‘Rogue’ Landlords Raking In £5.6bn From Unsafe Homes, Says CAB

Rogue private landlords are raking in an estimated £5.6bn from unsafe homes that fail to meet minimum legal standards, a new report shows today.

The damning study from Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) reveals that 740,000 private rental tenants in England are living in homes that pose a serious health hazard.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.welfareweekly.com/rogue-landlords-raking-in-5-6bn-from-unsafe-homes-says-cab/

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Over 400,000 people driven to CAB for help with benefit claims in 2013

If you become sick or disabled and lose your job you need to know that you will be supported.

However, our advisers are helping more and more people who are having problems with the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). We think this needs fixing and want to make sure that ESA is fit for work. ESA blog graph                (Article and data from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, 3rd Feb 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESA is the benefit designed to help people who have limited ability to work. We have found that the ESA process too often fails to determine who is fit for work and who isn’t. This means that  the right people are not getting the support they are entitled to.

As our chart shows, despite attempts by successive Governments to put this right we are still seeing evidence that the system is not fit for work. We want this to change so today Citizens Advice is launching a campaign to improve ESA and make it fit for work.

The Government is currently in the process of deciding which companies will run the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) so this is a key moment. If the lessons of the past are not learnt now we may be facing another five years of failure.

We want to make sure we can help people like Mark who come to Citizens Advice for help. Mark came to his local Citizens Advice when he was caught between one branch of the DWP who told him he was fit for work and another who told him he wasn’t. This left him stuck in a limbo with no ESA, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit. Following an assessment by Atos, Mark was told by DWP that he was no longer eligible for ESA and so they had cut off all his benefits. However when he went to a Job Centre they told him that they could not give him Job Seekers Allowance because he had a doctor’s certificate saying he could not work. Mark asked DWP to reconsider his ESA application and was told it would only take two weeks – but was later informed he would have to wait at least a month without funds.

As an economist I spend my days looking at figures, charts and graphs. But listening to stories like Mark’s reminds me that every number on a chart represents a different problem that needs solving. And our chart shows there are lots of people facing similar issues. It’s a sobering thought, but one that motivates us to solve these big problems.

To help us illustrate the impact that ESA is having we are asking you to share your stories about the experience of claiming ESA. If you would like to contribute we have set up a new webpage http://blogs.citizensadvice.org.uk/blog/topics/fit-for-work/ to collect your stories. I hope you will join our campaign  and help us make ESA fit for work. Stories like Mark’s show us that this can happen to any of us and we need to make sure the system works properly when we need it most. http://blogs.citizensadvice.org.uk/blog/launch-of-the-fit-for-work-campaign/

Bedroom tax: ‘Two-thirds of affected are disabled’

ALMOST two-thirds of people affected by the so-called bedroom tax are disabled, according to analysis by Citizens Advice Scotland.

A survey of around 400 people who have approached CAS raising the issue of the change to housing benefit revealed that over 65% are classed as disabled.

The survey also showed that one in 10 of those questioned are caring for a disabled person while more than half are unable to work.

CAS reported that it has advised on more than 1,600 new issues related to the bedroom tax in the six months since the changes were introduced by the UK Government. The organisation says that 82,000 households in Scotland are affected by the under-occupancy charge, which sees housing benefit cut for social housing tenants if they are deemed to have a spare room.

CAS says 80% of these people are disabled and in many cases their homes have been adapted accordingly.

The organisation’s chief executive Margaret Lynch said, “We have now seen over six months of the bedroom tax, so we have enough evidence to present a real picture of its impact. The first thing that is clear is that the majority of Scots affected are sick and disabled people who were already living on low incomes.

“So, like so many of the recent welfare reforms, this is a measure that is principally hitting the most vulnerable people in our society, making their difficult situations even worse. Most of the people we have seen are unable to work for health reasons, so were already living in poverty even before this measure came in. Many had already seen their income shrink over the last few years because of the harsh changes to disability benefits.”

