More confusion in housing policy at the heart of government

There is a complete contradiction in the government rent policy for housing associations.

The background is that George Osborne, when Chancellor, tore up a previous agreement that allowed rent increases bed on the retail price index +0.5%, replacing it with a 1% year on year reduction until 2020. The only real winner was not tenants but the Treasury.

The government subsequently announced that rents in social housing will capped at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels. The original design of LHA was to reflect the market, being set at the 30th centile for private sector rents charged in a locality. However, the freeze means that there is no longer any correlation between actual rents and what people can claim in housing benefit.

Most recently, the government announced the rent settlement for the five years from April 2020. Once again will be allowed to rise by RPI +1%. This news has understandably been welcomed by landlords.

However, the government has left the LHA freeze in place. This means that tenants will have to make up the difference between LHA and the increasing rents where rents are higher than LHA.

Fortunately this will not apply in my own organisation, BHT, as we are committed to charging core rents within LHA levels.

The government must lift the LHA freeze and increase it so that it accurately reflects changes in the market.

This is yet another example of confused government policy which causes hardship amongst the poorest of the poor, or it will do unless the government thinks through its housing policies and acts now.


Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame

At first there were warnings that the ambitious plans for Universal Credit were not deliverable. But the government dismissed these warnings. There were warnings that Universal Credit could not be delivered in the way it was planned, but Iain Duncan Smith said, time and time again, that it would be delivered “on time and in budget”. It wasn’t and an IT programme was abandoned at a cost of millions of Pounds.

Universal Credit pilots highlighted the rising levels of rent arrears and the hardship being caused to claimants, but the government pressed on regardless. I have written about Universal Credit on more occasions than I can recall, probably on more occasions than on any other social policy issue or government policy.

Advice agencies warned of the increasing numbers presenting themselves with increasing problems with debt, but these warnings fell on deaf ears in the Department for Work and Pensions and in government.

Landlords warned that they would not be able to accommodated those on Universal Credit, but still these warnings were not headed.

Social and private landlords have highlighted the problem of arrears caused by Universal Credit. BHT’s arrears currently stand at 1% other than for those on Universal Credit where arrears are 15% notwithstanding the work we do with our tenants.

Food banks have said that the increasing demands for their services are being caused by Universal Credit.

News reports, over months and years, have highlights individual cases of hardship and homelessness directly resulting from Universal Credit.

Time and time again, warning after warning, the government carried on regardless.

Last month Citizens Advice produced a compelling case for the roll out of University Credit to be paused but the usual platitudes were repeated.

Then today (29th September) came news that Conservative Members of Parliament have called on their own government to think again about Universal Credit over fears about the impact on claimants already receiving Universal Credit in trial areas.

Later in the day, Dame Louise Casey, who has advised successive governments on a wide range of social policy issues, said that pressing ahead with Universal Credit was like “jumping over a cliff” and that it made her “hair stand on end”.

If the government fails to act now it can only be because it and its ministers are deluded about their own righteousness, cruel in their disregard of evidence of suffering and hardship, or too arrogant to listen to those who see, on a daily basis, the impact of this policy.

This policy is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame.

Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: BHT’s Policy

(The BHT Board recently agreed the following statement on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking)

Modern slavery is an international crime, affecting an estimated 29.8 million slaves around the world. It is a growing global issue that transcends age, gender and ethnicities. It includes victims who have been brought from overseas and vulnerable people in the UK, who are forced to illegally work against their will across many different sectors such as agriculture, hospitality, construction, retail and manufacturing.

Our Policy

Our policy is underpinned by our values of Inspiring Change; Empowering People; Collaboration; Delivering Excellence; and Being Accountable.

BHT has a zero-tolerance position on violations of anti-human trafficking and anti-modern slavery laws.  We will not knowingly do any business with organisations involved in, or suspected to be involved in slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour.  This includes such activities known to exist in their supply chains.

Through our services, not least the Immigration Legal Service and our frontline homelessness services, BHT will seek to represent and protect the victims and potential victims of slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour.

