Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Archive for the ‘Housing Benefit’ Category

Rent Arrears Swell with Universal Credit.

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Image result for universal credit rent arrears

Universal Credit: More and More Demands…

One of the ideas behind government welfare ‘reforms’ is to make people more “responsible”.

We now have to pay a percentage of our Council Tax, because that makes us “responsible”, or to put it more simply, it is thought to make us consider how Councils allocate money. In this case a right-wing idea, that poor people voting over public spending is a bad idea because we will use our power to tax our betters, is behind this. As ‘taxpayers’ ourselves we will think twice about forking out for the elderly, and public services more widely and, they hope, vote Tory to keep Council Budgets in order. Bad councils, that is Labour ones, will suffer electoral reverses if they do not follow the penny pinching and contracting out ways of the Conservative crooks who still run many councils.

The fact that this scheme costs money to collect, that poor people fall into arrears, and that not a single penny has gone to compensate benefit claimants for what is in reality a hefty cut in our income, is ignored.

Universal Credit operates with another kind of enforced “responsibility”.

People pay their rent themselves, rather than having it deducted and sent to the properties’ owners.

Common sense would have told the designers of this system that far from ‘teaching people how to budget’ it would be the occasion for many to fall into arrears.

And so it has come to pass…..

Almost 90 per cent of tenants in receipt of Universal Credit are in rent arrears Daily Record.

South Lanarkshire Council confirmed this week that 633, 87 per cent, of UC tenants owe £525,000.

Almost 90 per cent of council tenants in receipt of the controversial Universal Credit (UC) benefit are in rent arrears totalling £525,000.

South Lanarkshire Council confirmed this week that 633, 87 per cent, of UC tenants are struggling to pay for housing.

The local authority said it was doing everything possible to assist people to repay the debt and avoid losing their home, as Gerard Killen MP called on the government to halt the full roll out of the benefit.

Currently offered to a limited number of people, UC replaces six of the main means tested benefits including housing benefit and sees claimants receive all of their benefits in one single payment monthly in arrears.

It means tenants are, for the first time, responsible for paying their rent as opposed to their housing benefit being paid direct to their landlord.

The Residential Landlords Association quickly got a whiff of this and has set the following up,

In July Councils were already flagging up their concern.

Councils losing £6.7m in Universal Credit arrears

The saga of Universal credit looks far from over.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Homeless Levels to Double.

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The camp set up on Ipswich Waterfront by a group of rough sleepers. Pictures taken by Gregg Brown in January 2017.

Rough Sleeper Camp in Ipswich (January 2017). 

Enigma is the latest of our contributors to point out that this is a growing issue.

The Mirror.

Twice as many people are sleeping rough in Tory Britain as we thought, alarming new study reveals

Analysis by Heriot-Watt University found 9,100 people are currently sleeping on the streets across Britain – the previous estimate was 4,100

 

In January this was published,  Rough sleeping rockets across Suffolk: “It’s a sign that a lot of people are struggling”

 

Welfare Weekly reports,

The number of people forced into homelessness is expected to more than double to half a million by 2041 unless the government takes immediate action, a homelessness charity has warned.

Analysis by Heriot-Watt University for Crisis has found that the number of homeless people in Britain will reach 575,000, up from 236,000 in 2016. The number of people sleeping rough will more than quadruple from 9,100 in 2016 to 40,100 over the same period, the research found.

The forecast, released to mark the 50th anniversary of Crisis, comes as the number of homeless households has jumped by a third in the past five years. The majority of those affected are “sofa surfers”, with 68,300 people sleeping on other people’s couches.

The biggest rise will be for those placed by a council in unsuitable accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts, with the total expected to rise from 19,300 to 117,500.

Crisis has urged the government to build more affordable housing and launch a concerted effort to tackle rough sleeping.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “With the right support at the right time, it doesn’t need to be inevitable … Together we can find the answers and make sure those in power listen to them.”

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said that homelessness had become the bulk of her workload. “The government needs to wake up … The system is broken. Without more social housing, a flood of good temporary accommodation and investment in homelessness support the problem will get worse.”

