackle poverty through the introduction of tax credits in the early 2000s, will say on Wednesday that the government’s amendments are cruel and that a U-turn is needed before more suffering is caused.

Even this Blog, which does not mince its words, is shaken by Brown’s next statement,

Speaking in Edinburgh, Brown will say: “Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame. But the Conservative government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3bn of cuts. A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”

Writing in the Mirror Gordon Brown explains:

Universal Credit is cruel far beyond austerity – and it’s becoming Theresa May’s Poll Tax, says Gordon Brown

It is now time to abandon the national roll out of the disastrous benefit-cutting Universal Credit .

Call a halt to this experiment – cruel and vindictive far beyond austerity – that is pushing child poverty among millions of hard-working British families to record levels.

From next July when three million more families begin to be herded on to Universal Credit, our country will face the kind of chaos we have not seen since the days of the hated Poll Tax.

With the convulsions of Brexit in March and the Universal Credit four months later we face a summer of division and despair.

From July each family on tax credits today will have to submit a wholly new form for Universal Credit – a policy Ministers have been warned will risk a breakdown in the system.

Instead the Government should order a review into what is going wrong – and give emergency help to those families now in despair because of benefit cuts.

With child poverty rising inexorably from three million in 2015 to four million now and to more than five million by 2022, October 29 should bring a Budget for children.

And to halt the rising epidemic, Child Benefit should be raised and child tax credits should be improved – as the one way, alongside a decent living wage, that we can get low-paid families out of poverty.

Today’s poverty explodes the myth that children are in poverty because their parents are work-shy and indolent.

Two thirds of the children in poverty have a parent in work – but earning too little to lift them out of poverty. In fact, nearly half – 42% – of households are in poverty where there is one breadwinner only in work and no other adult working.

The majority of the rest who are in poverty have disability in the family.

Savage Cuts are pushing them on to the breadline.

And after freezing Child Benefit and children’s tax credits for years Universal Credit is taking £3-billion out of the social security budget as it is introduced. Almost 3.2-million working families will, according to the Resolution Foundation, stand to lose an average of £48 a week.

Read the full article.

This stands out:

So I am calling today for the Government to abandon the 2019 national roll out of Universal Credit and end this harsh, harmful and hated experiment.

We need an urgent review on the lines suggested by the Child Poverty Action Group to be instigated and we must hear the voices of those who know what it’s like to have help cut short I join individuals and organisations who have called for a rethink including The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Church of Scotland, The Mayor of London, Disabled Against The Cuts, The Mayor of Liverpool, Mind, The Trussell Trust, Unison, Unite and Citizens Advice Bureau as well as the Child Poverty Action Group and most disabled charities.

The review should look closely at three options: redesign Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose; axing it in favour of reverting to the old system if UC is unfixable; or introduce a brand new system altogether.

The Mirror has launched a petition:

Universal Credit is harsher on people both in and out of work, and some families could end up £200 a month worse off.

The Mirror are demanding a halt to the expansion of UC and for a review to take place. We say there are three options:

  • Redesign UC to be fit for purpose
  • Axe it in favour of the old system if UC is unfixable
  • Introduce a brand new system

Sign our petition to stop the rollout of Universal Credit across Britain and to replace it with a fairer system.

You can sign through here.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 10, 2018 at 10:42 am

Local Papers, and *some* nationals , do their Job in Reporting Universal Credit Train crash.

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Talk to the Media!

It is very noticeable that the press, including local papers, has been doing its job in reporting on the Train Crash that is Universal Credit.

Obviously I exclude right-wing comics…..

I just cite a few examples this weekend:

Daisy Wyatt

The ‘I’ – a paper lots of us read.

Low-income families set to lose £200 a month in Universal Credit changeover.

Millions of families are set to lose £200 a month under the new Universal Credit system, it is understood. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey confirmed the figures privately to colleagues as ministers are said to be increasingly concerned about the rollout of the new universal credit system, The Times reported. Ms McVey told cabinet colleagues that half of lone parents and around two thirds of working age couples with children would lose the equivalent of £2,400 a year, according to the newspaper. Labour MP Jess Phillips has since said the monthly figure lost by low-income families was closer to £300 in her constituency in Birmingham Yardley.

Banbury Guardian.

New service to help struggling Universal Credit claimants

A new service to better help people having difficulty claiming Universal Credit in north Oxfordshire and south Northamptonshire will be launched next year by Citizens Advice. Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire and South Northamptonshire has been given a Government grant to build on its benefits support service from April, 2019.

DWP: Universal Credit claimants get help from Citizens Advice as Teesside rollout continues

Teesside Live.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has been drafted in to help those applying for Universal Credit navigate their claim.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fund Citizens Advice to provide ‘Universal Support’ from April next year, which hopes to help those on benefits through every step of the process.

