Memorandum by the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
(Z2K) (AH 103)
We are concerned that both the ODPM and the
ODPM select committee are focusing on shared equity and rather
less on the issue of the affordability and supply of rented accommodation
for low income households. So we offer this supplementary evidence.
1. Housing in the UK is in crisis. It is
the poorest who carry the weight of it. Their incomes are too
low and housing too expensive. That simple arithmetic is massively
complicated by a benefit system that does not cope efficiently
when households move in and out of it, or circumstances change
for any reason; and the acceptance by New Labour of the Thatcher
settlement with its na-f belief that a free market settles
every social problem with "trickle down". The deregulation
of lending in the 1980s released a flood of money into a housing
market in short supply thus exacerbating pressures that increase
market failed to produce enough houses. The problems have irrupted
since then. They get worse every day.
2. They are further exacerbated by the mindset
at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister disclosed in the definitions
of "affordable housing" given in their initial evidence.
They have nothing to say about incomes. They are therefore unable
to encompass the obvious truth that housing is unaffordable when
incomes are too low and housing too expensive.
3. They are in paragraph 40 of the Initial
Evidence and in 41, which is only concerned with priority groups
and not poor households. Even for the priority groups the definitions
in paragraph 40 should be replaced by the following which provides
clear parameters for policy making.
The term "affordable housing"
is widely used without any precise definition. We argue that it
has no meaning other than as the opposite of "unaffordable
housing" which is experienced when incomes are too low and
available housing, whether for rent or purchase, is too expensive.
We define "affordable housing" (in the Introduction
to the Memorandum to the Prime Minister and with some later modification)
"Affordable housing" means that once
the cost of rent or mortgage (including any maintenance and service
charges and local and national taxes) have been met from the income
of a household, be it an individual, a family or pensioners, there
remains sufficient income to sustain safe and healthy living,
to support children's needs at school and to enable provision
for the future and participation in the community. "Unaffordable
housing" means that the remaining income is not sufficient
to ensure these outcomes.
4. Four cases illustrate how this toxic
mixture of official myopia, low incomes, complex benefits, expensive
housing, short supply and excessive investment, which need integrated
policies if housing is to become affordable, bears down traumatically
on poor families. Members of Parliament will meet many similar
cases in their surgeries.
5. The local council claimed there had been
an over payment of £1,500 housing benefit to the Housing
Association in 2001 and took the money back. The Housing Association
then claimed £1,500 rent arrears, which they could not pay.
They evicted the couple with two children adding £1,000 for
6. Forced into the private market in High
Wycombe, where there is no affordable housing, they found a home
at £180 a week. They received full housing benefit. Several
changes of circumstances happened, with which the authorities
did not keep up, involving unemployment, separation and coming
together again, and re-employment; and they had a baby, the third
child. They have a duty to inform the authorities each time. That
can be a complex exercise for harassed parents. She is receiving
treatment for depression. One of her children has emotional and
behavioural difficulties. Child benefit and tax credits are dealt
with by the Inland Revenue, Income Support by the Jobcentres,
Council Tax and Housing Benefits by the Local Authority. They
are connected by computers. If there is a mistake at the Jobcentre
7. They are then called in for questioning
under caution about fraud by the Local Authority, who claim they
were not informed about one of the changes, so too much housing
benefit had been paid. Special payments to encourage this questioning
are being made by central government. There is no legal aid even
though it can lead to a criminal conviction. I attended the interview
with a letter from her doctor confirming the woman's depression
and decided call a halt. It was done by a retired policeman with,
it seemed, much experience of questioning hardened criminals.
We have heard no more.
8. More rent arrears occur. They will be
classed as intentionally homeless by the local authority if they
are evictedbecause of the arrears. The landlord seeks repossession.
I go with them to court as a McKenzie Friend. They receive a suspended
possession order on condition they pay £30 a week towards
the arrears; our trust pays £500 as a donation to keep them
9. The flat they rented had been bought
to let by the landlord. He then decided to sell to take his capital
gain. There is nothing they can do to prevent this eviction. Since
then they have been placed in a hostel by another local authority,
who again decided they were intentionally homelessbecause
of the rent arrears. But they had regularly paid the £30
a week ordered by the court. This was appealed with the aid of
Shelter. They won and the council now has a duty to house them.
10. With the rent arrears they were worse
off in work than unemployed. This was because their residual income
after housing and taxation had been paid out of gross income was
less that they would have received from unemployment benefits,
all of which are below the government's poverty threshold. This
is a common problem. The Royal College of Nursing is reporting
that many of their members in London whose gross pay is above
the benefit threshold have the same experience.
11. An unemployed lone parent with five
children aged one to eight is living in a two bed roomed, damp
flat and with a suspended possession order hanging over her. They
can be evicted if she fails to pay £5.10 rent arrears every
two weeks to pay off a total of £2,000. The local authority
won't move her to suitable accommodation until it is all paid
off. It will take 15 years.
12. A chronically ill and depressed woman
inevitably lost control of her affairs; she would have been homeless
had we not intervened a week before the bailiffs came to evict
her and change the locks.
13. A man has a degenerative disease; the
local authority applied for bankruptcy to pay off council tax
arrears threatening him and his wife with homelessness.
14. A look at www.asboconcern.org shows
the harsh treatment that has been devised for homeless beggars.
They are jailed if they break an Anti Social Behavior Order forbidding
them to beg for years at a time, thus receiving a criminal conviction,
which further damages their chances of employment. Single childless
adults are the most vulnerable to homelessness lacking any statutory
duty to house themexcept in prison and receiving unemployment
benefits that are half the government's poverty threshold. (Please
see attached letter published by the Church Times)
15. If the house owning taxpayers sitting
comfortably on appreciating assets, and enjoying handsome dividends
from shares supplemented by the large state subsidy of low wages,
are not moved by the injustice of these stories then perhaps the
story of increasing housing benefit will make them stop and think.
The average weekly benefits paid to housing association tenants
rose from £23.20 a week in 1992 to £58 in 2003 and for
private tenants from £40.70 to £71.60. The total cost
of housing benefit rose from £5.4 billion in 1986-87 to £15.8
billion in 2002-03 and is planned to reach £19.7 billion
in 2007-08. While in real terms the cost to the tax payer more
that doubled the investment in new housing and renovation fell
from £6.1 billion to £2.8 billion. Total
UK housing debt stood at £774 billion in £2003, the
equivalent of 72% of gross domestic product, and increase from
£53 billion in 1980 and 23% of GDP.
16. The ODPM parliamentary select committee
is enquiring into housing supply and affordability. Who wins the
next election seems uppermost in your minds. I fear policy will
not be decided on who needs affordable housing most, they don't
vote, but on which policy will offend the lowest number of current
house owners, by maintaining the price of their homes, and also
puts the largest number of voters on the housing ladder. Joint
equity is front runner. (I am attaching a synopsis of the Z2K
Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housing to emphasise
the holistic approach that housing policy deserves). The long
term future for the poorest in the UK looks bleakunless
they register and start voting.
214 Please see our Memorandum on Unaffordable Housing
to the Prime Minister May 2005 edited by Professor Peter Ambrose
available on www.z2k.org. Back
See op cit Appendix 7. Back