This will help increase the numbers of homeless as well:

The Tory government has quietly axed a free benefit claimed by 124,000 people – here’s how it could hit you.   Mirror. 

The government will be transferring existing claimants onto the new loan system from 5 April 2018.

There will be a transition period where some people can continue claiming SMI as a free benefit for a while.

But this is simply to stop people falling through the cracks if there are “delays” to moving them onto the new scheme.

Outsourcing giant Serco is taking responsibility for telling people about the new system in the coming months through letters and a phone call.

….

A spokesman for welfare rights charity Turn2us added: “Support for Mortgage Interest has been an important source of help for those with a mortgage who have had an income shock.

“It has helped many stay in their homes.

“The increase in the waiting period to 39 weeks has already affected that.

“Now, turning Support for Mortgage Interest from a benefit into a loan adds to the pressure on homeowners who are already struggling.”

Can I take the time to flag up this article by one of the best activists in Britain, 

The first sentence is relevant to the above, “Outsourcing giant Serco”

Outsourcing is killing local democracy in Britain. Here’s how we can stop that

Residents at Grenfell Tower describe how, as the local council outsourced contracts to private companies to work on their estate, essential elements of local democracy became unavailable to them. Their voices weren’t heard, information they requested wasn’t granted, outcomes they were promised did not transpire, complaints they made were not answered. The outcome at Grenfell was unique in its scale but the background is a common enough story. Wherever regeneration of social housing has been outsourced to private developers, responsiveness, transparency, oversight and scrutiny – key elements of healthy democracy – are lessened for those most directly affected.

Outsourcing of public services began in the 1980s, a central feature of the drive to roll back what neoliberalism casts as a bureaucratic, inefficient state. Its proponents claimed the involvement of private providers would increase cost-savings and efficiency, and improve responsiveness to the “consumers” of public services. Thirty years later, the value of these contracts is enormous – more than £120bn worth of government business was awarded to private companies between 2011 and 2016, and their number is increasing rapidly. At least 30% of all public outsourcing contracts are with local authorities.

 

In Ipswich the Labour Borough Council does not outsource. – sadly this is not the case for many Labour authorities.

 

Cuts mean it’s hard to deal with problems like homelessness.

But the gang of Tories from the backwoods and chocolate box villages who run Suffolk County Council have hived off everything they possibly can and helped make things that but worse.

Result?

Read Pilgrim’s article.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 11, 2017 at 12:21 pm

News From the Welfare Front, from Boycott Workfare to Universal Credit.

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Image result for boycott workfare

Boycott Workfare, the admirable campaign group against government schemes for unpaid work for the out-of-work, has resurfaced with a chapter in a book published by Pluto Press.

A new book chapter using testimonies compiled by Boycott Workfare exposes the violent impact of forced labour.

When we talk about what’s wrong with workfare, we often mention the horrifying material impact on people’s lives of the benefit sanctions that underwrite it. The political impact of unwaged work is also important – the way it attacks workplace rights and destroys our freedom. And workfare is psychologically violent and humiliating: it is coerced labour that’s supposed to build skills and motivation but obviously does nothing apart from offer free work to businesses and charities.

Now, in a freely available chapter of The Violence of Austerity, just published by Pluto Press, the accounts of 97 people who were on workfare schemes between 2011 and 2015 show how workfare is not only ruthlessly exploitative, but can also mean being forced into dangerous work in which health and safety laws are violated as a matter of routine. As the authors write:

If being employed in workfare schemes can be read as a forced and therefore violent process in itself, it should also be read as a process that contains the potential for a different type of violence: the violence that confronts workers when they are told to stand in the cold, to lift heavy loads that they physically cannot lift, or to endure other forms of physical and psychological degradation.

‘The violence of workfare’ documents 64 concrete allegations of breaches of health and safety legislation, at 43 workfare exploiters across the UK – in charities, social enterprises, maintenance companies and discount stores, as well as in environmental, agricultural and recycling projects. The first-hand accounts that the chapter is based on were all submitted to Boycott Workfare via the name and shame section of this website. These ‘employers’ benefited from 1,139 weeks of forced labour from the 97 people whose testimonies are included. That’s almost 22 years of coerced, unpaid labour.