CAS has recommended that severely disabled people, and families where children have been allocated an extra room due to a health condition, should be exempted in legislation from under occupancy charges.

The organisation says all social landlords should review their allocations policies to ensure that anyone who wants or needs to downsize is able to do so, and the government should continue to provide Discretionary Housing Payment funding to help those struggling.

 

From ‘The Scotsman’, 16th November 2013: http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/bedroom-tax-two-thirds-of-affected-are-disabled-1-3188221

The suffering being caused by benefit sanctions

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has published a report on benefit sanctions, what they are given for and how they are affecting the people who’s benefits have been taken away (minimum period of 3 weeks, maximum of 3 years!) The vast majority of people receiving these sanctions had no other source of income, and have been left destitute and with lasting long term debt. The number of sanctions handed out  has rocketed from around 130,000 in 2009 to 2 million in the past year. Most of the people being sanctioned are on Job Sieekers Allowance, but there’s a sizeable minority on invalidity benefits.

The report makes shocking reading and I recommend following the link at the bottom of this article to read the whole thing. Here’s what some people reported as happening to them because of these sanctions:

Most people had had to cut down on food (70%), and/or on heating (49%) and travel (47%). Almost a quarter of respondents had had to ask for a food parcel.

Some respondents had been left in a very desperate state:

Buy damaged food, market scrounge about at end of day

Used the skip from the local shop for food

Starved and lived off what I had. Scrounged food from bins and only left the house after darkness fell. Had no electric or gas so had to get ready-to-eat food. Struggled and went without nothing for 3 days with just bread and a block of cheese that my friend kindly gave me as it was past its sell by date.

Begged in the city.

Slept on a park bench and in empty shed.

I stopped doing anything and have become agoraphobic.

For those with children, it was particularly hard to cope:

Went without meals so my son could eat. My sanction should have been for a week but they took 8 weeks to pay me again, despite me constantly phoning etc. I also complained and received no reply.

And there were other adverse effects on children:

My daughter stopped attending school. I couldn’t afford the taxi she needed to get her there without distress and trauma.

Other consequences of the sanction

The final survey question asked respondents for any other comments on the effects of sanctions on them or their family. More than 150 respondents took the trouble to complete this question, often with extensive accounts of the serious long-term effects on their own physical and mental health, the social and material impact of serious financial hardship, and the adverse effects on their family’s well-being

The possibility of ending up homeless because of rent arrears was a frequent worry:

Because my housing benefit wasn’t paid for 3 months and still hasn’t been reinstated I’m facing eviction and I’m a full time carer to my adult son.

I’m worried housing benefit won’t be sorted in time for my rent as this could make us all homeless yet again and the council have no homes. Last time we were homeless was a result of fleeing domestic violence and me and my five children were put in B&B by the council in two rooms.

Several people said they had been unable to leave the house because of lack of money:

It’s all getting too much. We are now prisoners in our home, no point going out, can’t buy or do anything

The anxiety created by the imposition of a sanction had a serious effect on mental health for many people. A number of people described feeling suicidal because of the stress of the situation and several said they had made suicide attempts. For those with pre-existing mental health problems the effect of the sanction was to exacerbate their condition:

I suffer from severe mental depression and this has definitely not helped my condition. Still currently without any money even though I am doing full time work experience and not sure how I am going to eat until the sanction is lifted.

I was on ESA due to a nervous breakdown in 2009 and have not been given even the slightest chance of recovery as I have had this constant & losing battle with DWP/ATOS ever since. I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have now given up completely on claiming any benefits at all, as I can no longer face the prospect of the never-ending challenges. I have absolutely no hope left in me at all.

I had no income, and had to borrow from my parents (who are also on benefits and don’t get much income. It has affected me mentally, and I am severely depressed and having anxiety attacks which I have never had before becoming a jobseeker! I believe this is going to affect me in the long run, and I will find it difficult when I do find work, because I am now petrified of speaking to people. I was very confident and bubbly before I became a jobseeker, now I tend not to leave my house unless necessary.