If we find breaches of these laws amongst any of our contractors or in their supply chain, we will terminate any contract with them, and will as far as possible build such provision into any agreements with them.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires commercial organisations supplying goods or services with a turnover of above £36 million to prepare and publish an annual ‘Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement’.  All the while that BHT has a lower turnover than £36 million, we will publish a statement on our website and elsewhere setting out our policy.

All actual incidents or suspicions regarding slavery, human trafficking, forced or child labour (with the exception of cases being managed by BHT’s advice and legal services where client confidentiality exists) will be reported to the Chief Executive at the earliest opportunity and we will alert the appropriate authorities so that safeguarding, legal or other enforcement action might be taken.

(This statement also appears on the BHT website)

This is my 1,000 post on this blog ……

This is the one thousandth post on this blog.  I actually have nothing profound to say on this occasion.  Rather, it has always been a joy to write, especially those posts about the work of BHT.  I enjoy having the occasional rant on things completely unrelated to BHT (like last week’s item on graffiti which led to an item on Meridian TV).

I have written about moments of trauma, most notably the defeat of the South African rugby team in the World Cup game against Japan here in Brighton.

Sport is a theme I return to from time to time, like my rant at the “old farts at the MCC” who failed to turn up at the brilliant Women’s Cricket World Cup Final.

I write the occasional obituary, like this one on Ruth Larkin, the best Mayor that Brighton never had, or on my former colleague on Brighton Borough Council, Gill Sweeting, who challenged and changed my views on assisted dying when she did her courageous video My Last Vote before the 2015 general election.

Here are some inadequate words from me on the death of Nelson Mandela.

There is a line over which a charity chief executive should not step.  I realise my adherence to that is some times ‘flexible’.  I have avoided being party political, but I have not avoided being critical of party politicians, but not from a party political perspective (I haven’t been a member of any political party since 1993).

Occasionally I am angry, but then who wasn’t in the aftermath of the avoidable tragedy at Grenfell Tower?

In order to give me greater freedom to speak, I recently put a distance between this blog being formally attached to my employment.  In doing so I almost destroyed it because I foolishly changed the URL and lost all my Google rankings.  Readership fell by c95%. Fortunately, readership has been picking up again.  I wrote about this here.

I have turned my hand to Vlogging but that is still work in progress.

So thank you for reading what I write. I am not as prolific as my friend Ian Chisnall who writes every day but I hope that occasionally I have written something of interest, that my feeble attempts at humour may have made you smile, and that you might have been inspired by the experience of some of the brave and impressive people I have written about.


BHT Residential Services Receive Top Ratings from the Care Quality Commission

Two BHT services for people with mental health needs have secured the highest possible rating for quality from the Care Quality Commission.

The two recovery-based residential properties in our Archway Project, were awarded  an overall rating of ‘Outstanding’ following an unannounced CQC inspection.

The Archway Project provides care and support for 14 people with mental health and complex needs.  The service helps to bridge the gap between hospital and the community by promoting mental health recovery and supporting people to increase their independence.

The service is commissioned by Brighton and Hove City Clinical Commissioning Group, and works collaboratively with Brighton and Hove City Council, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and citywide Health and Social Care agencies.

The CQC stated: “The registered manager and staff team demonstrated passion and commitment to providing the best possible mental health care and promoting opportunities for people so they could live as full a life as possible.” “Staff were exceptionally dedicated and highly skilled which ensured people received a high level of care that promoted both their physical and mental health needs.”

The CQC further stated: “Person centred care was at the forefront of the delivery of care. Innovative ways of involving people were used so that people felt consulted, empowered, listened to and valued.”

Residents at the Project said:

  • “Staff are the best, they always know how to communicate with me.”
  • “They know the signs to look for when I’m unwell.”
  • “I never would have thought I would have a period this long of being well and not hurting myself. That’s because I feel safe here and comfortable.”
  • “They always ask us for our opinions and want to engage us.” “I know I have a say in what happens here.”

