Councils, housing associations and the DWP are crushing people with debt

From Kate Belgrave’s blog

While Brexit and Trump hoover resources and headlines, the state and so-called social landlords continue to get away with screwing people into the ground:

Last week, I spent several hours at the South Chadderton foodbank in Oldham speaking with people who’d come in for groceries.

We talked about the reasons why people needed to use the foodbank.

One explanation in particular came up, as it does a lot: Debt repayment plans are leaving people with no money.

People on benefits and low incomes are repaying arrears or loans money to councils, housing associations, the DWP, bailiffs and god knows who else – but they can’t afford it. The loss of the fivers and tenners that authorities deduct in repayments make a tolerable life impossible. People certainly don’t have the hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of pounds that are really needed to shift these debts. Simple equation, when you look at it. Debts grow and penalties grow, but income does not.

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Universal Credit has pushed 86% of claimants in council housing into rent arrears

Shocking research reveals Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship benefit has left almost 9 in 10 claimants living in council housing in rent arrears

Joint research from the NFA and ARCH reveals almost nine in ten Universal Credit (UC) claimants living in council housing are in rent arrears, two and a half years after Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship new benefit was introduced.

The research charted the impact of UC on the rent arrears of claimants living in council owned homes and found 86% are in arrears, up from 79% in March 2016, with 59% of these more than a month behind on their rent.

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Universal Credit leaving people destitute

Glasgow City Council report says Universal Credit is compromising its services to homeless

Evidence has emerged that large numbers of claimants on Universal Credit (UC) are struggling to survive in Scotland’s biggest city.

A report detailing the impact of the new scheme in Glasgow shows not only are claimants struggling but the controversial scheme is putting services and jobs at risk also.

The report, by Glasgow City Council, says that the problems are being further compounded as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been mistakenly transferring homeless people onto the initiative.

They have been exempt from UC until the city fully rolls out the new system in 2018 but the DWP, it discovered, has been registering homeless people in the city regardless.

It means by the time the error is fixed, many registered homeless people have gone days without accommodation costs, leaving them destitute.

According to the report, a total of 73 homeless people in Glasgow are now on the benefit, and have racked up £144,000 in arrears between them.

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Sanctions, debt, depression and eviction

The Reverend Paul Nicholson writes:

I met John* after his three month sanction had ended. He lived in a fifth floor council flat and was wondering whether to throw himself off the balcony. He had a history of depression and I do not like to speculate what would have happened if he had been left on his own.


He had been sanctioned for three months by a job centre for attending a job-related interview a day late. His GP immediately sent him to the NHS for twelve sessions of therapy. Rent and council tax arrears had piled up because the job centre’s computer is connected to the local council’s computer. When John’s £73.10 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was stopped, the job centre’s computer sent a signal to the council’s computer telling it that John was no longer eligible for JSA. That signal automatically cancelled his eligibility for housing and council tax benefits, which were then stopped by the council’s computer.


Then the bailiffs called at 7.30 in the morning demanding £400 the next day for a TV licence fine that John did not know existed. He called me at 8 am and I called the bailiffs telling them that they should not waste time enforcing that fine because we were taking the case back to the magistrates to seek remission of the debt and their fees. I also reminded them that there is guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice which advises them to return to the magistrate’s court cases involving “vulnerable situations.”


Anyone summoned to court, who attends without legal representation, is allowed a McKenzie Friend; so called because the person who won the right to a friend in court was called McKenzie. I have supported people that way for many years. I went to court with John and they let him off £135 of unpaid fine and dismissed the bailiffs without their fees.


The next thing to hit John was the news that his council flat was due to be demolished.

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Universal Credit and the potential legal fallout

Universal Credit (“UC”) is expected to be implemented throughout the UK by 2017. However, there is a great difference in opinion over whether this will be beneficial, or whether it will create more problems than it solves for social housing landlords.

Under the current system, social housing landlords receive rent payments directly from local authorities for tenants who are in receipt of housing benefits. As a result, payments are always made on time and disputes between landlords and tenants over arrears are relatively low, if not non-existent. However, the Department for Work and Pensions (“DWP”) wants to change this so that claimants for welfare benefits will be paid a lump sum each month, from which they will have to pay their social housing rent. It is expected that UC will be fully in force throughout the UK by 2017.

