Minister blames benefit claimants for delays in paying universal credit in Great Yarmouth

A government minister has defended the “disaster” of introducing universal credit to Great Yarmouth – and blamed benefit claimants for some of the problems.

Universal Credit replaced six other welfare allowances, including housing benefit, with one monthly payment in Yarmouth and Lowestoft this spring. But delays in claimants getting the money has led to some of the poorest tenants falling into rent arrears and being evicted.

Landlords and councils are owed tens of thousands of pounds in rent, while charities say it has led to more demand on soup kitchens and their services. Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Eastern Landlords’ Association, described the new system as a “disaster”.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council wrote to work and pensions secretary Damian Green in November about the problems caused by the delays in paying universal credit.

In a letter responding to the council, Mr Green wrote the roll-out of the new benefit system had been “carefully planned”, but admitted there had been problems. “We recognise that there are areas for improvement in the service,” he said.

But he said some delays were being caused by claimants “not providing the required evidence” for their claim despite “repeated requests” which meant job centre staff were having to chase them. He said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was dealing with this by making it clearer which information claimants needed to provide.

Mr Green also said the DWP had put extra staff into clearing the backlog of applications.And he said councils had been given £500m in what is called Discretionary Housing Payments to support people in financial difficulty.

Councillors also quizzed Mr Green in the letter about why Yarmouth was chosen as one of the first places in the country to test the new system. Norfolk County councillor Jonathon Childs, called for a meeting between the DWP, local politicians and charities to help those affected.

“The effects of universal credit are really shocking and the length of time that claimants have to wait is far too long,” he said. “What are people meant to live on while the claims are dealt with?”

An investigation by this newspaper found some tenants ran off owing landlords thousands of pounds when they were finally paid, while others were £1500 in rent arrears.

The Yarmouth soup kitchen said it had seen a 300pc rise in demand over the autumn, which it put down to people not receiving universal credit on time.

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Anti-homelessness helpline now receiving call for help every 30 seconds

A helpline run by an anti-homelessness charity now receives one call asking for help every 30 seconds, new figures reveal.

Shelter’s advice line has seen the volume of calls rise by 50,000 in the past 12 months, with one in four cases taken on by the line from people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home within 28 days.

In August this year the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee warned that the Government’s welfare reforms had played a significant role in driving up homelessness figures.

A report by the cross-party group of MPs warned that the number of rough sleepers in England had risen by 30 per cent to 3,569 between 2014 and 2015. The Committee in part blamed changes to housing benefits payments.

Other factors, such as a trend away from social housing and towards private renting, have been blamed for the increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in recent years.

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Faced with huge bed and breakfast bills to house homeless families, Tory councils are seeking radical alternatives

The announcement at this week’s Tory party conference by the communities secretary Sajid Javid of a £5bn boost to housebuilding can be seen in part as a belated recognition of the explosion of housing insecurity in Tory heartlands – a crisis the prime minister has hinted at with her promise to help those families on low to middle incomes who are “just managing” to get by.

However, if proof were needed that the problem of homelessness is no longer reserved for its metropolitan heartlands but has rippled out into the commuter cities and market towns of middle England, it is the housing crisis that exploded this summer in Peterborough, landing the city’s Tory-controlled council with a potential £1m bill for putting up homeless families in local Travelodge hotels.

In April, the city experienced an unexpected spike in homeless households. In a single month, 150 families were accepted as needing housing support– equivalent to more than a third of the total number who were rehoused in the whole of last year. A chronic shortage of temporary accommodation meant the council had nowhere to put them but the Travelodge. Currently, about 40-50 homeless families are resident in the city’s three hotels at any one time, costing the council up to £588 a week per family, and they stay for an average of 20 nights.

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Social housing firm is evicting 74 families – to make way for the homeless

Stef & Philips have told residents in St Michael’s Gate, Peterborough, they have to get out before Christmas after the firm won a contract with Peterborough City Council to provide people in need with accommodation

A social housing firm is evicting 74 families so it can accommodate the homeless .

Residents have been told by Stef & Philips they must get out before Christmas after the firm won a contract with Peterborough City Council to provide people in need with accommodation.

Stef & Philips bought the houses in St Michael’s Gate, Peterborough, from property managers Akelius, then sent existing tenants eviction notices “out of the blue”.

Resident Tony Roberts said: “I understand needing to house the homeless, but can’t see sense in making 74 families homeless to do this.”

Tony Roberts said: “I can’t believe this is really happening, my next door neighbour has been here 21 years and now he is being asked to leave too.

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In Liverpool, 840 families risk losing their homes because of benefits cuts

The government is cutting £37,200 a week from housing benefit for our city’s most vulnerable residents. It’s a policy that doesn’t add up

Having a place you can call home is fundamental to a civilised society. But in Liverpool, 840 households could now lose the roof over their heads through no fault of their own.

They will all be affected by the new, lower benefit cap of £20,000 being introduced from 7 November. This follows a tsunami of regressive changes to the benefits system since 2010, including the bedroom tax, the freezing of benefit rates and cuts to equivalent working tax credits for those on universal credit. Contrary to popular belief, many households being hit already have someone in work.