These testimonies make clear how people have been forced to carry out hard labour or heavy lifting, despite existing medical conditions which make this work agony. The testimonies reveal how people have been denied access to protective equipment, and how people have been exposed to dust, chemicals and other hazards. In some cases, these accounts document how organisations have refused workfare conscripts access to food or water, and denied them even short breaks.

At the same time, the testimonies collected together in this chapter provide evidence of workfare exploiters threatening to ‘sack’ people who don’t work fast enough, or try to complain or try to gather evidence of the conditions they are being forced to operate in. People on workfare face being sanctioned if they are unwilling to work in unsafe conditions or if they take any kind of action to draw attention to these conditions.

And some workfare exploiters, it is made clear, are more than willing to exploit the fear that the sanctions regime generates to try and force people to accept dangerous working conditions. That same fear is used to ensure as much management control over workfare conscripts as possible. ‘The fear of sanction can intensify and generate yet more unreasonable demands from employers,’ the authors write. ‘Workfare, as a form of forced labour, effectively permits employers to breach health and safety laws with impunity’. Dangerous working conditions are an effect of unfree labour, compelled by the threat of sanctions.

But we can fight.

We are all entitled to the same basic health and safety protections in workplaces, and in the next few weeks, Boycott Workfare is aiming to bring out a ‘know your health and safety rights leaflet’ that can be used to provide information on these rights, and how to challenge dangerous conditions. And we must continue to name and shame exploiters, and expose the conditions in which they force people to work. Public pressure works, and now that workfare exploiters can no longer hide behind anonymity, we can consign workfare to history.

‘The violence of workfare’, by Jon Burnett and David Whyte, is available for free here. You can read more about the chapter, and the rest of the book, in this article from Disability News Service.

Background:

Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive social security.

We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact.

We expose the companies and organisations profiting from workfare and we take action against them. We encourage organisations to pledge to boycott workfare. We inform people of their rights at the jobcentre and we provide information to support claimants challenging workfare and sanctions.

Boycott Workfare is not a front for any political party, or affiliated with any political party. Anyone who shares our aims is welcome to get involved. Email us: info@boycottworkfare.org, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, Boycott Workfare do not currently have the capacity to take on casework. We recommend that claimants contact local organisations for one-to-one advice and support.

Meanwhile on the Universal Credit front….

Public Finance.

Council housing managers have urged the government to halt the rolling introduction of Universal Credit, which they said is causing “considerable hardship” to tenants.

The National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) also called on ministers to scrap the seven-day waiting period for new claims.

They said that almost four years on from the initial introduction of Universal Credit “our research shows that delays in the assessment process, poor communications between DWP and landlords, and the seven-day wait period continue to cause significant problems to both landlords and their tenants”.

Rent arrears among Universal Credit claimants remained “stubbornly high” at 73% – equivalent to £6.68m – and 40% of households had accumulated arrears as a consequence of claiming.

Meanwhile, households faced mounting debts, as the average arrears for Universal Credit claimants had increased from £611.73 in March 2016 to £772.21 a year later.

NFA managing director Eamon McGoldrick said: “We are strongly urging government/DWP to halt the roll out of UC and ‘pause for thought’ until the system works properly for both claimants and landlords.”

The NFA and ARCH said their members generally supported the principles of Universal Credit and had launched initiatives to support tenants into work.

But they warned: “It is clear that support provided to tenants by landlords alone is not sufficient to resolve the problems being experienced and is not scalable as the roll out accelerates across the country and many more families and children become a part of the Universal Credit system.”

ARCH chief executive John Bibby said: “If the level of intensive support needed to vulnerable tenants is to be sustained during the planned rollout additional resources are essential.”

He also called for provision of a transition fund to enable landlords to support vulnerable tenants.

The DWP defines Universal Credit as support for people on low incomes or out of work, intended to ensure they are better off in work than on benefits.

It replaces: income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related employment and support allowance; income support; working tax credit; child tax credit; housing benefit.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 27, 2017 at 3:02 pm

As BBC Women’s Pay Gap Dominates News, Benefits Freeze leads to Evictions.

