Housing Summit update and call-out

We have had a good mix of people interested in attending the Regional Housing Summit on 12th March (Facebook event here, and see here for flyer): already signed up are tenants and campaigners from within and outside Leeds, Unite Community union branch, housing association workers, managers of organisations providing residential mental health support, and others. But we still need your help to make sure everyone is there who needs to be there, to make it a springboard for a truly united and broad-based campaign. So please, badger your housing association, your tenants association and your union branch if any. If you work for, or are a user of, any service which is provided in a residential setting and is wholly or partly paid for from housing benefit, please come along and get as many workers as possible from your organisation or sector to come too.

 

Our flyer outlines some of the main threats to social housing from the Housing and Planning Bill (currently going through the Committee stage in the Lords) and from other policies to be brought in by statutory instrument. It’s obvious that these measures together pose a threat to the very survival of truly affordable social housing – yet council housing is easily the most economically-viable model for providing decent, secure, affordable housing on the large scale that we desperately need.

 

Please sign up for the Summit, preferably via our Facebook event here.

 

Threat to all supported and sheltered housing: LHA max

This policy is being sneaked in without even the scrutiny it would get if it was part of a Bill. It limits the amount of housing benefit anyone can get to the amount they would be entitled to in Local Housing Allowance for a particular household size in the private sector. It begins in April 2018, but applies to any tenancy commenced from April this year. It includes pensioners (so many pensioners in homes with more bedrooms than allowed – eg a couple with more than one bedroom even if they have childcare responsibilities or care needs, and irrespective of whether there is anywhere else for them to move to will be hit by a bedroom tax if their rent is higher than the LHA amount for one bedroom). It applies to sheltered and supported housing for older people; to domestic violence refuges; to residentially-based services for people with mental health, learning, physical or sensory needs; to homelessness hostels (despite the fact that benefit cuts and ever-declining availability of affordable housing are resulting in soaring rates of homelessness). It has been estimated to mean a loss of at least 150,000 supported housing places provided by housing associations. The government is saying the most vulnerable will be protected by Discretionary Housing Payments – but the truth is that the DHP being made available is only a fraction of what is needed, and major supported housing projects have already been abandoned as unviable. For detailed facts and figures on this see for example this blogpost from Joe Halewood and other posts on the SPEYE blog.

 

Now add to this the expected increase of 90,000 families (government estimate) who will be affected by the lowering of the overall household benefit cap (to £20,000 outside London and £23,000 in London) and who will therefore be unable to pay their rent – that’s on top of roughly half of households affected by the bedroom tax who are already in significant arrears and at risk of eviction. Most working-age benefits have been frozen for the next 4 years, and cuts to tax credits and ESA are still in the pipeline. As well as fear and misery for claimants/tenants, all this means a massive loss of rental income for councils and housing associations – made worse by the compulsory 1% year-on-year reduction in social rents, which will not help the low-income household but will mean cutbacks on such as scale that 15% of housing association workers are set to lose their jobs.

 

– and then there’s the Housing and Planning Bill, including:

  • Sell-off of housing association homes to tenants, at a discount paid for by forcing councils to sell off their most valuable stock as it comes empty – meaning two social-rented homes lost for every right-to-buy sale.
  • Raising of council rents to “at or near” market rates for households with a total household income of £30,000 a year or more (yes, that’s including tax credits and any income brought in by additional adult household members – and irrespective of number of people this income covers)
  • All new tenancies from April this year to be subject to review after 2 – 5 years, causing insecurity for households and instability/loss of communal life and support networks in neighbourhoods
  • Subsidies transferred away from building for affordable social renting and instead put into discounts for “starter homes” to buy. All very well if you can afford prices (after subsidy) of up to £250,000 outside London or £450,000 in London.
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