Rent Arrears Swell with Universal Credit.

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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.

Ipswich Unemployed Action

Crunch time for Universal Credit!

The pace of the roll-out of ‘full’ Universal Credit is set to ramp up in a few months’ time.

 

Jo King shakes her head in desperation as Vivaldi’s The Four Seasonscroaks from her phone speaker. She has heard it countless times since she first called the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Universal Credit (UC) helpline.

“I’ve rung up four times already,” she explains over the garbled concerto. “If my Universal Credit is not there by the close of play, then my direct debits will bounce.”

Ms King, who was born blind and struggles with an array of physical and mental health problems, was told it would be in her account by 2pm. It’s now 3pm and there is no sign of the money. She could be fined £48 by her bank, which is a frightening sum for someone who needs every penny to pay for her care, bills and food.

“I won’t have much left out of my benefit if I’m charged for the direct debits,” she says when Inside Housing meets her at her homely council flat on the Newbiggin Hall Estate in Newcastle. “I will have to try to put something off until next month. Or it will be less food, probably.”

Universal Credit-Waiting Days Exceptions

Eventually, she is passed to a manager from the DWP’s Grimsby call centre, who promises she will get her money. But Ms King, 43, has every reason to doubt his word. The month we meet, the DWP has already failed to pay her rent directly to Your Homes Newcastle, Newcastle City Council’s 28,000-home ALMO.

Usually under UC, the money goes to the tenant, but tenants are able to make special arrangements to have their rent paid directly to their landlords. “I’ve not had one payment on time, or paid or worked out correctly,” she says, fiddling with her dark hair anxiously.

Ms King started receiving UC –which combines six benefits, including housing benefit, into a single payment – last year. Previously it only applied to single, unemployed adults. The so-called ‘full’ version is now being rolled out to families with children and disabled people.

Since then, Ms King has frequently fallen behind with her rent. “I would get calls from my rent officer all the time saying ‘have you been paid the rent, because we haven’t been paid the rent?’” she says.

She has twice been left without any UC. Instead she relied on emergency food parcels and her disability benefit, which is supposed to pay for her care. “The food bank dropped stuff off for me. And they made me smile because they gave me a bunch of flowers,” she says, still grateful for such a small act of kindness.

Rising pressures

Ms King’s plight is not unusual. Across Newcastle – the government’s official test bed for UC – 86% of the 2,271 council tenants currently claiming UC are in rent arrears, owing a total of £2.5m. Before UC was rolled out, only 53% were in arrears.

Yet in October, the roll-out of full UC is set to increase from five to 50 areas a month. By 2022, more than seven million households are expected to be in receipt of UC. This will include half of all families with children and nearly 60% of households where an adult is disabled or has a long-term health condition.

Nick Forbes, leader of Labour-run Newcastle City Council, warns UC is pushing people into debt and destitution. “We are having to pick up the pieces of a badly designed and badly thought through system, which is leaving people, who are often vulnerable, in serious financially difficulties,” he says. “And that is not acceptable.”

“We are having to pick up the pieces of a badly designed and badly thought through system.”

Rather than evicting tenants waiting for payment, the council is offering advice and support, and, occasionally, emergency payments and food. “Staff in our customer service centre have tins of food in cupboards because people are presenting having not eaten for three days,” says Mr Forbes.

But the council cannot stop private landlords taking matters into their own hands. “We know a number of people are starting to run up significant arrears in the private rented sector,” he says. “And that increases their risk of homelessness through eviction.”

Nor can it keep bailing tenants out for ever. Newcastle has had to cut £221m over the past six years and needs to find another £70m worth of savings by 2020. “Over the next two years we won’t be able to provide the same level of support,” says Mr Forbes.

Rent arrears pose other problems for the council: less money for housing maintenance and new homes. “It is yet another pressure on the Housing Revenue Account at a time when there is a huge drive to build new housing,” remarks Mr Forbes.

The experience of other areas with full UC is equally troubling. A survey of councils and ALMOs by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) found in July that 73% of tenants were in arrears, owing an average of £772.21, up from £611.73 a year earlier. This is far higher than the 31% of tenants in arrears under the housing benefit system.

A separate Citizens Advice survey in July found that 57% of UC claimants seeking its advice had been forced to borrow money while waiting for their first payment, which takes at least six weeks. It also showed that 39% were waiting longer, and 11% were waiting more than 10 weeks.

Evidence of hardship caused by these delays is easy to find. A report for The Trussell Trust, which runs food banks across the UK, found in April that food banks in areas with full UC roll-out had seen a 17% average increase in referrals, more than double the national average increase of 7%.