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Evictions reach a record high - new report for JRF published

More Important than Pay Gap for Women at BBC? 

No doubt this is important, so important that you can barely turn the radio or the telly on without hearing about it.

45 BBC women urge action now from Tony Hall on salaries as Claire Balding reveals Women’s Hour pays 40 per cent less than other shows.

But I can’t help feeling, call me a workerist, a miserabilist, and all the rest, that this is a lot more important.

100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit

(Thanks Enigma and others…)

Charities demand action to tackle toll of soaring housing costs, welfare cuts and ‘no fault’ evictions.

A record number of renters are being evicted from their homes, with more than 100 tenants a day losing the roof over their head, according to a shocking analysis of the nation’s housing crisis. The spiralling costs of renting a property and a long-running freeze to housing benefit are being blamed for the rising number of evictions among Britain’s growing army of tenants.

More than 40,000 tenants in England were evicted in 2015, according to a study by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). It is an increase of a third since 2003 and the highest level recorded. The research appears to confirm fears that a mixture of rising costs and falling state support would lead to a rise in people being forced out of their homes. It will raise concerns that even those in work are struggling to pay their rent.

High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.

The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas. Housing benefit was no longer covering the cost of renting in some cases, with average shortfalls ranging from £22 to £70 a month outside of London, and between £124 and £1,036 in inner LondonHousing benefit has not risen in line with private rents since 2010, and a current freeze means the rates paid will not increase until 2020.

The number of tenants evicted from their properties reached a record high, according to a new report highlighting the misery and insecurity faced by renters struggling on low incomes.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

The report shows:

  • the rented sector has grown in the past 12 years by nearly a half, and the number of tenants being evicted from their homes has grown by a third: 10,000 more tenants lost their homes in 2015 than in 2003
  • the number of tenants evicted by private landlords exceeded the number evicted by social landlords for the first time in 2014
  • the increase in repossessions in recent years has been almost entirely due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions, using Section 21 (S21) of the Housing Act 1988
  • the use of S21 is highly concentrated geographically – four out of every five repossessions using S21 are in London, the East and the South East, and nearly two-thirds are in London alone.

JRF is calling for the Government to end the freeze on support for housing costs, and uprate Housing Benefit in line with local rents.

According to recent research carried out by CCHPR for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the growing gap between rents and support for housing costs is a key factor behind the rise in private rented sector evictions.

The research included in depth interviews with tenants on low incomes and identified the high levels of stress and disruption caused by insecure housing.

‘With the £50 a month [housing benefit shortfall] coming out of the JSA – that’s almost a week’s money in itself – and then you’ve got the other bills…I just couldn’t make it work. I had to choose… do I pay the rent… electricity… buy some food?’

Changes in welfare benefits have not kept up with rising rents, causing misery for tenants as they cope with inevitable financial pressures. Furthermore, the rising number of ‘no fault’ (Section 21) evictions gives rise to insecurity as tenants on low incomes face a complete lack of options when they lose their home.

The full report ‘Poverty, evictions and forced moves’ can be downloaded here.

We call for Labour to Announce Plans to End the Benefit Freeze.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 24, 2017 at 11:12 am

Labour needs to develop an alternative to Universal Credit and the Benefit Freeze.

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Image result for universal Credit

The Labyrinth:  Claiming Universal Credit.

Labour has finally spoken about Universal Credit.

But, as quoted,  Debbie Abrahams, shadow Work and Pensions secretary, leaves many things unsaid.

Labour warning amid growing number of working people claiming universal credit

Labour has warned that low pay and insecure work “are endemic in our economy” after new figures showed 210,000 people claiming universal credit are in work.

Some 540,000 are now claiming universal credit, a flagship policy in the Government’s welfare reform programme which is being gradually rolled out across the country.

Around 39% of those are in employment but on low incomes, with the benefit paid to those in employment as well as those out of work.

Ministers say universal credit makes work pay by supplementing incomes and simplifies the benefit system.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The Tories’ principle that work will always pay under universal credit has failed.

“The increasing numbers of working people in receipt of universal credit show just how many workers are forced to rely on the social security system to make ends meet.

“Low pay and insecure work are endemic in our economy.”