It is widely accepted that the current welfare system does need updating as it is seen as too complex following a number of different reforms, making it hard to navigate. Iain Duncan Smith and his colleagues at the DWP think they have the answer to this with the introduction of UC. However, there is a degree of uncertainty over the scheme, which has only been furthered by the experience of private sector landlords. They have found that of their tenants who are in receipt of UC, over 60% were in arrears, and the DWP has been in no rush to address these problems, taking 5 weeks to respond in most cases.

This is a problem that is expected to be mirrored in the social housing market, and it represents the most significant legal problem. If tenants who receive UC do not pay their landlord rent, either because of delays with DWP or because the tenant uses their UC for other purposes, the amount of disputes concerning rent arrears will inevitably increase. The question then arises: what is the recourse for the landlords? There is simply no benefit in bringing legal proceedings to enforce the arrears against the tenant because they have no assets. Consequently, these disputes will fall at the feet of the DWP that, on the evidence from the private sector, is slow in dealing with these disputes. As a result, there is a significant risk in the number of evictions increasing.

Another major issue for social housing landlords associated with the introduction of UC is the amount of tenants which they have who will receive it. There is a major question mark over whether social landlords have the administrative systems in place to deal with the full transmission by 2017. A report commissioned by “Housing Partners” found that social landlords do not have access to the data they need to manage the introduction of UC, which may put them at a huge financial risk.

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Agaraphobic who has not left her home in 20 years facing eviction due to bedroom tax.

Mrs R, an agoraphobic who has not left her home in 20 years as a result of her condition, is facing eviction after accruing a £1,500 bill due to unpaid bedroom tax.

Mrs R has not been able to set foot outside her home since 1995 when her phobia became so severe it prevented her from leaving the house.

However, she now faces court proceedings and potential eviction from her property after accruing £1,500 worth of arrears due to unpaid bedroom tax.  She has been hit with the tax since her two daughters and her son moved out of the property leaving her and her husband, who is her full-time carer as the only occupants of the three-bedroom house.

If Mrs R attempts to leave her house, or even go for a walk in her back garden she immediately suffers from severe panic attacks.

Mrs R is registered disabled and her income consists of Personal independence Payments.  She received a letter from the Council at the beginning of July 2015 informing her that she owed £1,400 in bedroom tax.  After her daughters moved out she was receiving full Housing Benefit, rather than the amount she was entitled to due to her failure to notify the correct agencies of the change in her circumstances.  Mrs R should have been left with a rent shortfall of £14 per week due to the percentage reduction in Housing Benefit for having two spare bedrooms.  Since the letter the bedroom tax has continued to have effect and she has now racked up over £1,500 in arrears due to the bedroom tax.

Mrs R says, “We use the bedroom for my husband, because I often get sick in the night and I keep him awake, so he sleeps in the spare room.  I told them the room is always in use, but they said it doesn’t make any different because he’s my carer, and the courts said he should live in the same room as me.  I think people like me should be exempt from bedroom tax because I am agoraphobic and can’t leave the house.  Even if they offer me a two bedroom place I wouldn’t be able to get there because I’m agoraphobic, they are discriminating against me because of my illness  How can you expect people to move if they cannot even leave the house? It doesn’t make sense; there is no way I can get out.”

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Wheelchair bound disabled man – ‘I’m living in a bin cupboard’

A wheelchair-bound man who lives in a bin cupboard has spent more than two weeks in a hospital bed because the council cannot house him.

Homeless Connor Edwards, 44, was admitted after taking an overdose because he could not bear life on the streets.

Kind-hearted hospital staff allowed him to stay in the hope Milton Keynes Council would find him accommodation. But this week, desperately in need of his bed, they had no choice but to load him and his wheelchair into a taxi and pay for him to be deposited at the council’s housing office.

 As the Citizen went to press, Connor had no idea if he would have a roof over his head. He said: “I’m scared. I’ve spent six months living rough. My only home is a bin cupboard in the service area outside John Lewis.

“I’m gay, and because of that the other homeless people pick on me. I’ve been mugged twice and had all my possessions stolen.”

A former software trainer, Connor lost his job when his legs were paralysed due to diabetic neuropathy. He was evicted from his Wolverton council house 18 months ago after getting into rent arrears due to bedroom tax demands.

“The council has put me into bed and breakfast accommodation twice, but each time I’ve been forced to leave and go back on the streets,” he said. “Because I’m not mentally ill and I’m not a drug user or alcoholic, I don’t have enough priority points for them to allocate me a house.”

