Private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s, says the Chartered Institute of Housing

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) recently carried out research into the gap between rents in the private rented sector and what Local Housing Allowance (LHA) will pay.

LHA is based on the 30th centile of the range rents charged in the private rented sector. Except it isn’t. That was how it was supposed to be (having previously been reduced from there 50th centile). In fact, the level of payment has been frozen for three years and will be frozen until 2019/20. LHA no longer reflects in any way the reality of rents in a locality.

In Brighton and Hove the rates are £82.66 for a room in a shared house, £153.02 for a one bed flat, £192.48 for a two bed property. The average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is now £971 per month compared to LHA of £612.08 for the same period.

In Eastbourne the rates are £67.00, £116.53 and £151.50, and in Hastings £69.77, £92.06 and £120.29. (There are higher rates for 3 and 4 properties).

It is worse for you if you are under 35 where you are restricted to claiming LHA for just a room in a shared house.

And if you think it is bad for under 35s, it is EVEN worse for those under 21 for whom the rate is zero (unless you are ‘lucky’ enough to qualify for one of several exemptions – merely being a rough sleeper is not enough).

So what has the CIH found? It has found that the gap between LHA and rents has widened to the point where private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the senior civil servant responsible for housing policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, Darrell Smith, said that the government is now going to use LHA rates to set new, lower rents for specialist supported housing. Why? Because it is such a good barometer for the market? No. He said: “The one advantage of (LHA rates) is that they are already there, so it doesn’t cost the government anything to set it up. I know”, he continued, “that isn’t a great answer but that’s all I have got”.

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Housing in Hastings: Universal credit and the 6 week wait for the first payment

(This is the first of five daily items I will be posting this week. My thanks to my colleague Sue Hennell who wrote a briefing paper on which I have drawn for these posts).

Hastings is one of the areas that is now in the ‘full service’ roll out of Universal Credit. BHT’s Hastings Advice Centre has found it is dealing with tenants in rent arrears due to the waiting time for payments to commence.  This can mean that the tenant accrues rent arrears and it can increase existing arrears.  For some clients they have had to wait longer than 6 weeks for their first payment.

While social landlords on the whole are willing to wait for their rent and will arrange a repayment plan for any rent arrears due, many private landlords are not so willing to wait and will serve notice.

This is not just a problem in Hastings, but one that is replicated across the country. The Guardian in January of this year reported:

  • Eight out of 10 social housing tenants moved on to Universal Credit are falling into rent arrears or increasing the level of pre-existing arrears.
  • Families unable to manage the regulation 42-day wait for a first payment are regularly referred to food banks by housing associations or local MPs.
  • Some claimants are waiting as long as 60 days for an initial payment because of processing delays on top of the formal wait.
  • Uncertainty about the system has contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of private landlords willing to take on benefit recipients, even if they are in work.

Private landlords said that without changes they would be reluctant to let to Universal Credit recipients because of the high risk of tenant arrears. Alan Ward, the chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said: “Landlords are rapidly losing confidence in the system.”

Meanwhile, membership surveys by the National Landlords Association reveal that the number of private landlords willing to let properties to recipients of Universal Credit – or the local housing allowance that predates it – has fallen sharply from 46% in 2010 to 18%.

A question I ask from time to time, where are people going to live if social housing isn’t keeping pace with need (and it is certainly not), and private landlords are less willing to rent to claimants?

If you are facing eviction due to rent arrears, get advice early from one of BHT’s Advice Centres in Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton, the CAB or another advice centre.

Here are details of the BHT Advice Centres:

Brighton

Eastbourne

Hastings

How does society allow people to sleep rough in freezing conditions?

Today I received an email from a colleague who lives and works in Hastings. I would like to share it with you:

“This morning my phone (how does my phone know these things) told me that it was minus 5 degrees as I stepped out for my walk to work. It was dark as I set out.

“During my walk I witnessed two sights that will stay with me today.

“One created by the Earth, the stunning sunrise over a beautiful calm sea (my photo doesn’t do it justice).

hastings-sunrise

“The second sight, created by Humans (I was going to say Human Kind, but there is no “Kind” in this). Rough sleepers bedded down. Remember my phone was saying it was minus 5.

rough-sleepers-hastings

“This second sight makes my heart sink. How do we as a society allow people to have to sleep rough in this weather. I do not know if SWEP is currently activated in Hastings. It was for the Thursday night we had snow, but I see these rough sleepers every morning including the Friday after the snow. It was de-activated on the next day (the Friday).

“Does the Government or DCLG check that local authorities are actually activating SWEP (the protocol that requires emergency shelters to open in severe weather conditions)? Probably not as they don’t make sure local authorities are applying homelessness legislation under Part VII of the Housing Act.”

(For information, Part VII of the Housing Act includes an interim duty on housing authorities to ensure that accommodation is available for an applicant (and his or her household) pending a decision as to what duty, if any, is owed to them under the Housing Act. Rough sleeping is not appropriate accommodation. It is costly for local authorities and it can be difficult to source such accommodation, but the legal duty remains. BHT’s Advice Centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings are there to prevent homelessness, enforce tenants rights, and ensure that local authorities honour their legal duties).

Please urge your MP to support Bob Blackman’s Bill so no homeless person is turned away

No One Turned Away, a campaign launched by Crisis, is calling for every homeless person who approaches their council to get the help they need. Homeless people can be turned away with little or no help by councils as they are not considered a ‘priority’, even though they have nowhere else to stay.

Bob Blackman MP

Bob Blackman MP

Now Conservative MP Bob Blackman has tabled a Homelessness Reduction Bill to improve the support that homeless people receive.  There are some concerns regarding ‘intentionality’ (for example, is someone intentionally homeless for not engaging, which could be a problem with very chaotic or vulnerable clients) but BHT will lobby separately on this.

On Friday 28 October MPs will debate the Bill that could help stop homeless people in England getting turned away when they approach their council.

But unless 100 or more MPs attend the debate, parliamentary rules mean that just one MP can kill the bill.

Already, of the six MP’s in the areas where BHT works, two have said that they will attend the debate:

  • Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)
  • Peter Kyle (Hove)

Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) has said she supports the principle of the Bill, as does the government, but she won’t be attending as she has a prior engagement that evening.

The following have not yet said that they will attend, so if you live in their constituency, please make a special effort to contact them:

  • Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown)
  • Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye)
  • Maria Caulfield (Lewes)

As members of the government, it is unlikely that either Amber Rudd or Simon Kirby will be able to attend the debate, but it would be useful if they received many requests encouraging them to attend so they will be able to gauge how important an issue this is.

You can contact your MP by completing the short form on this link.

The loss of legal aid funding reduces access to justice

The Law Society has published research showing that in a third of all areas in England there is now only one solicitor specialising in housing available through legal aid, and has said that denying legal advice and representation to people facing housing problems poses a risk. It has called on the government to review the situation.

At the time of a reduction of funding in 2013, the coalition government insisted that there would be help for those who do need advice and representation, but the Law Society said that this is no longer a reality.

The coalition government reduced funding to civil legal aid in order to save £350 million a year.

The government is right to say that last year over £1.5 billion was spent on legal aid, but that included criminal as well as civil legal aid. The amount available for civil law help, as opposed to criminal law, has been massively reduced.

In 2013, for example, BHT saw its funding reduced so that we could only take on 590 housing cases at our Brighton Advice Centre whereas before we could take on 1,450 cases. The sort of cases we could take on was also severely restricted.

It is really important that people have access to more than one solicitors practice when it comes to representation. Would it be right if an area as large as Brighton and Hove only had one doctors surgery, or if there was just one hospital for the whole of the Sussex, or just one school? Of course not.

One reason for the massive decline in the number of solicitors practices who will take on legal aid work is the huge cut to legal aid. Legal aid practitioners are not fat cat lawyers. I know from BHT’s experience of the long working hours, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, and their officers cannot in any way be compared to those seen on television programmes such as LA Law or The Good Wife.

The reality is that advice centres such as those BHT runs in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings require substantial subsidies from the organisation. But for how much longer will we be able to afford to do so? Yet at the same time we save national and local government hundreds of thousands of Pounds, if not millions, each year by preventing homelessness, and improving health by ensuring that homes are fit for human habitation.

Saving homes, preventing homelessness and saving lives: surely that is worth greater public investment?

 

BHT in numbers 2015/16

Between April 2015 and March 2016, BHT worked with 6,843 of whom 3,837 were men and 2,904 women. 33 clients identified themselves as Trans. (Gender was not recorded in 101 cases).

2,221 (32%) tenants/clients said they had a mental and/or physical disability.

784 (11%) were sleeping rough when we first worked with them. If you include those who were ‘sofa surfing’, that number increased to 1,038 (15%).

The total number of tenants/clients we worked with is more accurate than ever before. However, it is about half the number from our highest number ever, but that was due to an estimate of the number of people (2,500) who we signposted at the advice centres to other, non-BHT services. We did so without recording their details. We haven’t included these in our statistics for several years now.

We also no longer run some services that recorded a high volume of clients (HomeWorks in Eastbourne and and Support4Housing in Brighton and Hove). The number of legal aid cases we can take on, and the sort of cases we can run, has also called by about 1,000 following cuts by the Ministry of Justice. We had to reduce the number of staff at our advice centre in Brighton from 33 to 16. These cuts have bitten at the very time our service are needed more than ever.

But the negative thing about statistics and global numbers like these is that they dehumanise the real stories of the people we work with, individuals in crisis who often have no where else to turn. They become mere numbers.

Statistics also don’t tell you about the work BHT actually does, and the amazing difference we can make to people’s lives.

To counter all of this, over the next week or so I will be publishing each day an account of our clients lives and how we have been able to assist them.

Causes of homelessness for households, couples and single people as seen at BHT’s Advice Centres

This is an edited extract from evidence submitted by BHT to Parliament’s Communities and Local Government Committee. The evidence provided is from our advice services in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, of 298 people or households who approached us where their primary issue was current homelessness. The data used is from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015.

Summary

64% were single men or single women. The main cause of homelessness was parents, relatives and friends asking our clients to leave the property (29%), of which 59% had been asked to leave by friends and relatives.  25 were homelessness due to domestic violence.  One fifth of the clients were. homeless due to the end of their Assured Shorthold Tenancy. This was the case for 24 families with children and 25 single people.

Single people

Of the 192 single people 14% were rough sleeping when we first saw them and we do not have a cause of their homelessness.

By far the highest cause of homelessness for single men and women was that friends or relatives were unwilling to accommodate them. 31% of the 192 people were homeless because friends or family could no longer accommodate them due to a lifestyle clash, lack of money, overcrowding or just no longer able to accommodate them.

19% were homeless due to the breakdown of a relationship; this was either a non-violent breakdown or the breakdown of a relationship with a violent partner or the breakdown of a violent relationship with an associated person.

13% of single people were homeless due to ending of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST).

In 17% of the cases clients reported that they been evicted from a hostel, supported accommodation or temporary accommodation. This would be due to alleged non-payment of rent or their behaviour has not complied with the terms of their licence.

A very small number of clients reported that they were homeless after leaving prison, hospital or another type of institution.

Adult Households

There were 32 adult households, for example a parent and an adult child. There was a spread across the causes of homelessness. 31% were due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy – 4 households where the AST was ended due to rent arrears, 4 where the reasons were not known and 2 where the landlord was selling the property.

28% of homelessness was caused by the breakdown in a relationship. 4 of these were a non-violent breakdown and in 5 the breakdown was due to violence.

Couples without children

There were only 13 couples without children who came for advice on homelessness. 5 of these couples were homeless because family or friends could not accommodate them. For two of the couples lifestyle clash was reported as the reason they had to leave their parents’ home.

Couples with children

There were 14 couples with children. The main cause of homelessness for these families (3) was that friends and relatives could not accommodate them any longer, for 2 other families they could no longer remain in their parents’ home due to overcrowding.

Single parent families

Of the 47 single parent families (male and female), 43% of these families were facing homelessness due to the end of their Assured Shorthold Tenancies including 5 due to rent arrears. A fifth of these families were facing homelessness because they could no longer remain with relatives, friends or in the parental home. 7 of the families had to leave the parental home due to overcrowding.