Private renting is MORE affordable than SRS renting? You what!!

Housing benefit does NOT cover the full social housing rent in 64% of cases.  2 in 3 tenants in council and housing association properties pay some or all of their rent without housing benefit.

Ten years ago 3.4 million SRS tenants received housing benefit. By March 2020 this had fallen by almost 750,000 to 2.68m. Three quarters of a million FEWER council and housing association tenants received Housing Benefit (or its UC equivalent UC-HCE) in 2020 than they did in 2013

The 201920 English Housing Survey (EHS) says 36% were getting full HB, 25% getting partial HB and 39% not getting a penny in housing benefit (HB or UC-HCE) at March 2020. DWP SHBE exact data for February 2013 said 3.401,023 SRS households received Housing Benefit which was 83%

These official figures will take the housing sector and industry by surprise yet official facts such as these are largely ignored by the housing ‘sector’ who tend to reaffirm their beliefs in myth and shibboleth and especially when it comes to THE biggest issue in the social rented sector which is AFFORDABILITY which is far greater than undersupply of social housing.  Try another piece of data from the EHS which says the average (mean) household income in the social rented sector as below in Chart 1.

Chart 1 – Household income by tenure (EHS)

The figures are for the principal person and /or partner. They also reveal the average (mean) housiehold income in the PRS is DOUBLE that of the average (mean) SRS household income.

Official housing data also tells us the average (mean) weekly rent is:

  • £107.24 in the SRS which is 26.35% of the mean HA household income
  • £170.76 in the PRS which is 22.44% of the mean PRS household income

AFTER rent:

  • The mean HA household income is £300pw for all other household expenditure
  • The mean PRS household income is £590pw for all other household expenditure

All other household expenditure cost whether energy, food, council tax, water rates, insurances, travel costs are the same across tenures so the average (mean) PRS household has DOUBLE the income AFTER paying rent than the SRS household mean.  In short, and despite average PRS rent being almost 60% higher than HA rent the PRS rent is MORE affordable than the SRS rent.

I have been researching the housing state of play in early 2013 to look at the impact of the first decade of austerity policies as it is 10 years on 1 April 2023 (a very apt date!) when the bedroom tax began. 

Official housing data says the total number of SRS properties in GB was 4.1m in 2013 and the very exact DWP SHBE data says for February 2013 that HB was received by 3,401.023 SRS households.  Housing Benefit was received by 83% of all SRS households in GB and that had been broadly the same since HB was introduced in 1987 – a generation of very broad proxy between HB receipt and rent affordability. 

Scrutinising the SHBE data from 2013 is complex and has to be inexact as it wasn’t broken down by full or partial HB receipt like EHS data yet it is possible to assess within 1 or at most 2 percentage points a comparator for the EHS 201920 data of 36% full HB, 25% partial and 39% zero HB receipt.  I have presented this in Chart 2 below and it is a huge change of seismic import.

Chart 2 – SRS HB receipt prior to austerity and by 2020/21

In overview comparing SRS HB receipt in 2013 and 2021 we see those getting full HB to cover all their SRS rent has HALVED and those who are ‘self-payers’ in housing jargon and get nothing in housing benefit has more than DOUBLED! 

These are staggering and at first glance incredulous.  I have checked, double-checked and checked again my figures and they are ‘reliable ballpark’ figures  and over an 8 year period they see full HB reducing by 3% of SRS tenants per year and 2% more SRS tenants each year getting zero housing benefit.  The austerity policies of bedroom tax (reducing HB for 13% of all SRS tenants in HB receipt alone) and overall benefit cap and increases in NDDs can explain this alone. We have also had a consistent increase in EET activities by SRS landlords over the period as well (seeking to get more tenants into part or full time employment) which also factors in and makes sense of these dramatic changes.

What we can say with absolute certainty is the use of HB receipt as proxy for SRS rent affordability became defunct on April Fools’ Day 2013.  Any business or researcher or think tank that still uses HB receipt as any form of proxy for SRS rent affordability needs to rid themselves of that absurd notion. 

Would any business in any sector ascribe the context of one third of its customers and project them onto 100% of customers? 

Of course not that would be dangerously perverse yet that is precisely what equating HB receipt as proxy for rent affordability does … and is the regrettable and ignorant norm of many social housing actors.

In summary the importance of data to social housing and especially to homelessness cannot be underestimated.  What the data on tenant composition and affordability clearly tells us it is highly probable more SRS households than PRS households will fall into arrears in 2023 and 2024 and likely that more SRS evictions into homelessness will occur than PRS evictions. 

Why has Shelter become a one-trick pony and only focus on LHA shortfalls in the PRS yet says nothing about SRS shortfalls when two-thirds (64% at 2020) of SRS households do not get enough in housing benefit to cover SRS rent? 

Throw into the mix the EHS data on energy prepayment meters (PPM) and 43% of SRS households had them in 2019/20 when just 19% had them in the PRS.  The weekly average dual fuel bill in March 2022 was £24.56 (£1278pa) yet this is increasing in April 23 to £67.31pw (£3500pa) – and is typically around 5% higher with PPMs. 

Energy costs have gone from 6% of average (mean) SRS household income to 17% whereas in the PRS from 3.2% in March 2022 to 8.8% in April 2023.  Which tenure can better afford this £43 per week increase in gas and electricity – The SRS household or the PRS household? 

A far higher percentage of SRS households will have to prioritise energy due to PPMs over rent to keep the lights on, keep the fridge capable of storing food that cannot afford to heat and to avoid immediate penalty changes should the PPMs run out. 

It is that level of ‘sophistication’ and depth that the SRS ‘sector’ its plethora of lobbies and paid academic research and similar homeless actors need to look at regarding SRS they don’t and never have.  They are all residing in the pre-Austerity period of a decade ago.

In summary I ask a series of questions beginning with a rhetorical one of

Is household income by tenure a far more critical determinant of SRS rent affordability than receipt of housing benefit?  (That one is rhetorical.)

  • Why do Shelter and so many other lobbies focus solely on LHA housing benefit shortfalls in the PRS yet say nothing at all about housing benefit shortfalls in the SRS? 
  • Is the tell a lie often enough and the public (want to) believe it at play when they and politicians and even academics largely believe housing benefit shortfalls only happen in the PRS but not in social housing?
  • Does (a) household income by tenure; (b) the sharp fall in housing benefit receipt, and; (c) the PPM proportion, all combine to logically deduce more SRS tenants than PRS tenants will fall prey to the arrears to eviction to homeless pathway in 2023 and 2024?  (That is also rhetorical.)
  • Have any of the SRS sector landlords factored these critical pieces of primary data into their deliberations for imposing a 7% rent increase in April 23?
  • Is there any purpose in building more social housing when those for whom it is intended and give its social purpose cannot afford it?
  • Is the mantra of just build more bloody social housing which is heavily promoted by the social housing sector and its allies, in fact, specious?

Does the mantra of just build more bloody social housing heavily promoted by Shelter as panacea to ending homelessness have any purpose when homeless households cannot afford social housing?

Food for thought housing sector peeps!? There are dozens more similar questions of critical consequence to the social housing model yet all are based on the social housing ‘sector’ and its advocates and usual sycophantic suspects who consciously choose never to use primary data and fact and rely instead on myth and shibboleth.

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Homelessness has fallen in England say Shelter! What dangerous planet is Polly Neate on?

Did you know Shelter assert homeless numbers have fallen in England over the last 4 years? By nearly 6,000 in England Shelter assert too! Ye Gods!

Last week Shelter released their estimate of homeless person numbers in England and gave their 271,000 estimate on any given night to ITV News and Daniel Hewitt to broadcast to the nation.  In 2018 the same Shelter estimate was England had 276,925 homeless persons on any given night. 

Shelter’s own figures show a reduction in homeless person numbers in England, a perverse issue which sees Shelter’s own latest homeless figures have no credibility whatsoever.  Scrutinise Shelter’s figure by barely scratching the surface and we see just how perverse and incredulous they are.