Comment.

  • What about the Benefits’ Freeze which affects those on Universal Credit?
  • What about the chaos caused by the waiting time to get Universal Credit?
  • What about the misery caused by Housing Benefit delays on Universal Credit?
  • What about the Sanctions Regime for those on Universal Credit, which touches not just the unemployed but also those working?

Finally, amongt other injustices we have the ludicrous obligation of all claimants to pay a percentage of Council Tax.

This scheme was introduced in 2013, “people on the minimum income possible to survive will from April have to use their meager income to pay 10% of their total council tax.”

The immediate result?

“Thousands in court for council tax arrears as benefit cuts hit home” (2014).

“Record numbers of people in council tax arrears, say charities” (2016)

And now, “English Council Tax arrears now top £2.8 billion ”

And…

Benefits were not raised at the time so effectively claimants suffered a cut in their income.

The freeze on welfare payments means they lose out more and more.

What has Labour said on these issues?

Nobody has yet to talk seriously of of getting rid of this scheme, designed to grind the faces of the poor.

In Labour’s Manifesto we had a commitment to “ a redesign and reform of Universal Credit (UC)” .  This apparently applied mostly to the technology involved, as the source (Government Computing) indicates.

What are the details?

And, of far greater importance, what of the issues listed above which have led to poverty level incomes for people on benefits, sanctions, and all the rest….

All we have so far in the public domain (and I am informed there is not much elsewhere, unless there are some hidden Labour Policy Commission types  busy burrowing away on the Work, Pensions and Equality Commission whose work has yet to see the light of day..)  are broad brush ideas on “Tackling poverty and inequality” and “making work pay” .

There is this, (Labour List)

“The benefit cap is something that Labour would look to ending, Debbie Abrahams has said.

The idea, which has not yet been costed, would stop the household cap of £20,000 per household outside of London. The cap in London is £23,000. Parents must work for at least 16 hours a week to avoid the cap.

Getting rid of the benefit cap was not in Labour’s general election manifesto.

The shadow work and pensions secretary brought up the impact on child poverty that the cap has. Last week a judicial review brought by four families said that the cap brought “real misery” for families with young children, in comments reported by the BBC.

The Abrahams statement today adds little to the one she made in 2016.

Universal Credit as it now stands has fatally undermined incentives to work – Debbie Abrahams

Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, commenting on the ministerial statement on the roll-out of Universal Credit, said:

“Yet again the Tory Government has been forced to extend the Universal Credit rollout. This is the seventh time that the timetable has been altered since March 2013 and the implementation of Universal Credit is beset by problems. For example, UNISON has made me aware of a worker who has fallen foul of the strict DWP monthly assessment period, meaning she’s losing nearly £700 a year in Universal Credit on a £11,600 salary, purely because her monthly pay date varies.  This simply isn’t acceptable.

“The Government claims to want to support working people but. The new Secretary of State should get a grip of roll-out, look at the myriad problems in implementation and immediately u-turn on the Tories’ cuts to the work allowance.“

Between 2016 and 2017 it’s become clearer that  we need a root-and-branch approach to replace Universal Credit in its present form.

As the story we began with continues:

Universal credit combines benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance, as well as housing benefit and tax credits, into a single monthly payment.

A report by charity Citizens Advice last week called for the universal credit rollout to be paused, citing “significant problems” with the system.

 Research by the charity suggested many claimants fell into debt waiting for their first payment, which takes six weeks to process, while Citizens Advice also raised concerns over universal credit’s administration.

The charity believes that by 2022 more than seven million households will receive universal credit, 54% of which will have someone in work.

We look forward to seeing some detail relevant  to these points in this, though not being a wealthy toff who reads far-right papers like the Times I do not have access to the article.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 13, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Universal Credit Faces New Criticisms as Northern Ireland to Suffer Roll-Out.

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Flagship Benefit Reform Limps from Crisis to Crisis.

This was reported a week ago: Universal credit rollout in North Kensington halted after tower fire.

The Guardian.

New benefit system will not be introduced in full in July so jobcentre staff can focus on claimants affected by Grenfell blaze.

