Feeling the pinch

Mark Simmonds is not getting much sympathy after claiming that MPs’ expenses make it ‘intolerable’ to live in London but has he also revealed a deeper truth about our housing system?

The MP for Boston and Skegness resigned as a minister on Monday and will leave parliament at the next election after claiming that he can’t find anywhere to rent in the capital on his £35,000 a year housing allowance.

Simmonds and his family do not exactly sound like they are among the ‘housing pinched’. These are the 1.6 million households identified in a report by the Resolution Foundation as spending more than 50 per cent of their net household income (after tax and benefits) on their rent or mortgage.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Housing benefit and the coalition

What has happened to housing benefit in the four years since the government inherited a system it claimed was ‘out of control’?

New housing benefit statistics published this week cover the period up to May 2014. They reflect not just successive government cuts but a changing pattern of claims and changing tenure over the last four years. Here are five things that struck me:

1) The housing benefit bill continues to grow despite all of the coalition’s reforms. The May 2014 figures show just under five million claims for an average of £92.69 a week, a total of £24.0 billion. That compares with £20.8 billion in May 2010 (4.8 million claims averaging £84.20 a week).

The coalition never claimed that its reforms would reduce the total bill, just that they would reduce the rate of growth from previous forecasts. The bill has grown by 15.4 per cent over the last four years. However, the annual increase has slowed from 6.2 per cent in 2010/11 to 1.3 per cent in 2013/14.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Working it out

As Labour and the Conservatives renew hostilities about the housing benefit bill, which of them will do something about it?

In the latest round of Labour’s The Choice summer offensive, shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves released figures from the House of Commons Library showing that the total bill is set to rise to £27 billion by 2018/19.

Within that, she highlighted the soaring number of claims by people in work from 617,000 at the last election to 962,000 now and 1.2 million by 2018/19. That doubling in working claims will cost a total of £12.9 billion or £488 for every household in Britain between 2010/11 and 2018/19.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


In case you missed it

Today looks like a very good day for the DWP to sneak out independent research on the impact of the bedroom tax and cuts to the local housing allowance.

While Iain Duncan Smith seems to have survived the Cabinet cull of middle aged men, the two reports offer in-depth scrutiny of two of his most controversial policies. There is as yet no DWP press release or comment but you can find the reports here and here on its website.

This blog will concentrate on the independent evaluation of what the DWP calls the removal of the spare room subsidy. The report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori analyses the effects on and the responses of tenants, landlords, local authorities, voluntary and statutory organisations and advice agencies and lenders.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing 


Tax year

A year on and the evidence is stacking up about the impact of the bedroom tax.

Over and over again we’ve heard from ministers that tenants affected by what they call the removal of the spare room subsidy have choices: they can downsize; or they can take in a lodger; or they can get a job. And the safety net of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) is there to help the most vulnerable.

Over and over again, landlords, tenants and others have argued that it’s not so simple: smaller homes are just not available; jobs are not so easy to come by and may be impossible for many tenants with disabilities; few will want to take a stranger into their home; and DHPs are woefully inadequate to meet the scale of need.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Making the case

Why do we need social housing? The answer may seem obvious on this website but too often elsewhere the one you’ll get is ‘we don’t’.

It’s a theme I’ve blogged about repeatedly over the last few years as social housing has been eroded from within and overtaken from without by the relentless rise of private renting. As coalition ministers never cease to remind us, the sector shrank by 420,000 in England under the last Labour government, but their own policies are merely accelerating the decline while they blur the distinction between affordable and social.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Discretion and discrimination

Shocking new figures published by Inside Housing reveal yet again the holes in the safety net provided by discretionary housing payments (DHPs).

On one level it beggars belief that in the last financial year councils turned down 70,000 requests for help from tenants facing cuts in their housing benefit and returned £9 million of DHP funding to central government.

On another, it’s no surprise that a system devolved to local authorities facing their own budget cuts has experienced problems or that one based on local discretion has varied so much between different areas.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Adjust your set

In case you missed it, How to Get a Council House is back – and so is the controversy about TV stereotypes and the hashtag on twitter.

The second series of the Channel 4 show focuses on the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and people affected by the benefit cap (two weeks ago), applying as homeless (last week) and in temporary accommodation (this week).

As with the first series, it’s provoked some strong reactions and it almost feels like we are in two different countries when I look on twitter.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Frank words on welfare reform

Getting the same criticism from different people is usually a sign you’ve got something wrong. How about for IDS and the DWP?

Three different reports published this morning amplify earlier warnings about the implementation of the bedroom tax, the wider impact of welfare reform on tenants and landlords and the prospects for universal credit. But it would surprise nobody if the work and pensions secretary saw them as yet more evidence that his reforms are a success.

Two of them come from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Steve Wilcox finds that what he neutrally calls the ‘housing benefit size criteria’ has affected fewer people than expected but that half of those are in arrears and 100,000 who want to downsize are trapped and unable to move. Anne Power concludes that welfare reforms may end up making tenants more, rather than less, dependent and are making them more vulnerable.

The third is from the work and pensions committee and warns that it is still not clear that universal credit will work. The MPs on the all-party committee think that implementation will be delayed even further and have some strong words about Iain Duncan Smith’s attitude towards their scrutiny.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


One size does not fit all

Today’s report from the work and pensions committee is an all-party challenge to the fundamental principles of the government’s reforms of housing benefit.

To my mind it is the most serious attack on the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and a swathe of other reforms since the government was forced to overturn House of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Act on the grounds of financial privilege.

But you would not guess it from reports in the national media this morning. On Radio 4’s Today programme it was only judged the third most important select committee report of the day and the second most important housing story behind the Nationwide house price index. It’s also downplayed elsewhere with headlines about ‘distress’ and ‘hardship’ or even stolen by Tim Farron rather than about the committee’s call for wholesale changes that could benefit hundreds of thousands of people.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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