For example Shelter’s latest estimate asserts that England’s single homeless hostel rooms have just a 47.6% occupancy rate and 52.4% and thus the majority of single homeless hostel bed lay empty and unused on any given night! 

England has 32,184 single homeless hostel beds according to Homeless Link and a figure that is official as government funds Homeless Link to produce this data every year with this being the latest release from August 2022.  Shelter however asserts that 15,239 of these (47.6%) are occupied on any given night which means Shelter assert that 16,855 of them lay empty on any given night.

The latest Shelter estimate is not just disingenuous it is downright dangerous as the homeless hostel figures reveal starkly as average occupancy rates there typically exceed 95%,

  • Will local decision makers, councils, councillors, commissioners take these Shelter figures and say the majority of hostel beds lay empty so why the hell are we funding them?  Bet your life they will!
  • Will local decision makers and the zealous Housing First advocates use these Shelter figures to say the hostel model has failed as justification for yet more Housing First initiatives that never have and never can work in English housing conditions?  Bet your life they will!
  • Will all homeless actors including government use these figure to say there are 16,855 homeless hostel beds lay empty every night and we have 2,440 rough sleepers.  Thus, there is enough provision so anyone sleeping rough is rough sleeper choice not a housing supply problem?  You bet they f*cking will!

I could go on but the above are just three main reasons why the Shelter estimate of England’s homeless person numbers is extremely dangerous and not just disingenuous twaddle. 

I could ask on what planet is Polly Neate the chief executive of Shelter residing on? 

I could ask why Daniel Hewitt of ITV News who has done so much credible work on social housing disrepair and social landlord apathy towards tenants decided not to even take the simple comparison between the latest Shelter estimate and previous ones. 

His credibility and that of ITV News is called into question as much as Shelter’s reputation and credibility for these wholly disingenuous and extremely dangerous figures that ITV News chose to report without any journalistic scrutiny as to the validity of them. Indeed ITV News emphasised that homeless numbers have increased by 74% over the last ten years as the screenshot from this ITV News special bulleting reveals…

Instead, I will simply and objectively report the factual data with sources below.

The 2018 Shelter estimate (source here) said

The 2018 estimate of 320k was for Great Britain with England having 276,925 of that figure

The Shelter 2022 report released 2023 here said

Comparing like for like with figures for England only is a near 6,000 reuducti0on in the numbers of homeless persons – according to Shelter’s own figures – from 2018 to 2022!

[NB: Both the 2018 and 2022 Shelter figures said “at least” so its emphasis in its 2022 news release is of no consequence]

The Homeless Link homeless hostel numbers here said in its latest Aug 2022 report

Highlighted is the 32,184 ‘official’ number (and the 26.3% decrease since 201o)

The Shelter 2022 report and its 15,329 single homeless hostel number here

Note well that this category is objective not subjective as the other fout Shelter categories – The number living in single homeless hostels on any given night not who referred them but the objective number of residents

The Shelter 2022 report on rough sleeper numbers as you can see is 2,440 on any given night and alongside the objective number of 15,329 single homeless hostel beds being occupied out of the official number of 32,184. My comments as to will decision-makers or politicians say 2440 rough sleepers and 16,855 empty hostel beds [32,184 minus 15,329 Shelter figure] that we don’t have a shortage!

The more than doubling of rough sleepers under the Housing First model in Finland

Crisis fervently claim that Finland has reduced homelessness (it has) then state Finland operates Housing First (it does) then scream the chronic non sequitur that Housing First works. In Finland and the latest official figures every form of homelessness has fallen EXCEPT for the one area in which the Housing First model is used – what Finland labels those ‘outside’ and what we label as ‘rough sleeper’ in the UK. The official Finnish report and its table relevant to rough sleepers

We can chart this in a much simpler table as below:

In the last two years rough sleeper numbers in Finland who use the Housing First model has increased from 512 to 1210 – an increase of 136% – and the total number is back where it was 10 years ago in Finland and despite all other areas and all other homeless cohorts reducing! I first looked at a Housing First service (and model) in 1995 and followed its efficacy ever since and nowhere in the world has the Housing First model ever worked at scale or sustainably.

The fact that Shelter appears to, like Crisis, push the UK down this unworkable path for single homeless cohorts by its assertion that over half of single homeless hostel beds lay emoty each night is acutely irresponsible and extremely dangerous.

Other related issues

The Homeless Link figures say the 32,184 hostel room / bed number is a 26.3% reduction since 2010.  This means a fall of nearly 8,000 homeless hostel beds since 2010 and however moot the rough sleeper numbers are it is the closure and decommissioning of single homeless hostel beds that has had a much greater role in the increased numbers of rough sleepers than anything else is the only logical deduction. 

Local authority commissioners who have cut support funding to all supported housing services by around 80% since 2003 which includes NIMBY services like hostels are acutely responsible for the increases in single homelessness, increase in rough sleeping numbers and the increase in non-commissioned ‘exempt accommodation’ services of which many accommodate single homeless persons.  (NB: Exempt accommodation services total numbers have fallen from 170k in 2010 to a claimed 159k in 2022 yet the 40,000 non-commissioned in the 170k 2010 estimate has without doubt increased)

The principal issue is the ‘commissioning process’ a part of Localism which sees central government assert that local councils know local needs best is a sham. 

For example Birmingham City Council the leading ‘outraged’ LA in the ‘exempt accommodation’ outrage charade and who freely state 11k of the 22k in exempt accommodation in Birmingham are locals yet they choose to support-fund by commissioning just 2k of them. 

The commissioning process together with no legal right at all to housing-related support allows LAs to ‘commission’ not on the basis of need but on the basis of how much can we not fund housing-related support and how much can we save.  Birmigham City Council chooses to NOT support-fund 9,000 of the 11,000 ‘locals’ in exemot accommodation and is allowed to NOT fund 81% of its admitted and local vulnerable single persons!

The feigned outrage at the increase in non-commissioned ‘exempt accommodation’ is a direct response to LAs cutting 80% of housing related support funding and a natural consequence. The Homeless Link data showing a 39% drop in hostel support providers (those who were commissioned?) has been almost met by the rise in non-commissioned providers in short

In these contexts now factor in and reconsider the extrem danger of Shelter asserting that the majority of homeless hostel beds for single persons lay empty each night! 

WTF are you playing at Polly Neate and Shelter!

Earn less than £150k pa? Your standard of living under numerate Sunak means you are worse off this year than last!

Your number’s up Rishi Sunak and the innumeracy of your policies needs exposing.

In April the average domestic energy bill will be £150 per month higher than it was in April last year.  The average mortgage payment will be £250 per month higher we are told.  The average food bill is over £100 per month higher than a year before. 

Even without factoring in higher council tax, water rates, insurances, transport costs and any other domestic household expenditure inflation this is £500 more per month and £6,000 per year more needed in NET household income just to stand still and maintain the standard of living.

Average wage increases are running at around 6% which means – the numeracy bit – that a 6% pay increase on £100,000 wage is £6,000 per year GROSS.  For a 6% wage increase to be £6,000 per year more NET to stand still a 2022 income of £150,000 is needed. 

These simple but irrefutable numbers mean …

Every mortgage payer on a household income of LESS than £150,000 per year today will be worse off in 2023 than they were this in 2022!

In political terms that is a damning statement yet one which is factually correct if you happen to have basic numeracy Rishi Sunak. 

I have much sympathy with the universal condemnation of the everyone must learn maths until they are 18 pledge of Sunak and the Simon Pegg rant on social media is worth watching as it covers most of the reasons. 

However, the fact that wage income needs to be £150k per year just to stand still is the real elephant in the room that is missing in any of the commentary. 

It means the out of control UK economy – presided over by Rishi Sunak – sees the vast majority of  households – those earning less than £150k per year – will be worse off in 2023 than they were in 2022.

Do you really want a more numerate society Prime Minister!

Just because Rishi Sunak anagrams to Hi Risk Anus doesn’t mean you have to live up to that!

2023 is the year SRS landlords have to prove they are social or go to the wall? What 7% rent increases mean!