I wasn’t long out of a safe house for domestic abuse I tried to commit suicide and my doctor had to put my medication up and I have to get someone to collect them weekly.

For others there had been effects on their physical health, because of lack of money for an adequate diet or because of stress, or both:

I had to ask my mum to help me with my gas and electric and wasn’t able to fed myself properly and [that] didn’t help as I have coeliac and my family were appalled that I had to live like that for 4 weeks. My health suffered because of it.

I’ve lost over 2 stone in weight through lack of food.

The stress has made me physically sick with irritable bowel syndrome, which I haven’t suffered with for many years. I have previously battled depression and am hoping I won’t end up back on antidepressants again.

I am a type 1 diabetic and I ended up being hypoglycaemic several times.

We couldn’t afford a meal each day so often didn’t eat for days on end. I suffer with hypoglycaemia and need to eat, so this left me with many black outs, confusion, incredibly weak and sick.

I lost weight and got ill. I felt like a scavenging wild animal, not like a human. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless.

The sanction had wider impacts on family relationships in some cases:

My mum has been taken to court and fined for not being able to pay the shortfall in council tax and is struggling to pay the rent arrears accrued when I was sanctioned and the strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces – I feel like a burden on her and have felt suicidal on more than one occasion.

The stress put us both in hospital with stress-related problems. We were refused hardship payments but later got this [revoked] because we went to CAB and Shelter. It had a massive effect on our son, who at one point was being considered for going into care because we couldn’t provide for him.

My partner also cares for me so he was left incredibly stressed and upset from this situation due to firstly no money (he has to look after me full time pretty much) and secondly my conditions and mental state became so hard to cope with (it also affected his mental health, he attempted suicide when he could not cope).

At 52 years of age I lost my home and my 21 year-old son, who has had to move in with his girlfriend’s family. We are both sofa-surfing with absolutely no hope for a future of any kind…I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have been kicked out of my mother’s household due to being sanctioned and I’m now homeless.

This had a devastating effect. I am separated so couldn’t have my children as couldn’t afford the bus fare to travel for them.

For those living with children, the effects of the sanction were particularly hard:

It was so difficult. Had no gas or electric. Sent my children to my mum’s 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

For nearly a month I didn’t get any money before I got hardship [payment]…At this time I was pregnant with my daughter and had another 2 kids in the house…If it wasn’t for my child tax credits and borrowing money I wouldn’t have been able to feed myself. We done without heating during the winter because I couldn’t afford to pay for gas.

I went begging on the streets to get money to buy food as my partner is 7 months pregnant

Many respondents wrote at considerable length about their feeling that they had been very unjustly treated.

Whilst I was on the sanction I visited jobcentre on 3 different occasions to ask how I was to live on no money for 4 weeks? On each occasion I was told there was nothing they could do. I later found out that the correct procedure was to give me a hardship form to help me out. I eventually got the form and handed it in. The jobcentre have since rejected the claim as it was handed in too late. I sent in 3 reconsideration requests explaining the jobcentre was at fault for not telling me I could claim this and again all 3 requests denied…I feel the jobcentre have deceived me to avoid paying out money.

A number felt that the limitations which their ill-health placed on their ability to work, or the kinds of work they could do had not been given adequate consideration:

I am epileptic and can’t apply for certain jobs that’s why I am limited, I apply for 5-10 jobs that I can do, but it’s not enough.

I can’t work, I take 23 pills a day and I’m also diabetic, yet the group they put me on was for work? They have no right to take money away just like that. Totally unfair, I’ve lost half a stone as I can’t buy enough food to eat and as a diabetic I’m supposed to eat 5 small meals a day. No chance. As I don’t, I’m open to foot infection, eyesight problems, coma or death or amputation. I’m worried sick. Also stress brings on a relapse of other condition.

There were numerous complaints from respondents that they had not been told about the sanction, and had only discovered when they found their money had stopped, that they didn’t understand the reasons for the sanction or that the sanction had been imposed unreasonably, given their circumstances.