The DWP says it will offer people the “comprehensive and practical support they need to get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives”.

The Mirror:

Universal Credit’s next stage ‘could spark a huge increase’ in people being forced to rely on food banks

The Trussell Trust have warned issues with benefits are the main reason for referrals to receive emergency food supplies.

I could continue…

Why not keep up the pressure by contacting the press?

Local media obviously feel, and the genuineness of their concern is clear, that this is a top story.

Give ’em a ring, a text or an E-mail…

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2018 at 9:55 am

Trussell Trust fears the next stage of Universal Credit will see Foodbank Use Soar.

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The Trussell Trust has published this Press Release, which should be taken very very seriously indeed.

Not least because many of our contributors are already on Universal Credit and many will also be affected by “managed migration” onto Universal Credit.

Charity warns next stage of Universal Credit could further increase foodbank use.

Anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust fears the next stage of Universal Credit – which will see three million people moving from tax credits and the old benefits system onto the new system – could lead to a significant increase in foodbank use as new research highlights a major increase in the proportion of foodbank referrals made for people moving onto Universal Credit.

Issues with benefits are the main reason for all Trussell Trust foodbank referrals. Analysis of data from frontline agencies referring to foodbanks across the UK between April 2016 and April 2018 shows that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.

The findings come as the Department for Work and Pensions finalises its plans for the next stage of Universal Credit to take to Parliament later this month. Until now, only people making a new application for benefits in certain areas have been able to apply for Universal Credit. This next stage – ‘managed migration’ – will see the three million people currently receiving tax credits or benefit payments under the old system sent a letter telling them to reapply for these payments under Universal Credit.

The report  (The next stage of Universal Credit. Moving onto the new benefit system and foodbank use) says,

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The rollout of Universal Credit to all Jobcentres will soon be complete, and the next stage of Universal Credit will begin. 3 million people currently claiming benefits and tax credits will have to move onto the system. The Trussell Trust is concerned that, given the links between Universal Credit, financial hardship, and foodbank use, this next stage could lead to increased financial need and more demand for foodbanks. The report uses referral data from Trussell Trust foodbank vouchers to examine the impact of Universal Credit on foodbank use, and finds that:

  • When Universal Credit goes live in an area, there is a demonstrable increase in demand in local Trussell Trust foodbanks. On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see a 52% increase in demand, Credit for 3 months or less. This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations.
  • More detailed foodbank referral data show that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are
    likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.

This poses serious questions for the next stage of Universal Credit, where many people could lose their benefits entirely or find themselves with less income. The Department’s current plans involve sending letters to people informing them their claim will be terminated if they do not apply for Universal Credit within a four week period. Each claimant will then have to wait at least five weeks for their first payment.

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, explains:

“We created our benefits system in this country to free people from poverty, not lock them into it. As we look at the current plans for the next stage of Universal Credit, we’re really worried that our network of foodbanks could see a big increase in people needing help. Leaving three million people to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – especially when we have already decided they need support through our old benefits or tax credits system – is just not good enough. 

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We know the problems people are likely to face as they move over to the new system, so we can learn from them. The Department for Work and Pensions has shown they can act on evidence from the frontline to make a real difference to people who need our benefits system’s vital support. Now is the time for our Government to take responsibility for moving people currently on the old system over, and to ensure no one faces a gap in payments when that moves happens. Universal Credit needs to be ready for anyone who might need its help, and it needs to be ready before the next stage begins.”

The Guardian reports:

Trussell Trust calls for urgent changes to policy of moving 3m people on to new system

Last month the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned that managed migration posed a “significant threat of harm” to vulnerable claimants, and that the rollout should be paused to enable stronger protections to be put in place.

Universal credit, which rolls six working-age benefits into one monthly payment, has been dogged by delays – it is currently six years behind schedule – and has been much criticised over design flaws that leave thousands of claimants in hardship.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 5, 2018 at 9:28 am

Crunch Time for Failing Universal Credit Scheme.

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Please Verify £3 Billion Extra Funding.

Theresa May has been told that she must inject nearly £3 billion into controversial benefit reforms as the policy reaches its most delicate stage in parliament.

MPs will be asked this autumn to approve the extension of universal credit payments to 2.1 million less well-off families who at present claim income-linked benefits. These include about one million families in which parents work in low-paid jobs. This group of people who are “just about managing” have previously been identified by the prime minister as her political priority.

The Times.

Government faces crunch decisions this Autumn as Universal Credit enters its ‘most difficult phase’.

The Resolution Foundation says,

The government must get the final phase of Universal Credit (UC) right this Autumn if it’s to reboot the reputation of its flagship welfare reform programme and support millions of low income families, according to a new report published today by the Resolution Foundation.