Connor cannot claim benefits because he has no address. But he refuses to beg for money.

“I survive thanks to the Salvation Army soup runs and going through bins to eat peoples’ left-over takeaway food. I pick up cigarette butts and unpick them to make my roll-ups,” he said.

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Family made homeless by benefit cap was unlawfully barred from housing list by Tory council, court rules

A Conservative-controlled council unlawfully blocked a family made homeless by the benefit cap from getting social housing, a court has found.

The High Court said Westminster City Council was wrong to bar the anonymous family from applying for a home in the borough where they lived.

The plaintiff, known as “Ms A” had lost her family home in Westminster after the benefit cap meant she could no longer afford her rent.

The council, which has a legal duty to house homeless families, shipped Ms A’s family miles out of the borough to Enfield and said they could not reapply for a home in their own neighbourhood least 12 months.

But the High Court ruled that this suspension was unlawful.

“This landmark ruling makes it abundantly clear that homeless people have the right to bid for social housing from the time they secure a full housing duty from a local authority rather than being suspended for one year,” said Jayesh Kunwardia, a lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen.

“Westminster’s subtle way of registering the homeless, saying they will have points but denying them the right to bid for 12 months is now deemed unlawful.”

Last month welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith described the cap which made the family in this case homeless as “social justice in action”.

“Welfare reform is improving social mobility for families across the country,” he argued in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

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EVICTED: Mum and daughter sleeping in Ford Mondeo in Tesco car park

“Eating, sleeping and cleaning are not priorities at the moment” admits Beverly Clark, who says she has nowhere to live after being evicted by Milton Keynes Council.

“We use public toilets to clean and if we have a bit of spare money, we’ll rent a cheap hotel room for a bit of luxury – but that’s a rarity.

“We barely sleep because we’re scared, and it’s hardly comfortable.

“We’ve given up everything. It’s a nightmare, [my daughter] Deryn can’t go to college and I can’t look for a job in these conditions. It’s a never-ending cycle. I can’t win.”

For the last two months, the pair have tended to park their blue Ford Mondeo in supermarket car parks, where they feel safer, beneath the bright lights. Quieter, darker areas are just “not safe for two girls to be sleeping alone in a car.”

Beverly, 38, and 17-year-old Deryn, found themselves without a home after falling behind with the rent on their council-owned Bletchley home.  The pair were evicted from Cherwell House, Derwent Drive, on Wednesday, September 3.

Beverly said: “We have nobody. I have no family here. I am my own support network and my daughter’s support network.”

According to Milton Keynes Council, Beverly has made the pair “intentionally homeless” by failing to pay the rent for the 10 months she and her daughter resided at the two-bedroom flat since December 27, 2013.

By her own admission, Beverly, who says she suffers with depression, did not fill in the required housing application document in time, nor chase up its whereabouts when it apparently went missing.

A spokesman for the council told MKWeb: “We have tried very hard to help Ms Clark, who did not make any rent payments for the duration of her tenancy, despite our repeated efforts to work with her, and help her. There is a discretionary housing payments scheme, but we will only normally assist people to whom we have a statutory duty to house. Because of the issues with Ms Clark’s tenancy, we found her to be intentionally homeless, and therefore not eligible for help from this fund.

Bedroom Tax: Desperate man jailed after ‘booby trapping’ home to stop bailiffs evicting him

Michael Hilton planted gas cannisters and petrol around his home in Church when a bailiff went round to evict him due to bedroom tax arrears.


A desperate man who ‘booby trapped’ his home after bailiffs came round to evict him over failure to pay £900 Bedroom Tax arrears has been jailed.

Michael Hilton planted gas cannisters and petrol around his home when a bailiff and antisocial behaviour investigator went round on June 4 this year to evict him.

The 52-year-old barricaded the front door and stairs with items from the house and gas cannisters and covered them with petrol, Burnley Crown Court heard.

Hilton, of Church near Accrington, Lancashire, pleaded guilty to criminal damage and threatening to destroy or damage property and was jailed for 10 months.

Ten police officers and PCSOs, 14 specialist officers and fire crews were called to the scene and were there for around four hours during a ‘stand-off’, the Accrington Observer reports.


From the Mirror, 9th Oct 2014. Read the rest of this story here: