Resist Guinness Evictions: Campaign for Beti

architectsforsocialhousing

guinness-beti

Last night I met up with Beti, a former tenant of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton, which was demolished by the Guinness Partnership last year, resulting in the loss of 180 homes for social rent. Having been evicted from her secure tenancy, Beti lost her business, and is now claiming housing benefit to pay the rent in her new place, where she lives with her two boys. Strange as it might seem, though, she was one of the lucky ones. Having been one of the key figures in the campaign of resistance to the demolition, and having fought Guinness housing association to the last, she was rehoused in Lambeth, unlike many of her fellow secure tenants, who were moved to the outer boroughs of London. Beti’s new tenancy, however, is for ‘affordable rent’, meaning her rent has been raised from £109 per week to £265 per week for a…

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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.

read more here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/shelter-anti-homelessness-helpline-every-30-seconds-rough-sleeping-figures-a7417011.html

Hundreds of thousands of council tenants face a rent rise of up to £3,000 a year

Experts warn George Osborne’s little noticed ‘pay to stay’ scheme will leave an estimated 250,000 people in social housing worse off

Hundreds of thousands of council tenants are facing a steep rent rise of up to £3,000 a year.

Experts warn George Osborne ’s little noticed “pay to stay” scheme will leave an estimated 250,000 people in social housing worse off. Under the Budget measure anyone earning more than £30,000 a year (£40,000 in London) will have to pay the market rate for rents.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tanks calculates this would see nearly one in ten council and housing association tenants having to pay an extra £3,000 a year on average. The IFS also said the Chancellor ’s plan to cut rents by 1% for all other tenants will “be of little or no direct benefit” to most of the 3.9 million households in England living in social housing.

It says as most of their rent is covered by housing benefit, they will not be better off. And because councils and housing associations will have less rental income fewer houses will be built, the IFS says.

Read more here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/hundreds-thousands-council-tenants-face-6771697

Housing associations continue to abandon social housing

By Andy Winter, chief executive, Brighton Housing Trust

The housing association world is in meltdown.

The announcement in the Budget that social housing rents must be reduced is being interpreted in some quarters as a sign that the government has turned on housing associations.

Large associations are now saying that they will only build for market rents, shared ownership, and outright sale.

The reality is that many housing associations did not need this Budget announcement to change direction. They abandoned low-cost social housing some time ago.

In Brighton, just 15 new homes at social rents are to be built in the next three years by housing associations.

I’m not saying anything new, just repeating a point I make frequently, and will continue to make in the future: we have a crisis due to the lack of rented homes that people on low and medium incomes can afford.

This is not an attack on the current Conservative government, the previous Coalition, or the former Labour government. They all share responsibility.

Money was found when the bankers needed bailing out. Money is found if there is a war to be fought. Money will be found for the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons.

But ‘austerity’ politics dictates that social housing can’t be afforded. The cost, financial and human, will be felt for years to come, by our children and by their children.

I am ashamed of my generation for being so short-sighted and selfish, especially when it was my generation that benefited so much from public investment in services, education and housing.

Rant over. For now at least.

This article originally appeared in the Brighton Argus.

http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2015-08-05-Opinion-Housing-associations-continue-to-abandon-social-housing

The attack on housing associations was much worse than expected

By Jenny Brown, head of social housing, Grant Thornton UK

Initially there were some pleasant confirmations in the Budget for housing associations with devolved powers to areas such as Greater Manchester allowing greater planning freedoms.

The much debated Right to Buy was, this time around, skated across as part of a wider comment. This is unsurprising given there are still so many elements of this policy to be thrashed out. With that in mind it was always unlikely that anything specific would be announced today.

When the Chancellor began his proposals for welfare reform all was in order and he set off as anticipated, focusing on funding for the elderly and vulnerable – and then came the sting in the tail. Social housing rents are to be reduced by 1% per year for the next four years. Government figures estimate it will make savings of (and therefore reduce income in social housing by) £4.28 billion over the next five years.

Whilst the sector had been bracing itself for an attack – this was not the expected form and it is much worse than expected. Our discussions with associations in recent weeks have focused on an expectation that benefits would be cut and capped (which they were). Housing associations were expecting these measures to have a greater impact on the ability of residents on benefits to pay, resulting in further pressure on arrears.

Associations had already started to consider how the impact of this might be addressed, with some worrying that it may force them to reduce the proportion of their social housing properties rented to those on benefits. Whilst unpalatable to many, in these circumstances there are options to mitigate available.

Instead, Osborne has actually reduced the baseline amount that the housing associations may charge in the first place – regardless of the income source ie private or housing benefit. This is particularly critical to some of those associations who have in recent years secured ‘alternative funding’ where payments or returns are based on an assumption of a steady increase of income.

Indeed, many associations have found it is this assumption of steady income that has secured interest of investors in bonds and other funding mechanisms. Without this funding, the sector’s ability to borrow at a reasonable rate, allowing organisations to invest in new homes and provide valuable input into the construction economy, is likely to be severely affected. The knock on effect is that housing associations are left with few available options for action that won’t significantly affect the amount of social housing available.