The average monthly social housing rent is £466 in England and this means (a) the 7% rent increase in April sees an increase of £32.62 per month; and (b) The Universal Credit standard allowance increase in April is £33.83 per month

The facts correlate to give social landlord finance directors something to seriously worry about as 61% of existing SRS households receives UC and broken down:

  • 36% receiving UC housing costs in full
  • 25% receiving partial housing benefit towards their rent, and
  • 39% receive nothing in what we used to call housing benefit.

The SRS landlord of the opinion the anticipated 7% rent increase can be ‘sold’ to tenants on it is way less than inflation basis is dangerously missing the point.  UC standard allowance is meant to pay for all household expenditure costs yet the average rent increase of £32.62pcm this April will see the £33.83pcm UC increase on what tenants received from April 2022 is all swallowed up by it … leaving no more household income to pay the average £144pcm more in energy cost or the 15% claimed increase in food costs.

SRS landlords have to walk a mile in tenant shoes with rampant out-of-control inflations and interest rate increases and real term wage cuts.  Previously the austerity policies of bedroom tax, overall benefit cap and UC itself the SRS tenants meant rent was paid in full AND direct to the SRS landlord.   This gave SRS finance directors a reassurance that no longer exists. This calendar year not just from April this does not apply and SRS landlords are in an alien never before seen position regarding rent being paid. 

Scratch the surface and the 43% of existing SRS households have energy prepayment meters (19% PRS, 3% owner occupied) means tenants feeding the meters to keep the lights on, keep the fridge working and to avoid penalty costs when re-feeding those meters. It means even the 36% of SRS tenants who receive ‘full housing benefit’ have to prioritise paying energy costs and with UC housing cost element paid direct to them the spectre of this ‘direct payment’ issue much talked about from 2012/13 becomes the reality it has to date not been at any scale.

SRS landlords need a massive culture change

There is a complacency culture among council and housing association landlords in believing tenants will pay rent first or else suffer the consequences of the arrear to eviction into homelessness pathway.  That complacency position no longer holds as even before the ‘heat or eat’ narrative tenants still need to keep the lights on and the fridge in working order to store the food they cannot afford to heat.  Additionally, SRS landlords believe their own hype about being ‘community champions’ and other vague terms that have become synonymous myth and never had to be proven.  This year they will need to be proven and the reality of this myth will be exposed like the scandalous quality of SRS housing provision has been over the past year.

If SRS landlords expect the SRS tenant to go without light, heat or eat so as to pay rent this is a dangerous position to hold and a false one.  I don’t know how many existing tenants will prioritise their health, their warmth and their stomach ahead of paying rent or rent top-up.  I do say if I was in that position that I would – a professional view informed by knowing that SRS landlords cannot afford to evict on any scale. 

In crude yet valid terms it takes 6 years of average rent surplus from a full paying tenant to equate to the income loss from the average arrears eviction.  That pragmatic financial point has never been considered by SRS landlords before the current ‘cost of living crisis’ and is based on 25% surplus per year – circa £1400pa surplus – and a landlord cost of arrears eviction at circa £8,500.  These are average ballpark figures yet any housing professional and especially housing finance professional recognises the validity of them. 

In a month’s time when rent increase letters arrive on tenant mats and tenants will re- assess their view of their landlord.  That’s more than a touchy, feely statement as already put-upon tenants are going to be very angry when the rent increase letter arrive and however much SRS landlords assert rent increases are below inflation it won’t wash and will it harden tenant views of whom they prioritise in terms of payment?

How hollow will landlord claims of tenants being a ‘customer’ be received by existing SRS tenants? How much LESS likely tenants will ‘engage’ with landlords and how that ‘engagement’ narrative is always one-sided and loaded with landlord bias and excuse!  The importance of the landlord to tenant relationship has never truly been considered by SRS landlords.  It has always been pay your rent of suffer the inevitable consequence.  SRS landlords cannot hold that position any longer and the UC ‘solution’ of APAs will only make the tenant lot worse and increase evictions yet UC does not deduct former tenant arrears at source so walking a mile in tenant shoes has become a necessity and imposed upon the complacent SRS landlords who are hardly known for their speed of change or agileness! 

A seismic culture change is needed else some SRS landlords will go to the wall this year and it really is that simple.  For example, how can SRS landlords justify charging existing tenants more in order to develop for new tenants when 80% of SRS landlords do not develop anyway yet still charge this surplus rent?  Such arguments will be made and SRS landlords are in for a kicking at least in the media when such arguments gain the traction they undoubtedly will.

To keep this brief and thus likely to be read I finish with a recent request I have had from a social tenant campaign group. 

It asked me “What if tenants withheld 10% of rent from April 2023?” asking what are the consequences for tenants and landlords.

The rationale is quite clever as it would take 20 weeks for the tenant to go two weeks in arrears which is when the first ‘friendly’ arrears letters tend to kick in as that is how IT rent systems are programmed.  In that time it would see SRS landlord coffers be light by some £42 million each week, and over £800 million before landlords take action by way of the arrears letter function their IT systems are programmed to take.  There is a certain logic in the idea as if arrears are typically 4% of landlord turnover the arrears levels would increase to 10% if universally adopted by tenants.  I doubt tenants would universally take such action yet the same arrears may just as easily be forced upon existing tenants with the energy prepayment ratio and the general ‘cost of living’ factors of inflations being way more than household costs.

I mention this as I am dismayed at SRS landlords issuing news releases saying we are doing all we can for ‘our’ tenants when that is simply false and silo thinking.  With over £30 billion per year entitled to but going unclaimed in benefit how many SRS landlord welfare teams are taking tenant cases to tribunal to appeal?  The answer is very few yet doing so whilst being an added cost to landlords is mutually beneficial and ‘proves’ that landlords do have their tenants backs.  Given that over 70% of PIP, DLA, ESA and UCLCW claims are overturned in the claimant favour at tribunal and that 54% of SRS households include a disability, taking tenant incapacity and disability claims to tribunal makes mutual sense and would be an enlightened approach. 

I recall some HAs taking bedroom tax challenges for tenants (when that was still viable) that I developed and advised upon and (a) it was successful, (b) the number of households granted a bedroom for overnight carers increased from 2% to 7% (which still holds good today); yet more importantly (c) how tenant view of their landlord having their backs paid mutual dividends and in tangible ways. 

Unfortunately such an enlightened position was adopted by far too few HAs though other frontline staff in other HAs adopted it in part and had some considerable successes in bedroom tax and benefit appeals which the frontline staff there informed they were prohibited from publicising as it would fuel tenant expectations and HA ‘bosses’ could only see the added initial costs of expanding such services but not the dividends it would bring to rent payments and arrears reduction and the greater tenant goodwill such initiatives always achieve.

The pragmatic reality of government stopping legal aid for benefit appeals which led to welfare agencies closing and those remaining deciding not to take appeals to tribunal has always meant that SRS landlords should have stepped in by significantly increasing their ‘welfare teams’ yet many have chosen not to do this to date.  The cost of living crisis now takes that choice away and SRS landlords have to significantly increase their welfare teams to avoid arrears going off the scale.

As stated above ALL SRS landlords really do have to walk a mile in tenant shoes and have no choice but to do so.  This is a seismic culture change and a (belatedly) imposed one.  No longer can SRS landlords pithily state these changes (austerity policies and cost of living pressures) are beyond our control and there is nothing we can do, etc.  They are correct in asserting this is government policy and not their fault yet they cannot sit idly by and parrot that excuse.  The unprecedented cost of living crisis and recession we are now in forces the issue and SRS landlords have to do so much more in order to survive.  They have to prove how social they are which they have never had to do before.  If they were ‘social’ they would be doing this anyway as it is mutually beneficial yet too many are set in their ways and too quick to deflect blame away rather than do anything. 

SRS landlords no longer have this antipathy option as this is not about the odd good practice human interest story being enough, it is a matter of SRS landlord survival which is the first rule of any business even social businesses that SRS landlords are.