In the West End of Newcastle, there are already people queuing outside The Trussell Trust food bank at the Church of the Venerable Bede when Inside Housing visits at 9.30am, 30 minutes ahead of its opening. There is a young man in sportswear, an older woman and a young couple holding empty shopping bags. They look sheepish and apprehensive in the morning drizzle – nothing like the Benefits Street stereotypes.

Inside, washed-out light comes through a broken window. The hall was broken into the week before but staff managed to open the food bank, which featured in Ken Loach’s acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake.

SOURCE

Why the Growing Number of Homeless Children is a Human Rights Issue

Since 2014 the number of homeless children placed in temporary housing has soared by over a third. Councils in England are now providing temporary accommodation for more than 120,000 children and their families. What does this mean for the human rights of children?

 

According to the charity Shelter, 1.6 million children in England live in housing that’s temporary, overcrowded or run-down. Inadequate housing can negatively affect children and their families in numerous ways, including their health, well-being and access to education. It can also leave them feeling helpless.

So what protections exist to help these children and their families enforce their rights?

The right to adequate housing

In UK law, local councils have legal duties towards homeless people, and some groups, including children, are entitled to emergency accommodation. The Housing Act 1996 requires local authorities to find accommodation for homeless families with children, 16 to 17 year olds who are not living with their families, and care leavers. This accommodation should be “suitable” and it’s unlawful for councils to keep homeless families in B&Bs for more than six weeks.

But these requirements are simply not being met. From January to March 2017, 1,290 families spent more than six weeks in such accommodation due to housing shortages. Furthermore, 74% of families stay in temporary accommodation for over a year.

Temporary housing is often unsuitable and can affect the physical health of children. Living in cramped conditions and with on-going insecurity and uncertainty can be damaging to the mental health of children and their families.

Children also have their own rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international treaty that protects the human rights of childrenAdequate housing is a human right recognised under Article 27 of the CRC, which says that governments must ensure that every child has an adequate standard of living which allows them to develop fully.

The UK signed up to the CRC in 1991 and promised to implement and uphold the human rights standards as set out in the treaty. However, CRC rights are not directly enforceable in the same way that the rights under the Human Rights Convention are.

A human right to family and home life

Lack of proper housing can have a broad and devastating impact. A familyevicted from their home and living in temporary accommodation recently described how their children’s mental health had “really suffered” and that they “find it hard to find friends”.

Anmol remembers that one of her worst memories was ‘celebrating’ her 14th birthday in temporary accommodation.

Although my mum tried so hard to make it special it wasn’t. It wasn’t homely and I felt too ashamed to bring my friends back to cut my cake. I wasn’t given any help or advice. It affected my mental health and left me with anxiety, I felt I lost all hope in my future.

Children’s human right to respect for their home, private and family life is protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention. Although Article 8 doesn’t guarantee the right to have housing issues solved by the authorities, if a child is unable to enjoy their right to family and home life due to inadequate accommodation, they might be able to use Article 8 to help provide them with a remedy.

Some accommodation might also be so unsanitary and dangerous that it would meet the threshold for inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention.

Right to education

A child’s right to education is protected under Protocol 1 and 2 of the Human Rights Convention. The government is required to do all that is necessary to ensure access to education for children, and that would include making sure that a child’s school life was not impaired by their accommodation situation.

So, what next?

The Local Government Association, which represents 350 councils across England, say that councils need to be able to build more “genuinely affordable” homes and provide the support that reduces the risk of homelessness. Council leaders are also calling for access to funding to provide settled accommodation for families that become homeless.

A spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said that the government is investing 550 million in helping to tackle the homelessness issue.

However, Anne Baxendale, director of campaigns and policy at Shelter, said that the government needs to go further and, “abandon the freeze on housing benefit that’s denying thousands of families the essential top-up needed to pay for rising rents. And, in the longer term, they must build decent homes that families on lower incomes can actually afford to live in.”

This article is not legal advice and is not intended to advise comprehensively about your legal rights. If you have legal questions relating to housing, homelessness or any other matter we suggest that you consult a lawyer – details of how to find one are here. 

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Benefits Freeze leads to Evictions.

It’s terrible that social housing will be gone if something isn’t done to rectify it, perhaps the homeless will rise up like they did back in the 1930s?

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Cathy Come Home by Ken Loach
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

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.
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1960’s image of slums: homeless was rife at this time encouraging Ken Loach to make the film Cathy come Home

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.

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