Officials have halted the planned rollout of universal credit into North Kensington, west London, next month, saying they want jobcentre staff to focus on supporting claimants affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Universal credit, which pulls together six separate benefits into one monthly payment, has been dogged by criticism that design flaws and payment delays were causing low-income claimants to run up rent arrears and rely on food banks.

 

We have still to find out the details of how those affected by mass evacuations of Tower Blocks will be treated by Universal Credit.

The prospect is not looking good.

This appears now:

Universal Credit’s planed roll out in Northern Ireland:

Universal Credit (UC), which has caused social havoc in people’s lives in other parts of the UK, is on its way to Northern Ireland.

MPs recently launched an official inquiry into Universal Credit amid growing concerns that design flaws in the new benefits system are leaving thousands of low-income claimants facing eviction and reliant on food banks.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said it was compelled to launch a full investigation after mounting evidence that built-in payment delays and administrative blockages were creating severe problems for claimants and landlords.

It has been stated by a number of Conservative Party ministers that one of the key aims of universal credit is to simplify the benefits system but also to reduce the overall cost of the welfare benefits system.

We  are also repeatedly told that spending on “welfare” for disabled people is out of control, yet the Department for Work and Pensions has gone nearly £200m over budget, paying two private firms to run the personal independence payments (PIP) assessment system.

The Conservatives have now spent £700m in taxpayers’ money on these contracts alone, despite the fact the process is so flawed that one charity reported that four out of five rejections that they appealed against were overturned.

Journalist Frances Ryan in a recent newspaper article (http://bit.ly/2sQ8NZz) said: “The government’s flagship benefit reform, universal credit (UC): is five years behind schedule, with delays announced seven times and a price tag rising to a staggering £16bn. And yet, with all that public money, it’s still plagued by administrative chaos and design flaws – to the extent that it’s not only failing in its purpose of improving the benefits system but is actively creating more social and economic problems.

“The Trussell Trust found that universal credit’s much-criticised six-week waiting period has led to mass emergency food parcels. In areas where the full universal credit rollout has taken place, food bank referral rates are now more than double the national average. This is on top of the debt, rent arrears and evictions it is also causing.

There are many bodies in Northern Ireland who have voiced their concerns over the planned introduction of universal credit, including Advice NI (http://bit.ly/2t5VhDj) and PPR (http://bit.ly/2sFBslk), but it is obvious that a more co-ordinated approach of opposition is needed, including the involvement of the community and voluntary sector and the trade union movement, if this ‘welfare tsunami’ is to be halted.

Then there is this:

Landlords could see the number of their tenants claiming Universal Credit multiply by up to nine times when their area moves to full digital roll-out, according to a Chartered Institute of Housing expert..

This wider view of ‘welfare reform’, of which Universal Credit is a pillar, is worth looking at:

Four reasons why welfare reform is a delusion Richard Machin

Welfare reform is regressive

There is clear evidence that welfare reform has a disproportionately negative impact on some groups in society and some areas of the UK. The Sheffield Hallam research found that those particularly hit by welfare reform are working-age tenants in the social rented sector, families with dependent children (particularly lone-parent families and families with large numbers of children) and areas with a high percentage of minority ethnic households. Geographically, the impact of welfare reform is stark with the greatest financial losses being imposed on the most deprived local authorities. As a general rule, older industrial areas and some London Boroughs are hardest hit, with southern local authorities the least affected.

The mainstream media often fails to report the true impact of welfare reform that this research highlights. A more accurate account of the human costs can be found in ‘For whose benefit? The everyday realities of welfare reform’ in which Ruth Patrick documents her research on the impact of sustained benefit reductions. Dominant themes include the stigma felt by benefit claimants, the negative impacts of a punitive sanctions regime, and living with persistent poverty.

Welfare reform does not produce the behaviour changes sought by the government

Although welfare reform is a values-laden policy underpinned by a strong, but flawed, ideology (only those who fail ‘to do the right thing’ are affected) there is little evidence that the retrenchment of the welfare state has been accompanied by the change in claimant behaviour that politicians desire. The ‘bedroom tax’ was supposed to ‘provide an economic incentive’ to move to smaller accommodation. The evaluation indicates that more than 7 in 10 claimants affected had never considered moving, with an estimate that no more than 8% of those affected having downsized within the social sector.