England’s Homeless – Social landlords have NO stock answer

How many homeless households in England each year?  Nobody knows because nobody bothers to count them!! This 3-minute read explains …

The yearly number is vital for reducing homelessness as we need to know how many 1 bed properties are needed for all single homeless households to escape the state of homelessness and how many 2, 3 and 4 bed homeless-escape properties are needed for homeless families. 

Yet nobody bothers to count the yearly homeless in England!

Scotland by contrast produces the average length of stay or ALOS at its homeless hostels which is 97 days and nights.  From this we can deduce 3.77 single homeless per hostel room per year with 365 yearly days divided by 97 night stays.  If the ALOS was the same in English single homeless hostels then its c34,000 hostel rooms would have some 128,000 residents requiring 128,000 x 1 bedded single homeless-escape properties each year. 

That 34,000 figure (from Homeless Link who has a contract from government to provide it each year) would note, NOT include the bulk of the 159,000 exempt accommodation properties England has.  Perhaps more significantly official CORE data shows England’s social landlords re-housed just 11,106 of all single homeless households – of which hostel residents are only one cohort. 

We need to add other identifiable single homeless cohorts such as those roofless (rough sleepers and shelter dwellers) and single women in domestic abuse refuges to the hostel cohort to see just how pitiful the supply of homeless-escape properties by England’s social landlords actually is, which is less than 5% of the demand – and that’s before we consider the 386,000 single homeless households who are sofa surfers in official English Housing Survey data from 2020. (A further 155,000 homeless families sofa surf too according to same EHS.)

The title of this piece is Homelessness in England – Social Housing Has No Stock Answer to reflect that social landlords do not have the housing stock to re-house single homeless households by providing the properties needed to end their state of homelessness.  England is over 95% reliant on the private landlord to re-house its single homeless households and that is damning.  With the ending of a private tenancy being the second highest presenting reason for homelessness to English LAs (the first is relationship breakdown) this reliance on the PRS only serves to create systemic repeat homelessness.

England also does not count its roofless cohorts.  The annual rough sleeper ‘count’ (68% are not counts but desktop estimates) is one night of the year.  In 2020 that one-night count was circa 4,000 yet from March 2020 to November 2020 the first eight months of the pandemic saw English councils temporarily put a roof over 37,500 rough sleepers – a figure which suggests England has 55,000 rough sleeper per year. However nobody knows because nobody bothers to count them with the exception of the CHAIN data for London which shows the English capital alone has some 11,000 rough sleepers each year when the official one-night ‘count’ for All England government claim to be a little over 2,000!

In 2017 Crisis published its Moving On report which estimated single homeless households in England at a working figure of 200,000 per year and in a range of 120,000 – 345,000.  That included an estimate of 71,400 for single sofa surfers yet in 2020 the EHS official data said the number of single homeless sofa surfers was 386,000 alone and over 315,000 more than the Crisis working figure of 200,000 single homeless households.  That suggests a yearly working figure of over half a million single homeless households who all need a 1 bed property to escape single homelessness. 

The same average length of stay or ALOS is not recorded for homeless families either so the circa 100,000 family homeless households in LA commissioned hotels, B&Bs and other temporary accommodation (TA) at any one time would give a need for 100,000 re-housing properties per year if the ALOS was 12 months or 400,000 re-housing properties if the average length of stay in TA was 3 months. Quite the difference! Scotland has an 199 day ALOS for homeless families and if replicated in England would mean 183,000 homeless families in England per year with 220,000 children!

England’s social landlords supply 46,000 re-housing properties each year to homeless families in official CORE data for context.  This is < 15% of the demand so England is > 85% reliant on the PRS to re-house homeless families!

In short summary, not collecting the ALOS in all temporary homeless provisions means;

  • nobody has any idea how many homeless households England has each year;
  • the assertion England CAN end homelessness means those asserting and promoting this narrative are talking out of their hat;
  • an offensive apathy towards those who are homeless exists as the norm; and
  • the social housing model is failing miserably to re-house those who by any definition are the most in objective housing need.

Next time you hear we CAN end homelessness or social landlords will always house those most in housing need watch your sodium chloride intake.

Read all about it “HA landlord kills child” Exclusively … in tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper!

The death of a two year old boy by housing association landlord neglect is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.  Am I being callous?  No.  It is the reality as there is no legal sanction for a housing association or any other social landlord such as the many sanctions on private landlords and which also legal redress for tenants.

It is much cheaper for a social landlord to ride out a few days hostile media attention than to repair and maintain their housing stock.  In terms of severe mould alone official figures published in the English Housing Survey report 5% of social housing, 200,000 properties accommodating 450 – 500,000 men, women and children have severe mould.

One that we know of has died. It means 99.999998% of men, women and children in England’s social rented sector housing have NOT died from this form of social landlord neglect and disregard for tenant lives.  The cost of repairing, maintaining and ensuring social housing properties are free from ‘killer damp’ is in the billions each year.  Moreover, there is no sanction against a housing association landlord and that absence allows this deathly practise to continue.

A private landlord by comparison can be prosecuted by the local authority, can be prevented from being a landlord, can be licensed by a local authority – all have the same intention as the RSPCA winning a case to prevent anyone from ever owning a domestic pet again – and pets have greater protection and sanction in law than the social landlord tenant.  How about Rent Repayment Orders for allowing such an unfit property to attract a rent being paid? 

Social (sic) landlords have a very privileged Teflonesque position as they are immune from legal sanctions that all private landlords are rightly subjected to. All we have here is no sanction for a housing association imitating Rachman and this bad news story is announced on the day before we finally find out just how much in the toilet the economy is with tomorrow’s budget.  This tragic case is Friday’s fish and chip wrapper.

We see not even see an apology from the housing association chief executive!  We only have the hollowest of words that ‘painful lessons need to be learned!”  On a personal level I am pretty sure Gareth Swarbrick can realise there is nothing more painful than the death of a two-year old child and especially as the coroner rightly labelled this death as preventable.  On a corporate level however, it is business as usual and batten down the hatches for a day or two of rightful public indignation and then go back to the norm of knowingly operating properties that are not only unfit for human habitation but are death trap properties. 

This Rachmanesque culture of SRS landlords is endemic and typical practise … and has no effective or legal sanction.  This is actuarial landlordism of financial risk.  The death of a two-year old from an issue that was first reported before he was born shows the callous disdain and wanton disregard housing association landlords have for those they have the temerity to call their customer. 

If tenants were customers they could act with their feet and find another landlord and they could rightly refuse to pay for a product and service that meets no appropriate or acceptable standard and makes a mockery of standard tenancy contract terms which say the landlord has a responsibility to maintain a property in good order and the tenant has a right to repair.  A so-called assured tenancy when the only thing that is assured is the social landlord can legally fuck the tenant over with impunity and immunity.

Aside from there being no sanction on social landlords, the acid test here is what would happen if this was a private landlord?  The outrage and indignation would be the same YET that landlord would never again be allowed to be a landlord and would likely be facing criminal charges – yet there is no sign that this will happen or even being considered because the landlord is reputedly a ‘social’ landlord and one whose chief executive is being allowed to remain in post never mind hauled in front of a court. 

A coroner has rightly decided that the death of a two-year old child was the direct fault of the landlord neglect and that landlord is allowed to continue operating the same way with no personal or corporate or other legal sanction!  Unlike Grenfell, where many agencies were to blame including but not limited to the landlord, this is the death of a child caused exclusively by landlord inaction.  This should be a seminal moment, a catalyst for radical change to the absurdly privileged position of so-called ‘social’ landlords, yet I strongly doubt it will be. 

Social (sic) landlords are immune, are primus inter pares and above the law, the law which absurdly believes the daily hype that only private rented sector landlords operate Rachmanesque practises when they are standard in the social rented sector so the law does not have remedy for tenants whose child has been killed by a social landlord

The central issue here is not the racist undertones of this or is it SRS stigma or the fact that more PRS than SRS properties have more of this chronic black mould and damp in official figures.  The central issue is the immunity of social landlords and the lack of legal redress and sanction that rightly apply to a private sector landlord but do not apply to the social rented sector landlord.  All of those issues are important ones yet not to be used as deflection away from the immunity and impunity that sees such deathly practises as being common with no legal redress.  Whilst that remains we will see more such deaths and all carry on under the patently false assumption that only the proverbially ‘nasty’ private landlord is capable of such outrageous practice which directly caused the death of an innocent two year old child. 