Our analysis shows the new benefits cap amounts to a total weekly cut of £37,200 to housing benefit payments in the city. It means an average reduction in rent contributions of £44 a household a week.

We believe this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and will tip some families over the edge – including 2,800 children.

We can support our residents for a short time through discretionary housing payments, though most of that is already being used up by applications from people hit by the bedroom tax.

We expect arrears will mount up leading to evictions. We will then need to rehouse the families in temporary accommodation at a cost to the council of about £400 a week – nine times more than the cut to their benefit.

This could mean uprooting families already under pressure, and moving them to a different part of the city away from much-needed support networks, their schools and their wider families.

Aside from the devastating social consequences and stress, in financial terms all this policy is doing is shifting the cost from the government over to the council, housing associations and our other local partners. This at the same time as we’re facing huge cuts to our budgets: £90m alone in the case of Liverpool city council over the next three years.

read more of this article by Liverpool Councillor Jane Corbett here:

The Tories have just smashed the record for the number of households made homeless in a year

The highest number of homeless since records began.

The government has today sneaked out figures that reveal nearly 5,000 households have become homeless following eviction by private landlords between April and June, this year. This brings the total to over 18,000 in the last twelve months. This is the highest number since records began, and double what it was when the coalition government took office in 2010.

The housing charity Shelter said that the figures are a:

heartbreaking reminder of the devastating impact our drastic shortage of affordable homes is having.

Almost a third of those evicted cited the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. In 2010 just 11% of homelessness acceptances were due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. This problem is more prominent in London where 41% of all acceptances have come at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. T

he figures also reveal a large increase in the numbers of evicted households with children that have been unlawfully placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation. This affected 1,140 families, which represents a 29% rise in the last year. The highest number of breaches were reported in Croydon, Redbridge, Harrow, Luton, Reading, and Peterborough.

A total of 73,000 families are currently living in temporary accommodation – three quarters of those are in London. A whopping 9% rise since 2015.

The government’s report states that affordability is the single biggest cause of homelessness, due to rapidly rising rent increases and cuts to housing benefits.

A spokesperson for Shelter has said that:

Now is the time for the new government to seize the opportunity to tackle the root cause of this crisis by building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford to live in. Every day at Shelter we hear from families struggling to keep their heads above water when faced with the double blow of welfare cuts and expensive, unstable private renting, with far too many ultimately losing the battle to stay in their home. On top of this, stripped back budgets and a drought of affordable homes are making it increasingly difficult for overburdenedcouncils to find homeless families anywhere suitable to live.

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‘Vast social cleansing’ pushes tens of thousands of families out of London

Data shows that the numbers claiming free school meals has dropped by almost a third in some boroughs, suggesting areas are becoming preserves of the rich

Tens of thousands of poor families have left inner London in the past five years, creating “social cleansing on a vast scale” and leaving large parts of the capital as the preserve of the rich, figures suggest.

The extent of the problem is revealed in data that shows the number of children entitled to free school meals, a widely used indicator of deprivation, has dropped by almost a third in some London boroughs since 2010.

The figures portray a mass shift of poorer families from inner London just when the government has introduced a raft of changes to the welfare system.

Although there is no definite link between welfare reforms and the reduction in free school meal claimants, Sadiq Khan, the prospective London mayoral candidate who obtained the figures, said government policies were creating an increasingly segregated city.

“This data shows that the government’s policies on welfare and housing have caused social cleansing in London on a vast scale,” said Khan. “Families have been driven out of large parts of the city … this is not the kind of London I grew up in or want my daughters to live in.”

In 2010, the London mayor, Boris Johnson, said Tory welfare reforms would not lead to “Kosovo-style social cleansing”, pledging: “You are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living.”

But critics say the latest figures show that this is what has happened after the government cut housing benefit, introduced the benefit cap and unveiled plans to sell off social housing.

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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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Iain Duncan Smith hails success of benefit cap as evictions hit record levels

Iain Duncan Smith has hailed the success of the benefit cap – on the same day that the Ministry of Justice reported a record number evictions among renting households.

The Work and Pensions Secretary said the cap provided “a clear incentive to people to get into work”, as figures showed thousands of capped households were now claiming working tax credits instead.

But Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said the government’s welfare cuts combined with “sky-high housing costs” had forced thousands of people out of their homes.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, 23,100 households had their housing benefit capped during February with over 60% being single parent families.

Of the overall total, 83% were capped by £100 or less a week; 59% had between one and four children, and 63% were a single parent with child dependants.

The figures also show that of the top 20 local authorities with the highest number of households affected by the benefit cap, only one (Birmingham) was outside London.

The benefit cap data was published on the same day as Ministry of Justice figures showed that 11,307 renting households in England and Wales were evicted from their homes in the first three months of 2015 – an 8% rise on the same period in 2014 and the highest number recorded in a single quarter since 2009.

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Today’s figures are a glaring reminder that sky high housing costs and welfare cuts are leaving thousands of people battling to keep a roof over their heads.


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