The benefits of moving focuses on the final, and in many ways most difficult, phase of UC, which involves moving 2.1 million families currently claiming benefits (such as tax credits and Employment Support Allowance) onto the new system. This includes around a million ‘just about managing’ families who are in work.

The details of the crucial final phase are due to be decided upon in parliament this Autumn and rolled out from July 2019 onwards. This ‘managed migration’ is the most difficult phase yet for UC because it involves people that have not chosen to apply for the new benefit.

The report notes that the principle of Universal Credit has consistently enjoyed cross-party support on the basis of two key advantages – improved financial incentives and higher-take up for the simplified benefit.

However, the first advantage has been undermined by cuts in Summer Budget 2015 that reduced the generosity of the scheme. The small print of UC’s design also means that the financial incentives for single parents and second earners to enter and progress in work are weak.

The Foundation says that upholding the second key advantage of UC – encouraging higher take-up – should therefore be a top priority for government as it seeks parliamentary approval for the legal rules that will govern the upcoming managed migration this Autumn. It argues that the potential gains from higher take-up are significant, with the OBR estimating that 700,000 families could gain around £2.9bn in total.

The benefits of moving says that a smooth final phase of the rollout, which prevents cash losses and encourages more families to claim their full benefit entitlement, could help to reboot the reputation of UC. However, it warns that further design flaws – which need to be resolved this Autumn – risk further undermining the roll-out and could put people off claiming UC altogether.

The Foundation’s recommendations to make a success of the most difficult phase of UC include:

  • Speeding up UC payments. The government should show that 90 per cent of new claims to UC are paid on time and in full before it rolls out the managed migration process. In February 2018, 83 per cent of claims were paid in full and on time, with little improvement since June 2017.
  • Reducing financial risks. The government should ensure that the state, rather than individuals, bears any financial risk that may arise from teething problems in the managed migration phase. No existing claim should be closed until a new UC claim is in place, so that people don’t lose support altogether.
  • Boosting financial incentives. The government should introduce an earnings disregard for those being forced to move onto UC to prevent claimants with volatile earnings (such as self-employed workers or those on zero-hours contracts), or who have a short-term boost in pay, from losing out financially from the transition. More broadly, the government should improve incentives by increasing single parent work allowances and introducing one for second earners.

David Finch, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Universal Credit enjoyed almost universal support when it was first announced. But its reputation has been undermined in recent years by significant cuts and payment delays that have left too many claimants in difficult financial straits.

“But despite these problems, the rollout of Universal Credit is still going ahead and is in fact about to enter its most difficult phase as two million families already claiming benefits start to be moved onto the new system – including one million just about managing families.

“Get this final phase of the rollout right and it could help to reboot Universal Credit’s reputation, but get things wrong and UC’s reputation risks taking another battering, and worryingly some families could be put off claiming UC altogether.”

 

Calls for further delays to fix flaws before million working families move on to benefit

Failure to manage the critical next phase of universal credit, during which about a million low-income working families will be moved on to the benefit, could sink the controversial welfare programme altogether, experts have warned.

The Resolution Foundation says ministers should consider further delays to the rollout of the benefit so that design flaws can be fixed and further safeguards put in place to protect claimants from risks of financial hardship.

There is concern that universal credit could prove politically explosive for ministers when the large cohort of “just-about-managing” working families in receipt of tax credits are subjected to its well-documented problems with payment delays.

More than 2 million households – including about a million working families, as well as 750,000 disabled and ill claimants unable to work – will be transferred to universal credit under so-called “managed migration” over three years from next July.

Meanwhile:

‘Debt, tears and suicidal thoughts’: This is the reality of universal credit in Cardiff

Carer Vivien Soloman, 60, from Tremorfa, has been told she cannot receive anything as her partner’s pension counts towards the maximum household income they’re entitled to under Universal Credit.

Despite being signed off work after breaking her wrist in April last year and suffering from stress, she is now without any income.In six years time, when she turns 66, she will be entitled to receive her own state pension yet under Universal Credit she is not entitled to any benefits.

Vivien recently received a letter from her housing association telling her she is nearly £1,000 in arrears and faces being forced out of her home after 24 years.She and her partner have seen their council tax bills jumped up by over double – rocketing to over £90 a month when she used to pay £24 a month.

That’s on top of a maxed out overdraft of £2,000, with bank charges of £35 a month, paying her sister £30 a month for credit card debt and still paying for her father’s funeral after he died in April.With no savings, she can’t afford to pay it back, and it’s making her have suicidal thoughts.Vivien, whose partner is a retired painter and decorator, feels trapped.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2018 at 11:45 am

As Rents Rise and People Risk Homelessness: End the Freeze on Local Housing Allowance!