How many of the 43% of existing SRS tenants who have energy prepayment meters will not be able to afford to put the heating on this winter and provide fertile conditions for even more severe black mould to be more invasive than Japanese Knotweed?  Cue SRS bean counters producing even more offensive actuarial reports on the financial and reputation risks to housing association landlords for directly killing children.

The honour and pleasure of working with Asylum Seekers

Let me tell you about the job that gave me the most satisfaction. It’s a pertinent time to mention.

Over 20 years ago I took on an interim management position heading up the Asylum Seeker Dispersal scheme for a local authority in the North West of England.  The government, rightly, had decided to disperse asylum seekers across the country as they had gravitated towards London and Kent.  It put undue pressure on their local economies and infrastructures such as education, NHS and so on so sharing theses not so obvious costs equally made sense.

I had been told by a councillor under no circumstances was the council housing stock to be used.  Another councillor had said don’t you dare put any ‘non-white’ faces in my ward. 

This was also the time when the Daily Mail and Daily Express were plastering their front pages with headlines of ‘economic migrants’ and the usual jingoistic language that the current Home Secretary (at least as I write) Suella Braverman is using of ‘invasion’ and of Daily Telegraph front page headlines (see below) and a few years after the first ever recording in print of the term “asylum seeker” in the Guardian in 1996 – a fact I thought surprising then as many will do today.

I arranged all of the properties, all of the translation services, all of the other local services with colleagues in health, education, social services and so on.  I arrived at my desk one morning in a very large open plan office to copies of the Daily Mail on it.  It is fair to say some council officers and workers were resistant, hostile or even bigoted.

One afternoon I went to the former council homeless families unit where all the dispersed families were accommodated initially to speak with a Kosovo family of a Mum and her 7 year-old son.  The son was in the enclosed back garden kicking a ball about and his Mum screamed at him. 

The reason was he had one pair of shoes which were always highly polished and his Mum didn’t want them ruined. 

I went back to the office late afternoon and told this tale to the lady who sat opposite me and I asked her if her son who was 10 had any old football boots or trainers he no longer used.

The next morning, a Friday, I came into the office shortly after 8am to find my desk was full of cardboard boxes full of football boots, trainers, shoes, football kits and a dozen or so post-it notes and a similar number of cards saying pretty much the same thing.  “I’ve never looked at it from the children’s point of view”  I later discovered my colleague had spoken to others on the same floor.

That afternoon I went back and the Mum said why are you here again Mr Joe?  Her 7-year old boy came in and said “Hello Mr Joe” (all asylum seekers had difficulty pronouncing my surname which I still find when I go on holiday at check-in desks at airports and hotels) and I smiled.  I opened a box full of boots, trainers and football kits. I gestured for the boy to have a look and he did so carefully and chose ONE pair of Mitre football boots ahead of the numerous Adidas and Puma.  His Mum was smiling.

I shook my head.  Not one I said take as many as you need.  He looked at his Mum who nodded her head. The boy still looked reticent so I picked up a pair of trainers in his size and handed them to him and he eventually decided on an Oldham and Man United football top and I also handed him a new football.

His Mum smiled and nodded and the little boy’s faced was beaming as he put the trainers on   and the Oldham football top which he chose over the Man United one (which made this Liverpool fan smile!) then ran out of the door with the ball.  The Mum was beaming and profusely thanking me when her son runs back in a few minutes later holding daisies he had picked from the garden, handed them to me, kissed me on both cheeks and hugged me.  Thank you so much Mr Joe he said.

I don’t know how I kept from shedding a tear.

I went back to the office eager to tell my colleague and noticed more boxes on my desk with more football kits and trainers and a brand new Connect 4 game with an anonymous note of “For when it’s raining outside!”  Before I returned to the office I popped in to see the part-time concierge of this now former homeless families unit and said that she gave laundry tokens to the family to wash and dry the trainers and the football kits (and whatever else Mum would put in the machine) and on my say so if anyone queried this ‘free wash.’ Indeed her salary was also factored into my costing of the service as was the former homeless families unit running costs as we used it as an extension of the central processing centre and as overspill from there (which resonates with the political shenanigans and unlawful practises now apparently going on at Manston in Kent.  Hardly rocket science was it!?

None of the above is embellished and every word is true.  It is an indelible memory.

When ordinary folk scratch the surface of the racist assertions of the media and politicians such as ‘economic migrant’ ‘invasion’ and similar bordering on and actual fascistic language they conclude that people are people and the same as you and I.

I also beat myself up in this role. 

I had a meeting with an older lady from a well known national charity group as she had called over the ‘refugee service’ as she referred to it.  I was sceptical of the motives of an older person assuming that I was going to get another NIMBY type ‘piece of advice’ as the councillors offered up and on enquiring who she was colleagues had said this lady knew everyone and everyone knew her across the local council area.  I couldn’t have been more wrong over her motives.

She genuinely offered an open book of whatever help we needed from all her members and would speak with other groups and sure she would get universal support for any volunteering positions that were needed or ‘smoothing the many paths’ was the exact phrase she stated.  I thanked her and quizzically asked why?  She smiled and said she understood where I was coming from; then added the Poles and those from Yugoslavia bravely fought the war with us. They stood by us, so we will stand by them. Her late husband had served in the RAF and had only good words to say about eastern Europeans and did I know that Sikhs had too so this was not an issue of skin colour.  I could have listened to her stories and vindication all day reader despite feeling slightly guilty for my preconceptions…

The above is as close as you will get from me of the human interest story type that pervades yet ignores fact and the overall position.  The bigger picture is the smiles on the faces of every asylum seeker household, singles and families at the accommodation they received.  They were surprised at the quality of it – and this is the real lessons learned issue.

I was headhunted for this interim position due to my supported housing troubleshooting expertise.  The council had placed somebody internally but it didn’t work at all and they were lagging well behind the other 11 councils in the consortium area.  It was the cry for help that characterises most interim management positions and the previous holder of the post had the councillor NIMBY and racial dimension, the politically charged demand of you can’t use council housing stock and a notoriously dim view of the private landlord sector with the local private landlord forum headed by a ‘hothead’ … the description I was given when I inherited the post.

I arranged to speak at the next local private landlord forum and whatever ‘hostility’ was in the room vanished with my opening sentence of “How would you like 260 weeks of guaranteed rent? The tone of the room changed instantly!

I explained that was the contract whether the properties were occupied or not.  I wanted 120 either 2 or 3 bed properties which would need to meet stringent HMO standards for use by a family or by 2 or 3 singles sharing, properties that would be fully furnished right down to crockery and cutlery.  In return was 260 weeks of guaranteed rent and was very commercially viable to improve their properties for and would mean lenders would forward any funding needed to bring their properties up to scratch.  Any improvements to their properties would last until long after this contract too which was also in the councils interest as well as theirs.

I had over 300 offers within the week as private landlords could see I was talking their language   instead of the usual local authority antipathy and suspicion of them and their profit motive they said they all regularly experienced in previous dealings with the council.

Every one of these properties that made it onto the contract had exacting specifications on safety and quality and far higher than the HMO legal requirements at the time or even now.  Every potential property was inspected by me with the Environmental Health team member I had seconded.  To cut what could be a long story short, private landlords were asking me if they put in a Jacuzzi or a gym in the basement do they have a better chance of getting the property on the contract!  So when I said earlier asylum seekers were delighted with the accommodation this is a major part of the reason. Another was the strategy of placing each nationality or ethnicity within 5 to 10 minutes walking distance of each other, close enough to support one another yet not ghettoisation or become ‘too visible.’

To get this policy idea off the ground and councils being councils, I had to prepare fully-costed options of the costs of provision of the council providing all the 120 properties, the cost of the private landlords doing them all and a mixture of both.  What both surprised the council and delighted the councillors was the unit cost of the PRS option was significantly below the cost that the council could deliver using its council housing stock.  Financially, this was a no-brainer to use 100% PRS provision and as every one of the 12 councils in the consortium area had to agree a fixed price the council would make an estimated £900,000 on this 5 year contract as the PRS only cost came out at £180,000 per year cheaper than the overall consortium area contract price, and provided more income for the HRA.

The same ‘constraints’ I describe above were also prevalent in many other consortium areas and I took other consortium leaders around the properties we had contracted.  The surprise on their faces was a joy to behold and they were staggered at the property quality and even more staggered at the unit cost which was way below their unit costs in using council and housing association properties. These other consortia leaders assumed costs were cut yet all concluded no corners were cut and the standards of safety and quality of provision were higher than in their consortia areas. Our costs also included the secondment costs of the Environmental Health Officer which their contract costing did not. 

The contracts also included far more stringent repair response times which the PRS landlords were more than happy to agree to and deliver. Repair response times the head of the council housing department baulked at when I asked him to cost this.  When I explained these were the same as the (even then) old Housing Corporation guidelines for vulnerable people in supported housing had laid down his laughing response was nobody ever met those ridiculous timescales … but they were met by the private landlords on this contract. 

Even after I left this position I spoke regularly with my replacement who confirmed this and other benchmarks I had put in place for the seamless easy recording of these pertinent factors and the running of the service were maintained and indeed surpassed. I kept in touch with my fellow consortia leaders and two of them became HA chief executives so the lesson of PRS provision could be better and cheaper than SRS provision was a salutary one which we shared a few drinks to when we met at other housing events many years later.

So many lessons learned from this role in housing and support terms not least affordability and working with the profit motive of the PRS not universally condemning it out of the warped ideology of public good / private bad which still pervades today.

So many human issues such as educate people on supported housing issues and overcoming jingoistic media biases and political rhetoric of the vilest kind as we saw from Suella Braverman yesterday.  On that point the UK was having 110 to 120,000 asylum seekers per year at this time and 2 – 3 times more than now and we coped, in fact more than coped, making the current government invective of a broken system one of incompetence and zero political will and scurrilous.

On the ‘coping’ point, I note this Conservative government is making the same mistakes the labour government did in approaching the PRS first and exclusively to house asylum seekers which they are doing right now with SERCO offering ‘incentives’ to private landlords to take asylum seekers as part of a £2 billion 10 year contract awarded in 2019.

The dispersal programme all those years ago only came into being as the government chose PRS landlords first similar to this SERCO ‘model’ today before the political upshot was (a) too high a cost due to PRS landlords prioritising gleaning as much profit as possible; which (b) led to whole streets and areas in cheaper rent areas such as Burnley cause extreme political and racial tensions through ghettoisation, which then led to BNP councillors being elected!  The cost of everything yet the value of nothing mentality is very much to the fore in the Conservatives private good / public bad ideology today which is just as bad as its antithesis.

This SERCO model is the exact same leasing model as the recent brouhaha over the leasing model in exempt accommodation which the government and all political parties universally condemned in a cross-party report issued last week.  These leasing models whether by SERCO for asylum seekers or by other private landlord consortia for ‘exempt accommodation’ are Ponzi schemes that are not financially sustainable and will end up costing government far more when they go ‘tits-up’ (for want of a better phrase.)

The government chosen asylum system for housing is one of piss-poor provision for the highest possible returns for investors in the short-term.  The alternative is the model I chose all those years ago of quality safe accommodation that made enough profit over the longer term for private landlords and which improved their housing stock quality well into the future and long after the asylum contract ended. 

I have no problem with private landlords making money WHEN they provide a good quality product and service and not should anyone else, especially when they can do a job for extremely vulnerable client groups such as asylum seekers. However, when they take the financial piss for short term gain and provide a poor quality product and poor service at the highest possible cost, these private landlords are taking advantage of very vulnerable people with the full knowledge and best wishes of this current government who spew forth fascistic inflammatory bile for the most nefarious of political reasons and make the job of any landlord providing asylum seeker provision much harder in the process.

Then again perhaps that is the real motive of the extreme right-wing government we have of advancing and seeing more BNP, EDL and other extreme right-wing local councillors whatever the ever-changing name of these fascist parties become.  Fermenting such local racist hatred appealing to Neanderthal groupings gives the Bravermans of this world and ilk the propagandist excuse they seek for policies such as Rwanda et al doesn’t it?

I could so go on with so much more here yet I leave you with the front page of the Daily Telegraph from yesterday.  Read the headline. Then read it again. Then feel deeply ashamed of being ‘British’ and the Britishness of this fascistic headlinein the Torygraph view.  It turns my stomach just reading it. Unless of course they are worried about asylum seekers catching the fascist mange from the British ….

.

The abuse of vulnerable people by social (sic) landlords

Are you okay with a cross party government report saying abuse is too costly to stop so let’s regulate it instead?

This is the essence of the LUHC committee report into “Exempt Accommodation” an arcane esoteric issue that allows much higher rates of Housing Benefit to be paid to unscrupulous providers of supported housing. 

Unscrupulous and abusing private landlords and unscrupulous abusing housing associations too.

The report not unsurprisingly seeks to downplay abuse by housing associations because they are regulated and the report’s recommendations are for more regulation a position of hey let’s regulate the abuse but not stop it which is distasteful in the extreme.  I will come on to this in more detail with examples below

Also unsurprising, the report seeks to promote that only private landlord providers abuse vulnerable people despite the evidence of it being in unambiguous written form to the committee from a local authority and the facts of which I also detail later.

Further, the report states and indeed promotes a local government narrative that it is outrageous that the law overturns unlawful decisions made by local authorities and how bloody well date they!  LAs want to be above the law and omnipotent (and no that’s not an idea for those backing Charter Cities either!)

I could list many more outrageous issues in this report but the above is enough to be going on with.  A report that at best and most tactfully described as fundamentally misguided. 

In lay terms, a shit show of a report on an abuse issue largely created by local and central government.  A festering pile of steaming manure you could rightly say

Broad overview of abuse

The report details how vulnerable people are being abused financially, emotionally, sexually, and in every other way by providers of “exempt accommodation.”  The rents charged, the sexual favours demanded, the trauma and other mental health issues that are brought on by abusive practise in the “exempt accommodation” arena are detailed in the report.  Allusions to organised crime money laundering is detailed as to how this is done in the report and perversely making it a guide for more unscrupulous landlords, whether private or social, to expand this abuse.  The report comes up with NO recommendations of how to prevent such abuses because they start from a position that the obvious solution will cost too much.

The obvious solution

In late 1999 the very first and more than cross party Supporting People document published said the provision of (housing-related) support should be put on a secure legal and financial footing. In lay terms vulnerable people should have a legal right to support which should see its funding being mandatory as some ‘care’ funding is in statute.  That never happened and until it does the abuse of vulnerable people will continue and will continue to increase

The SP programme was a government response to the higher courts saying Housing Benefit cannot pay for ‘support’ in the mid 1990s. It can only largely pay for ‘bricks and mortar’ provision but not for ongoing support delivery.  That was a generation ago yet the report and the “exempt accommodation” actors in local government still assert that support funding is paid by HB when it has been unlawful to do so for over 25 years.  This deliberate and errant conflation is used to advance political arguments and political careers of councillors most notably in Birmingham where councillors berate the lack of support being delivered by providers who BCC does not fund for support tasks.  This is not just rank duplicity as BCC has admitted 11,000 of the 21,000 or so residing in “Exempt Accommodation” are locals who need (housing related) support yet BCC chooses to only fund 2,000 of these places.  BCC chooses NOT to fund 81% of its local populace that it admits deserve and need support.

In 2006 the Audit Commission stated that every £1 of support funding paid out in SP generated £1.68 worth of savings to the public purse overall. 

In 2009 the then Labour government decided to take the ring fence off Supporting People which led to local councils in England decommissioning services by not paying support funding and instead use it for other local authority spending areas. 