Ian Wilson, Operational and Registered Manager, said: “We are very proud to have received such a positive inspection report.  As a team we work hard to ensure that the service meets the needs of those who live here, working with people to help create the support and environment that fits their personal recovery journeys.    Our residents are fundamental in helping us shape the service and in helping us to support them to make steps towards independence and reach their full potential.”

Sharon Munnings, Senior Manager for BHT Mental Health Services said: ”We are very pleased to announce the outcome of the inspection, as it evidences the experience, skill, and commitment of the team in providing such high quality care and support to our residents.”

Follow these links for the full reports:

Portland Road

Sackville Gardens

Starts at Home: highlighting the importance of specialist supported housing

Today (1st September) is Starts at Home day highlighting the contribution supported housing makes to Brighton and Hove.  Starts at Home, now in its second year and run by the National Housing Federation, celebrates how supported housing helps hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people regain their independence and confidence.

Housing associations like BHT and others across the country including our colleagues at YMCA Downslink Group, Brighton YMCA, and Southdown HA, provide a wide range of vital supported housing services including sheltered accommodation, refuges for domestic violence victims, homelessness shelters and housing for those with disabilities.

There is uncertainty around the future funding of supported housing. The National Housing Federation and its members are campaigning to persuade the Government to commit to ensuring that every person who needs extra support has a home that meets their needs.

I recently challenged the government on its approach to supported housing, asking whether it is recklessness, incompetence or deliberate design by government that is undermining the future of specialist supported housing.

I wrote on my blog: “What motivates someone to take a successful government-funded project that prevents homelessness, reduces hospital admissions, reduces crime and makes a return of more than £4 for every £1 invested, and in its place create a crisis that is seeing services close and 85% of new schemes being abandoned?  This is what is happening with specialist supported housing.”

David Orr, the chief executive at the National Housing Federation said:

“Supported housing helps people to live independently and achieve their aspirations in a safe and secure home. It is a critical time for supported housing; we must highlight how vital a lifeline it is to so many vulnerable people and show Government why supported housing should be put on a secure and sustainable footing for the future.”

Here is an example of the work of one of BHT’s specialist supported housing services, the Archway Project in Hove:

Mike moved into BHT’s Archway Project from hospital where he had had been staying for 4 months as a voluntary patient following a deterioration in his mental and physical health.  Whilst at Archway he had support to increase his level of responsibility with self-medicating and became entirely independent in this area as well as with monitoring and managing his physical health.

Mike said: “My time at the Archway Project was a good opportunity for rehabilitation in terms of my mental and physical health, as well as regaining confidence with daily living skills.   The environment provided me with a level of support and monitoring, whilst offering space to be independent.”

Mike was supported with communicating with his housing provider to maintain his tenancy and to co-ordinate a professionals meeting to discuss options for returning to his home and avoiding homelessness.  The housing provider was satisfied with Mike’s level of recovery and the additional support that was now in place to maximise his wellbeing in the community.  This allowed for Mike to return to his home.

An act of kindness that will inspire you as much as it has inspired me

Imagine if you have been sleeping rough or sofa surfing, and you are in the process of detoxing from alcohol or other drugs.  You might be feeling ill and scared. You are leaving behind all you have known in recent years. How likely is it that you would think, with compassion and care, about others.

This week the amazing residents at BHT’s Detox Support Project (DSP) started a weekly ‘act of kindness’ –doing a different positive act for the community each week. This week they donated to First Base Day Centre five bags of good quality clothing and footwear, and each DSP client donated £5.00 – a total of £30.00 for toiletries needed by First Base clients.

One client who had received support from First Base when he was a rough sleeper before starting his detox at DSP, said that when dropping off these items at First Base he had felt overwhelmed that he could help people in the same situation that he had been in just a few weeks ago. He also said it made him “feel very good – like I am part of society – a normal, human person giving back to society instead of taking”.

In just under a month’s time I will have been at BHT for 32 years.  I am frequently amazed to hear about the achievements of our clients and their willingness to give something back.  But rarely have I been as moved as I am today by this act of kindness by the clients of the Detox Support Project at the very time they are going through a challenging time themselves.  I am so humbled by their generosity and thoughtfulness.