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Housing benefit freeze leaving poorest private renters with shortfall of up to £140 a week

Low-income tenants in the private rented sector face a “heat, eat or pay rent” problem because housing benefit rates have failed to keep up with the soaring cost of accommodation, a study has found.

The benefit freeze is not just affecting people’s ability to pay bill, or to buy food in the shops (where massive price rises are predicted on basics)

Welfare Weekly reports,

Research from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) reveals that more than 90% of Local Housing Allowance (the equivalent of housing benefit for private renters) rates across Great Britain are insufficient to cover even the cheapest rents, as they were originally designed to do.

LHA rates were frozen for four years in 2016 and CIH is warning that they have fallen so far behind even the cheapest rents that private renting has become unaffordable for most low income tenants – putting them at risk of homelessness as they are forced to choose between basic living expenses and paying the shortfall. The organisation is calling on the government to review the policy and to end the freeze immediately.

LHA rates are meant to cover the cheapest 30%t of homes in any given area. But they haven’t been increased in line with local rents since April 2013 and they remain frozen until April 2020.

As a result, renters are facing gaps ranging from £25 a month on a single room in a shared home outside London to more than £260 a month on one to four-bedroom homes in some areas of London.

Over 12 months, those gaps rise to £300 and £3,120 – making it increasingly likely that renters will be forced to choose between paying for basic necessities like food and heating or their rent.

The government introduced targeted affordability funding in 2014 to bridge the biggest gaps but CIH’s new report has found that its impact has been negligible, covering only a handful of the shortfalls completely.

CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said: “Our research makes it clear just how far housing benefit for private renters has failed to keep pace with even the cheapest private rents.

“We fear this policy is putting thousands of private renters on low incomes at risk of poverty and homelessness.

“We are calling on the government to conduct an immediate review and to look at ending the freeze on Local Housing Allowance.”

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “This report highlights just how much housing benefits for private renters are falling short of the levels needed, leaving many homeless people stuck in a desperate situation and putting yet more people at risk of homelessness.

“There are 236,000 people across Britain experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – this includes those sleeping on the streets, living in unsuitable hostels, and sofa-surfing. In many of these cases, people simply can’t find a home because there isn’t enough social housing and housing benefits are too low to cover private rents.

“Homelessness is not inevitable – there is clear evidence that it can be ended with the right policies in place. The government must urgently reform housing benefits for private renters, so they not only match the true cost of renting but also keep pace with future rent changes.”

There is some serious research behind this: MISSING THE TARGET? Is targeted affordability funding doing its job?

What are the consequences of the uprating freeze for private renters?

• Tenants are expected to make up any gap out of their jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) (or other basic benefits) even though basic benefits don’t include an allowance for rent. Basic working age benefits are also subject to the uprating freeze and are now only worth 93 per cent of their 2012 value.

• Single people aged under 25 only get the shared accommodation rate and a lower rate of JSA (£57.90). On average they are expected to contribute 10 per cent of their JSA on the gap (equivalent to a 17 per cent contribution in real terms).

• Young jobseekers’ resilience is severely limited because the basic benefit allowance for this group

 

Background: the local housing allowance and uprating policy (2008-2020)

How LHA rates become misaligned with local rents

• In April 2008 the government introduced the local housing allowance (LHA) which set a maximum rent that housing benefit can cover for private tenants. The LHA is the rent figure which a set percentage (currently 30) of all of the rents in that market fall below (‘the 30th percentile’) – ensuring that same percentage of homes is affordable to low income households.
• For each of the 192 distinct local housing markets across Great Britain there are five LHA rates, one for each category of dwelling (e.g. shared accommodation, one bedroom, two bedrooms etc.). Each LHA rate is calculated using a database of rental market evidence compiled by rent officers (professional valuers who work for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in England or the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales).
• In April 2013 the link with local market evidence was broken and henceforth (for an unspecified period of time) existing LHA rates were uprated by the consumer prices index (CPI) or a lower figure set by the government. From April 2014 for two years the uprating index was capped at one per cent, and from April 2016 LHA rates were frozen for four years.
• Over the medium to long term rents tend to rise faster than prices (i.e. CPI), so that from April 2013 when the link with local rents was broken, the LHA’s purchasing power receded and this has accelerated during the one per cent cap and the current freeze.
• From April 2014, to ensure that LHA rates remain reasonably well aligned with local rents, the government introduced targeted affordability funding (TAF). Under this policy a proportion of the savings that accrue from uprating by one per cent or zero instead of CPI is awarded to those LHA rates that have the lowest percentile value (i.e. cover the smallest proportion of the whole range of rents that are paid in that market).

Written by Andrew Coates

August 30, 2018 at 11:38 am