This ring fence removal has directly led to two highly problematic issues.  Firstly, the chronic reduction in supported housing provision that resulted and especially in small specialist service primarily supporting NIMBY groups.  Secondly, this led to the mass entry into supported housing of the private landlord operating shared provision, often akin to battery hen provision, to put at least a roof over the heads of the many displaced homeless cohorts … yet having no funding to deliver support.

Local councils in England withdrawing at least 70% of the support funding, in figures around £1 billion per year, directly created the market for unscrupulous ‘providers’ entering the “exempt accommodation” market and abusing vulnerable people.  As a pertinent aside, it also led to the funding crisis in social care as SP support was a vital service that prevented the much higher costs of care that LAs are mandated to pay for by statute.  LA’s knew this would happen yet still removed the vast majority of support funding because support funding is always 100% discretionary.  Never underestimate the stupidity of local councils. They reap what they sow!

Now let’s turn to the specific issues I opened this piece with.

1. The unscrupulous abusive South Yorkshire housing association and collusion?

The written submission of Sheffield City Council – the home turf of the Commons LUHC committee chair Clive Betts – contained this:

      “A non-registered provider of supported accommodation in Sheffield sold all its properties to a private limited company.  Based on information provided to the Council, the purchase price of the properties was significantly higher than their market value.  The private limited company then leased the properties to a registered housing association.  The properties in question are typical, three-bedroom semi-detached properties in a Sheffield suburb.  The lease costs were in the region of £25,000 per annum per house.

To cover the cost of these leases, the registered housing association sets a core rent of £190 per week per tenant. The gross rent, which also includes all the additional costs of providing supported accommodation, is in the region of £350 per week per tenant, so the registered provider is charging over £1,000 per week gross rent for a shared property which would achieve around £200 per week if it were let out as shared accommodation to three young people on the LHA allowance of £65.59 per person.”

Let’s unpick that. 

  • A housing association has chosen to lease a 3 bed property for £25k per year in Sheffield where you can rent a decent 3 bed semi there for less than £10k per year? 
  • What sort of collusion is going on here? 
  • THEN the registered and reputedly social landlord charges £190 as the NET rent for a room per week (which also sets a local rent for others to follow in the Sheffield area)
  • THEN this housing association adds on a further £160 per week on top to make a gross rent (that excludes support delivery as it is the additional cost of ‘supported accommodation’ not of support itself and my emphasis? of £350 per week for a room! 
  • This sets a further reference rent for others to follow of £350 per week!
  • A housing association who purports to be a social landlord and is a registered social landlord and thus already regulated … charges the Housing Benefit bill £54,700 per year!
  • Quite why given the very apparent collusion that SCC has not apparently launched a contrivance action under HB regulations is alarming. 
  • Quite why Clive Betts the committee chair and a MP in Sheffield has not demanded SCC take a contrivance action is another. 
  • Quite why Clive Betts as the committee chair does not comment on this in the main body of the report yet illustrates the unscrupulous landlord as only being a private one is yet another!

As the widely accepted benchmark for rent affordability in the SRS is 30% of net income the housing association charging £350 per week FOR A ROOM is expecting the resident to be earning a net weekly income of £1,167. What the absolute f*ck!

On a more nuanced point the £160 per resident per week “Exempt Accommodation” charge is yearly income of over £25k per year in ‘furnishings’ for the landlord.  Even with hard and soft furnishings, white goods, cutlery, crockery, lightning conductor, paladins and emergency lighting systems a £25k per year depreciation cost can only mean pure gold toilet seat provision, No?

2. Councils self-perception that they are above the law?

Paragraph 72 on pages 31 and 32 in the main body of the report is as alarming as it gets. A number of local authorities saying we can’t restrict rents because those bloody judges at tribunals say our decisions are unlawful.  Even with added funding we have received in order to spend more time seeking to restrict the rents as this funding allows, those bloody judges are still ruling our decisions as unlawful!

I wonder if those councils believe the same ‘bloody judges’ who overturn their decisions at tribunals are the same ‘bloody judges’ who overturn DWP PIP and ESA decisions in the claimants favour in over 79% of cases!!?? 

That is a direct analogy.  The megalomania of local authority HB departments is astonishing in their belief in and desire to be above the law of the land.  Further it is not as if we have not had 35 years of case law on HB regulation is it! 

The issue of a contrived rent and legal contrivance under HB regulations gives LAs the powers they need to decide lawfully that rents are HB contrivance, i.e. fraudulent.  The SCC example above of a £25k pa lease fee is one such case as is the net rent of £190 per week for a room.  Also HB guidance and adjudication circulars dating back to the THBS period say that all expenditure costs claimed need to be reasonable, realistic and justifiable.  The repeated assertions of LAs that they have little scope or powers to restrict rents claimed by providers, a repeated narrative in this report, are bogus assertions. 

I have known some claims be decided and approved within 24 hours and others that take years to resolve and remain unresolved as LAs will not make a decision to be appealed. Instead LAs pay a reduced rate as an ongoing interim payment thus circumventing making a decision as any such decision can be legally appealed to a tribunal yet if no actual decision is made then there is no decision which to appeal and denies the tribunal right of each claimant!

The desire to be above the law is something else altogether and what planet are LA HB teams on when they are outraged that their decisions can be appealed!

Conclusion

I could say so much more but in broad overview this is a craven and shameful report whose primary motive appears to be getting all the whinges of LAs down in a public domain report.  An apologia for LA incompetence in choosing to decimate support funding and now being outraged at the consequences they were warned about extensively at the time.  The choice of LAs to withdraw support funding has only served to kick the abuse of vulnerable people can down the road for a few years.  The current outrage is LAs reaping what they sowed and now the truly craven politicians of all parties on this LUHC committee are allowing abuse to continue and increase in “exempt accommodation” to many especially vulnerable people because they don’t have the balls to see the wood from the trees and demand that housing related support is put on a secure legal and financial footing.

Finally ask yourself a few questions. 

  1. Why don’t LA environmental health teams go in to look at the quality of accommodation and whether it is safe which they DO have the authority to do?
  2. Why don’t LAs send in social services to look at abuse issues that are huge?

Could the answer be it would cost the local council more?  Condemning a property would also mean the LA has to decant and re-house the residents at LA cost whilst bad properties are corrected. Social services investigations could easily see further LA cost and LA social services duties come to the fore.

If you think that answer is cynical in any way then reader, you have clearly never had to deal with LA intransigence, megalomania, incompetence and other standard practices such as a belief they are omnipotent and omniscient when it comes to any vulnerable person with any level of sole or complex support need. 

The very notion of LA control of “exempt accommodation” is like appointing a fox to manage a (battery) hen house.

£86 per year for food … IF … benefit increases with full CPI uplift

IF UC standard allowance increases by 7.8% in April it will match the amount of the typical energy bill of £4335 per year at that time.  The dole which is now UC standard allowance used to have a standard sentence on every decision letter sent which read:

“This is the minimum amount the law says you need to live on”

The dole has always been intended to be enough to subsist, to pay for all typical household costs such as food, travel, water rates, etc., yet a 7.8% increase on current rates is needed just to pay for gas and electricity leaving zero for food for a whole year never mind water rates or the phone and internet access you have to have to be able to receive the dole!

If you are aged 25 to 66 and single UC standard allowance is £334.91pcm and £4,019 per year yet today £4,335 per year is being quoted as the typical household energy bill from April 23.

IF UC standard allowance only increases by wage inflation of say 6% as is being mooted it becomes £4,260pa and not enough to pay for gas and electricity alone with zero for yearly food!

For comparison, the proverbial “poor pensioner” receives £9,654 per year in single state pension (£185.15pw) and this is 2.4 times more than a single person gets the day before they qualify for the state pension or indeed any single household aged 25 to 66 years of age. 

How outrageous is the ‘Caring Conservative’ narrative of not increasing benefits in April by the September CPI figure this is released tomorrow morning and expected to be more than 10%?