The measures also make a mockery of the 10 year rent agreement which came in to effect from April 1 this year. There is now real doubt as to what government expects of housing – as it stands these organisations are expected to behave as both public and private entities depending on the policy in question. Their ability to meet their objectives is now being critically hampered.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2015-07-09-Opinion-The-attack-on-housing-associations-was-much-worse-than-expected

 

Social landlords expect cuts to trigger new wave of homelessness

Report based on survey of English housing associations and councils suggests government moves to restrict benefits will result in a surge in tenant evictions

Social landlords are expecting a surge in rent arrears, tenant evictions and homelessness as the government pushes ahead with more welfare cuts and changes, according to new research.

The continuing impact of the bedroom tax, together with moves to extend the benefit cap and impose further limits on housing benefit, will put further financial pressure on tenants, predicts a report by consultants Grant Thornton. It concludes that the ability of councils and housing associations to mitigate growing arrears has been severely eroded, and increasing numbers are issuing possession orders to tenants who have fallen behind with the rent.

Grant Thornton’s survey of English housing associations and local authorities revealed that a majority had seen a rise in average rent arrears over the past two years, with over a fifth reporting a “sharp increase” in eviction notices being served.

Last week, official statistics showed that tenant evictions reached a six-year high in the first three months of 2015. Over the same period, social landlords made 27,000 possession claims – the first stage in the legal process leading to an eviction. Councils are also feeling the strain of increased evictions in the private rented sector, with 59% reporting an increase in applications for social housing from tenants who had been ejected by private landlords.

The threat of further evictions will rise after a cut in the budget for discretionary housing payments (DHP) from £165m to £125m this year, the report says. DHP grants, which help tenants with rent shortfalls caused by welfare reform, were originally intended as a temporary measure to enable tenants to stay in their home while they got a job or arranged a move to a smaller property.

However, 95% of social landlords surveyed said that most DHP claimants were partly or mostly dependent on the payments to meet rent in the long term. The grants were all that stood between tenants and eviction. “Any proposed reduction in DHP funding from central government is therefore likely to result in increasing rent arrears and homelessness in the next two years, unless it is compensated by other means,” the report concludes.

Although many councils and housing associations had developed innovative projects to help tenants affected by welfare reform by offering debt counselling or employment advice, these were now under threat from wider funding squeezes.

The bedroom tax has failed to persuade social tenants to move to cheaper homes, the report finds. Social landlords reported that it was “rare” for more than 10% of affected tenants to have moved as a result of the policy, not least because of the national shortage of smaller affordable homes for them to move to.

Four-fifths of local authorities reported an increase in applications for emergency hardship funds available to local residents who face destitution through domestic violence, homelessness, flooding or unexpected financial crises. Four out of 10 councils said they had provided local welfare assistance as a direct result of benefit delays or sanctions.

In February, the coalition U-turned on plans to scrap local welfare assistance funding from April, instead providing £74m for this year. But, if the Conservatives withdraw the funding from 2016, a quarter of authorities said they would be unable to offer any service at all.

The report also warns that councils should not assume that charities can take the strain of providing hardship support. “There is increasing anecdotal evidence that third sector providers, such as food banks, are already at full capacity in some areas,” it says.

The findings are based on a survey of 75 local authorities and housing associations in England, coupled with detailed discussions with senior council and housing officers.

Read the DWP’s response here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/may/17/social-landlords-expect-cuts-to-trigger-new-wave-of-homelessness?

Losing your home: one day at Coventry County Court

Excellent article by Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi. I’ve picked some extracts to show here, and there’s a link to the whole article at the end of this post.

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Recently diagnosed with depression, Gemma is receiving cognitive behavioural therapy, a form of counselling.

Last year three of her children were taken away. When their empty bedrooms were declared spare rooms, she was charged an under-occupancy fee, taken directly from her housing benefit. Since the  bedroom tax, as it’s known, was introduced in 2013, working age claimants who live in social rented housing deemed too large for their needs have lost between 14 and 25 per cent of their housing benefit.

Gemma didn’t have the extra to cover the shortfall in her rent. She fell behind, eventually accruing a debt of nearly £1,748. The housing association landlord has threatened eviction.

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Andrea, a heavily pregnant mother-of-three, sits down at the small desk. She couldn’t find the extra £14 a week to pay her bedroom tax. Now she owes nearly £1000.

The housing association is seeking an outright possession order. If the judge rules against her today, she is likely to be homeless when her baby is born.

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Jocelyn had an agreement with the landlord to pay £20 a fortnight toward rent arrears of £1,100. She paid the money from her Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), which was £72.40 a week. Then, one month ago, she was sanctioned and her JSA money stopped. It is not clear why.

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Read what happened on their day in court here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rebecca-omoniraoyekanmi/how-to-lose-your-home-one-day-at-coventry-county-court