The Benefit Cap places a limit on the total amount of certain working age benefits available to claimants. One of the government’s main intentions was for this to improve work incentives. There is no common consensus on the extent to which this aim has been achieved: the Institute for Fiscal Studies have suggested that the majority of those affected will not respond by moving into work, however, government ministers rarely waste an opportunity to tell us that low levels of unemployment are partly due to the benefit changes introduced.

The research of David Webster into sanctions argues that ‘Sanctions are not an evidence-based system designed to promote the employment, wellbeing and development of the labour force’ and that this regressive system results in lower productivity, pointless job applications, and poverty-related problems.

In the last days of the previous administration we saw the introduction of the  2-child limit for child tax credit and universal credit. Child Poverty Action Group emphasise the contradiction in a policy which supposedly provides parity between those in work and those out of work, when 70% of those claiming tax credits are already working.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Universal Credit: What Fine Mess the Government is Ignoring.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon

Universal Credit Still Surviving.

If you are of working age and in receipt of the following benefits, you will be moving to Universal Credit very soon.

  • JSA
  • ESA
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support

When you claim Universal Credit, you could be waiting several weeks before you receive any money.

Use this Survival Guide to make sure you are ready to survive the first few months on Universal Credit.

Universal Credit Survival-kit

We understand that the government would prefer to ignore the mess it’s created with Universal Credit.

But the problems it’s caused, adding to their pile of woes, will not go away.

This is the latest.

We note that after the Grenfell Tragedy housing is top of the news:

Director General Neil Couling answers questions on Universal Credit APA Scheme 

Published on 20/06/2017

Many landlords are experiencing issues with Universal Credit. The communication is poor, landlords are putting in APAs, but unable to communicate with DWP to find out the process of the APA.

As a result many landlords have tenants with high rent arrears – the system needs changing as landlords seem to be punished for providing a much needed service to the social sector.

Bill Irvine has penned a very accurate letter to Neil Couling DWP, please read the interesting letter and feel free to tweet and forward to your peers.

Open letter to:

Mr Neil Couling
Director General
Universal Credit Implementation

Dear Mr Couling

Landlords, throughout Great Britain, are experiencing unsustainable rental loss as a direct result of Universal Credit, particularly, in relation to the way in which the “housing element” is being administered. Despite phoning, e-mailing and complaining to Jobcentre Plus and regional Complaints & Resolution teams, our collective efforts have proved fruitless, frustrating and disheartening. The situation is getting worse, especially in areas, like e.g. London, Great Yarmouth, Inverness and East Lothian, where “Full Service” Universal Credit is now operating and arrears are running at 90%. Landlords understandably fear that as Full Service expands throughout GB so will these worrying problems.

Nearly every single tenant owes rent, either through the delay in first payment, which can take 6-12 weeks to process. In some cases, tenants are simply misspending the housing element, rather than using the funds to reduce or extinguish their rental liabilities. When that occurs, landlords make application for redirection of the funds. Many of those applications are mislaid, take months to process or are simply ignored. In the most alarming cases, DWP has simply ignored the red flags and pleas, raised by landlords and continued to make payments to delinquent tenants in the full knowledge £000’s of public funds was being used inappropriately.

Not surprisingly, the RLA and NLA are both reporting an increasing number of private sector landlords and letting agents refusing to accommodate Universal Credit reliant tenants. Lenders are also stipulating, that funds will not be provided where tenancies are intended for benefit tenants.

Was the Alternative Payment Arrangement scheme (APAs) not designed to safeguard landlords from these very problems; avoid the problem of vulnerable tenants mismanaging their finances; and prevent delinquent tenants from misusing public funds, putting at jeopardy their tenancy and exposing them to the vagaries of homelessness?

As Director General, you must be acutely aware and surely worried by what’s happening?

Evidence of repeated misuse of public funds is building as “Full Service” roll out starts to bite. Landlords like Caridon Property Solutions have been copying you into exchanges with your staff, over many months, and, in the past week, have drawn your attention to two cases involving nearly £12, 000 in rent arrears, caused by your staff failing to respond appropriately to multiple APA requests by landlords and their agents.

DWP’s excuses to date have Included: “We can’t speak to Landlords or agents without the consent of the tenant.” ……………A “Special Payment” (as compensation for rental loss) is not merited in such cases as the tenant is the primary cause of the problem”…………..“This is essentially a civil dispute between tenant & landlord”

Frankly, none of these statements reflect the true cause of the problem. It’s unquestionably, DWP maladministration of its own scheme, accompanied by complete ambivalence to the predicament of landlords’ reliance on these funds for their livelihood and ability to pay lenders. Had your staff acted in accordance with the scheme you created, most of these substantial losses could have been avoided.

The APA scheme was designed specifically for landlords. It requires our members to apply using a Non-secure UC 47 form which can either be sent by e-mail or FREEPOST. This version of the form was designed to “start a dialogue with landlords and agents”. It’s supposed to prompt a call from your staff, during which, the landlords’ bank details and the merits of the application can be discussed. You also provide a telephone number for landlords to call when they’re seeking an update on the progress of their application. Given the above, its’ absurd to suggest you can’t speak to landlords, without the tenant’s consent.

Landlords, having complied with the scheme’s requirements, in all respects, are surely entitled to be able to ask for progress updates; reasons for refusal; reasons for later redirection back to tenants, without discussion. Your colleague Mike Baker, Operations Director, in August 2015 acknowledged the landlords’ rights in this respect and confirmed to me, in writing, that on receipt of an APA request the “housing element” would be immediately suspended, pending a decision on the question of to whom the payment should be made. His commitment has not been honoured.

Members have repeatedly raised with your staff, concerns over the lack of independence, impartiality and objectivity during the internal stages of your “Complaints Process”. In your responses to members, you claim that cases are considered on their individual merits. However, if you examine the common thread of each response, it’s really nothing other than a standard reply, crafted by someone in your Policy Unit. It was your Policy Unit who prescribed “Special Payments” were NOT to be used in landlord APA applications for compensation. Interference of this type completely undermines the notion of cases being considered on their individual merits and suggests more of a sham complaints process.

The third stage of the Complaints Process (Independent Case Examiner) is truly the first time the complaint is looked at independently. Past reports from ICE suggest 50% of complaints are fully supported with a further 25% partially supported. At first, this looked a promising way to prosecute a complaint but we’ve since found it takes 15 months, on average, from referral to conclusion stage. A classic case of justice delayed, justice denied!

As an ex COSLA advisor to the Housing Benefit Standing Committee, Westminster I’ve spent 20 years dealing with DWP hierarchy, including the Policy Unit team in the Adelphi, London. My colleagues and I had a very fruitful relationship with this team who demonstrated a high level of knowledge and commitment to tackling and resolving problems. I’ve yet to see anything like that from you and your support team with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions.

Five years ago, I wrote an article “Hitting the DWP brick wall” which was published by the SFHA and private sector magazines, predicting the biggest problem with Universal Credit would be your department’s remote and ambivalent administration of the scheme. If anything, I underestimated just how problematic it would be.

In my opinion, something drastic is needed to overhaul the current APA and associated Complaints Processes as both are currently unfit for purpose. Apart from traveling the country, speaking to staff in the new Full Service areas, what are you doing to address the legitimate concerns of landlords?

Bill Irvine.

Note this:

After weeks  of waiting for a response Neil Couling has finally responded to Bills comments.

Please Click Here to download letter of response from Neil Couling

In Neil’s response it appears that he fails to address many  of the points raised by Bill and acknowledge the issues raised. Interestingly, the House of Commons library produced a report this week, “Housing Costs in Universal Credit” – http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN06547#fullreport  referring the rent arrears increasing under Universal Credit.

The topic on communication was addressed briefly and advised that landlords should visit the DWP Frequently asked questions under Universal Credit.

In my opinion there still needs to be more done to on the whole process on APA and current reports and findings should be taken into account.

So, what is Gaukey doing about this?

Written by Andrew Coates

June 20, 2017 at 10:37 am