I believe it was the Work Programme that had been in the wrong in the first instance for not reimbursing claimants travel expenses when they should be, yet I was the one punished for not attending 1 hour of job search when I couldn’t afford to go.

The original sanction letter made no sense and I couldn’t understand it at all either. It didn’t give any dates as to when or IF the sanction would end.

I had no idea I had been sanctioned until I got a letter from the housing association stating that my housing/council tax benefit had been stopped due to suspension of JSA which I wasn’t even claiming

In other cases the injustice stemmed from poor administration which led to a sanction being imposed when the claimant was not in any way at fault:

I was sanctioned for not supplying information regarding my job search. The forms I was given did not ask for [this] information.(The wrong paper work was given) My paper file was ‘lost’ during the appeal process, and was ‘found’ in secure waste awaiting shredding, My file (the one being destroyed) contained information that refuted the validity of the sanction.

I was sanctioned by the DWP on their error. They never changed my address when I sent in a change of address form. They later admitted it was completely their fault and an admin error. They left me without payments for six months and didn’t reply to a single letter and they wouldn’t speak to me on the phone as they held old details for me.

Respondents felt that it was unfair that the expectations with which they had to comply did not apply to the agencies they had to deal with:

The sanction was so annoying. A4E missed three appointments. When I attended they said to go home. But I miss one appointment and get sanctioned.

The sanction I got was for not attending triage…It was them that mucked up the dates and I was the one that paid for their mistake.

Read the whole report here: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=CB5ED957FE0B849F!350&app=WordPdf&authkey=!AJTbB-gzwsSCayQ

Petition Calling For Benefit Sanctions To Be Scrapped Hits Nearly 2000 Signatures In First Few Hours

the void

sanction-sabsA petition posted on the 38 Degrees website late yesterday afternoon and which calls for all benefit sanctions to be scrapped without exceptions has hit almost 2000 signatures already.

The petition – which wasn’t posted by me – uses some of the text from this earlier post discussing the brutal impact of sanctions to benefits which are driving hundreds of thousands of people into destitution.  Tens of thousands of sanctions are handed out every month for the slightest breach of Jobcentre diktats.  Single parents and most people on out of work sickness and disability benefits also face sanctions and this brutal system to soon to be inflicted on low waged part-time workers and people in precarious  self-employment.

A recent report from Citizens Advice warned that sanctions are creating desperate poverty with tragic stories of people going through bins to find food, attempting suicide and becoming ill due to having all…

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Citizens Advice Bureau in Universal Credit pilot area warns of ‘big problems down the line’

CAB in Universal Credit pilot area warns of big problems down the line

Citizens Advicehas warned that unless strong support is put in place, many people will struggle to meet living costs and deal with the new online IT system for Universal Credit.

Ahead of an in-depth analysis of Universal Credit to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this evening, Citizens Advice has cautioned that the Government is storing up problems for Universal Credit. A CAB in the first Universal Credit pilot area reports that last month 78% of its clients were unable to complete online application forms without assistance.

Tameside CAB, which has been closely involved in the introduction of Universal Credit, confirms today that many people who will shortly move onto the new benefit are already struggling to make ends meet.  Nigel Morgan, Chief Executive of Tameside CAB said that 1,453 of its clients have applied for emergency financial support, many of whom will soon start receiving the new benefit.

Many people seeking emergency financial support required help getting through the online application process from staff in Tameside Citizens Advice Bureau, suggesting the all-online Universal Credit system will be unmanageable for many future claimants.

The national charity’s Chief Executive warns the support required to help people with online applications for emergency financial support is a clear warning sign to ministers that many future Universal Credit claimants will need help managing their money and dealing with online forms.

A recent study carried out by the national charity, surveying its clients, showed that nine out of ten people say they will need some form of support in moving onto the new system.

 

By Les Bonner in his blog, 10th October 2013. Read the rest of this article here: http://lesbonner.mycouncillor.org.uk/2013/10/10/cab-in-universal-credit-pilot-area-warns-of-big-problems-down-the-line/