How outrageous is the narrative that benefit should increase by JUST the CPI rate of inflation that would take UC standard allowance to £4,421 with a 10% uplift of which £4,335 and 98% of it would be spent on gas and electricity and leaving £86 PER YEAR to pay for the phone and internet contract needed to receive UC standard allowance never mind food.

Go figure … and when you read the countless thousands of articles about the proverbially “poor pensioner” spare a thought for those aged 25 to 66 whose £4,019 UC standard allowance or ‘dole‘ is less than 42% of the single state pension of £9,654 per year.

 ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery

Mr Micawber (David Copperfield)

Annual income £4,260 Universal Credit. Annual energy bill £4,350, result … death by starvation.

Tory policy, April 2023

Benefit Cap – the ‘woke’ have been fast asleep to the £10kpa+ real-term benefit cut

In October 2013, nine years ago the overall benefit cap (OBC) policy rolled out across the UK. 

No household could get more than £26,000 per year in welfare benefits.

IF the OBC had increased by CPI inflation it would be £30,284 per year. 

It never has been increased and was even cut in actual terms in 2016/17. 

Today it is £20,000pa for a real term benefit cut of £10,284pa and £857 per month.

Could your family survive on £857pcm less than it received 9 years ago?  This Tory government and the Johnson, May and Cameron ones which preceded it believes it can and it should! 

These ugly figures and ugly detail is in the ugly chart below.

Chart 1 – The Overall Benefit Cap

The ugly truth

The red line is the OBC limit in London that was reduced to £23k pa between November 2016 and March 2017. The green line is the rest of the UK that was cut to £20kpa in the same period.

Next week, 19th October, the September 22 CPI rate will be released and the chart projects a 10.3% CPI rate that is likely to be an underestimate which will mean the OBC policy is a real term cut of £13,422pa in the provinces and £10,422pa in London from April 2023. The OBC is the forgotten austerity policy and as I said in January 2013 it is the greatest austerity policy and far worse than Bedroom Tax. 

Despite these massive cuts the OBC policy has not saved government money as its architect Lord Freud admitted in November 2021 here and which I also said back in a decade ago in November 2012 here  based on a leaked letter to the Observer that the added costs of homelessness the OBC directly creates will be more than the cuts in benefit payments made. That letter was sent to Cameron’s private secretary in 2011 and two years before the OBC policy began showing the Cameron government knew back then that the OBC policy would not save a penny and it states the policy was a “net cost!”

Aside from being overtly political and having no economic rationale or saving, the OBC policy deliberately and directly creates eviction into homelessness.  It is how the policy is designed and how it works.  All benefit bar housing benefit is deducted from the cap figure to leave a maximum amount of housing benefit that can be paid.  This means housing benefit (now largely UC housing cost element) is the first benefit to be cut and leads to the arrears to eviction to homeless pathway.

When the OBC policy began it typically cut the housing benefit of the 2 parent 5 child benefit household in the social rented sector and these large families accounted for less than half of 1% of all SRS households.  Today, due to inflation and non-uprating of the cap it cuts the housing benefit of the SRS household of the lone parent 2 child households in the South East Region (not London) and in parts of the East of England region. 

What began in strict ideological terms as targeting the large benefit family sees the OBC policy cut the housing benefit of the small benefit household and affects women flee domestic abuse with two children who will never be offered a property that allows them to leave the refuge because housing benefit / UC housing cost element is not enough to pay the cheapest rent.  As such domestic abuse refuges are bed-blocked and forced to refuse new entrants to refuges.  The same applies to small families placed in other forms of temporary accommodation by council homeless departments who can only escape dingy bed and breakfast hotels if they secure employment yet if they do secure employment they can’t afford the higher rents at the refuge or bed and breakfast hotels for a classic Catch 22 reality.

ALL these issues were foreseeable and I said as much back in 2012 and a decade ago.  It was always a question of when and not if.  The out of control inflation the UK is experiencing and will experience for all of next year according to the Bank of England means that the ‘benefit household’ will never again be allocated a council or housing association tenancy out of affordability and what we still call NO DSS.  It also means that every 2 bed or larger SRS property is the NO DSS benefit claimant no go zone, and the English SRS sees 76% of all its housing properties being 2 bedrooms or larger and thus NO DSS properties. 

That raises the questions of (a) where the hell can benefit households live; (b) who the hell can SRS landlords afford to house; and (c) can council and housing landlords actually survive! 

I put those points to the SRS ‘sector’ in a presentation at the Chartered Institute of Housing back in 2013 and was met with the Ostrich syndrome response of we are social landlords we will always house those in housing need (blah, blah, blah)

I put the same points speaking at numerous Labour Party events and in private correspondence but as they had Rachel Reeves as shadow DWP minister and who publicly and infamously stated that Miliband Labour as it was then would be harsher on the benefit claimant than the Cameron administration was with Iain Duncan Smith at the helm, they pretended the issue was not happening or would happen.  I need not remind that the same Rachel Reeves is now shadow chancellor under Starmer Labour and has also said that Labour is the Party of those in-work not out of it!  No Labour Party manifesto not even the Corbyn Labour one has committed to abandon the OBC policy. 

Miliband Labour, Corbyn Labour and Starmer Labour were and are more scared of being labelled the party OF welfare than they are about huge increases in poverty, domestic abuse and homeless households that the OBC policy directly creates.  Their reluctance to challenge ANY austerity policy even includes the fact that UKIP came out publicly against the Bedroom Tax before the Labour Party did.  Tory Austerity was allowed to happen indeed facilitated by repeated and consistently craven Labour Party strategies of not challenging Austerity.

Social as in social landlord or social housing or as in socialism, even the softest left form, is notorious by its absence in UK politics.  The OBC is the political incarnation of the Thatcher dictum of there is no such thing as society and very much a gendered issue too as 70% of those hit by the OBC policy are lone parent households of which 96% are female-led.  Instead of the expected outcry from the likes of Women’s’ Aid or Gingerbread at the OBC’s directly female targeted austerity we have silence. 

We see the same silence from Shelter despite their female CEO also being the former CEO of Women’s’ Aid regarding the devastating OBC policy and its direct impacts on women in terms of domestic abuse and other female homelessness.  Shelter and all other homeless ‘lobbies’ still expound that we can end homelessness when the benefit cuts that the OBC policy gives makes that impossible. 

The OBC policy, we are told, does not have to be reviewed by the current government until 2027, curiously, as a result of the abolition of the Fixed-Term Parliament Act in 2022 – an issue sneaked out by a DWP minister in the House of Commons on 5th July 2022. 

Insert obc hansard 5 july

The even uglier truth – Hansard 5 July 2022

By 2027 no benefit household will ever be allocated a new council or HA tenancy or a PRS one and the social housing model of the 1948 Welfare State, that pillar created to slay the giant of squalor and upon which the other Welfare State pillars depend, will be the Norwegian Blue Parrot pining for the fjords.  That is what this means yet it receives zero discussion or attention. 

There are thousands of articles as to how the Tories are dismantling the NHS pillar of the 1948 Welfare State by incremental and largely covert privatisation YET not one article about the overt dismantling of the same 1948 Welfare State by the OBC policy in plain view! 

What a shameful statement that is on political activism in the UK when the so-called ‘woke’ cannot even see what is right in front of their eyes!

Could you live on £857 less per month?  It is not just the Tories who believe you can and you should. It is the Labour Party and every other political party.  It is Shelter, Crisis, Women’s Aid, Gingerbread, the JRF, the IFS and every other lobby and think tank that purports to be on the side of those most vulnerable including the aforementioned ‘woke’ activist.  ALL of them are mute when it comes to the ravages of the OBC policy and what it directly creates which is structural poverty the likes of which have never been seen before.

Is this smug schadenfreude on my part? No!  Am I beating myself up that those who should have read and listened did not do so? Too fucking right I am! 

ALL of the above was foreseeable yet was met with blind eyes and deaf ears by careerists pretending to give a shit about the plight of the most vulnerable and who make good coin out of that faux concern.

The ‘woke’ have all been asleep!