Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Written evidence submitted by Homeless Link (WRW 01)

Homeless Link is the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who experience homelessness in England. We work to make services better and campaign for policy change that will help end homelessness.

We are delighted to have the opportunity to respond the Public Bill Committee’s request for input into the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. We understand that the Committee is specifically interested in potential amendments to the b ill . Parts A and B of this submission are primarily focused upon them. Part C covers parts of the b ill which we believe should be withdrawn for reconsideration.

PART A – Reduction in social housing rents

1) This part of the Bill states "Registered providers of social housing must secure that the amount of rent payable in a relevant year by a tenant of their social housing in England is 1% less than the amount that was payable by the tenant in the preceding 12 months."

2) In part 20 of the bill a number of exceptions are listed. We would like to propose an amendment to this accommodation covering supported housing. Appropriate wording of this amendment might be:

"Section 19 does not apply in relation to a tenant of social housing if- the accommodation is specified accommodation;"

3) Specified accommodation is a status which came into law in 2014 through the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Supported Accommodation) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI2014 No. 771) which were laid before Parliament on 20 March 2014. It essentially defines specified accommodation as not-for-profit accommodation where care, support or supervision is provided. As a definition, it covers most, but not all, supported housing [1] .

4) Rents in supported housing tend to cover a much wider range of housing management activities than in general needs social housing. These higher rents reflect the additional costs of ensuring that the often vulnerable tenants living in this type of housing are safe and secure. These rents are agreed with the Homes and Communities Agencies and local Housing Benefit team.

5) A number of homelessness agencies have raised concerns with HL as to the impact of annual one percent reductions which have not been factored into previous business models of these services. Our research shows that 90% of residential homelessness services rely upon Housing Benefit (HB) as a key funding stream. [2]

6) Because of the need to charge a higher level of rent to provide this service, the impact of a 1% annual reduction is more severe on supported housing and so will have more far-reaching consequences.

7) The rationale of treating supported housing separately from other social housing has already been recognised in the proactive decision by Government to keep housing costs for Specified Accommodation out of Universal Credit and Benefit Cap calculations. Failure to recognise this in the current legislation is not only inconsistent with previous policy but places at risk the steps Government has already taken to protect housing for the most vulnerable.

PART B - The Benefit Cap

8) Whilst Homeless Link believes there are difficulties with the operation of the Benefit Cap, we recognise that the reduction to £23,000 was a manifesto pledge.

9) However, there was no reference in the manifesto to a different rate being applied outside of London. If the Government is determined to proceed with any reduction we believe the Bill should simply read:

"For the purposes of this section the "annual limit" is- (a) £23,000 or £15,410"

10) The rationale for this is that local authorities and voluntary agencies regularly feedback to us that they are already finding the process of accommodating households in high-cost areas outside of London extremely difficult. This is particularly the case in the South where many areas – such as Oxfordshire, Surrey and Cambridge - risk becoming unaffordable in the same way that inner London has.

11) We also believe there is a case for amending the Bill to exempt Statutory Homeless Temporary Accommodation (TA). This is the accommodation used by councils to place homeless households to whom they have a legal "duty" whilst they undertake further investigations or wait for a more permanent option to arise. Part of the expressed reasoning behind the Benefit cap is to encourage households to make certain choices but households in TA are placed in the housing given to them by local authorities so they have no such choices.

12) Statutory Guidance requires that TA should be "suitable" and this will include geographical location. A recent Supreme Court ruling makes clear that local authorities cannot rely on the routine use of out of borough placements. Nzolameso V City of Westminster confirmed that local authorities must place households in borough when reasonably practical and that the proper consideration should be given to each individual case.

13) Furthermore, it is illegal for homeless families with children to be temporarily housed in Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation, unless in an emergency, and then for not more than six weeks. As of December 31st 2014, 780 families had been in a B&B for more than six weeks – up from 150 in 210. The problem is most acute in London.

14) At the end of 2014 there were 61,970 households in temporary accommodation, the highest number for five years and a 29 per cent increase since the same quarter in 2011. The trend for falling numbers of households in TA has been reversed since other changes to the benefits system took effect.

15) Councils face an increasingly difficult position in sourcing temporary accommodation whilst remaining within the rules highlighted above. Less and less affordable TA is available with many councils have to meet shortfalls from elsewhere in their budgets. Further reductions in the Benefit Cap can only make the procuring of TA more difficult.

16) To be eligible for Temporary Accommodation in England a household will usually to be assessed by a council as having no suitable housing available to them and will also be in "priority need". We recommend that in recognition of this, the Benefit Cap exemption for specified accommodation is extended to statutory TA.

Part C – Freeze of certain social security benefits for four tax years and Employment and Support Allowance: work-related activity component

17) The freeze in Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) contained within this part of the Bill will impact on the poorest in society. We believe the Bill should be amended to withdraw JSA and ESA from these changes.

1 8 ) The sad reality is that people experiencing homelessness already live in acute poverty. A person over-25 residing in a homeless hostel on Job Seekers Allowance currently receives £73.10 per week to pay for essentials such as food, travel, clothes and a contribution to their utility bills. An under-25 year old has the same outgoings and receives only £57.90 a week to cover these . On top of this, many homeless people (and those on the cusp of homelessness) face increasingly unm anageable  demands on their already meagre income as a result of ongoing Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit reductions. Further real term reductions will only make their social exclusion worse.

1 9 ) These struggles will be even more acute for new claimants in the Employment and Support Work Related Activity Group who will only receive benefits at the JSA rate in the future. This was not mentioned in any party ma nifesto and was not raised as a possible change during the General Election. ESA is paid at a higher level to reflect the additional costs of living incurred by people who are sick or disabled. New claimants will now be expected to make "ends meet" on nearly 30% less than those already receiving the benefit.

20 ) This is a change which will disproportionately impact on homeless people as they have some of the worst health of the entire population. A few figures from our research illustrate his:

· 73% of homeless people surveyed reported physical health problems.

· 41% had long term physical health problems. 

· 26% had been admitted to hospital over the past six months. [3]

21) The Government have repeatedly stated that "work is the way out of poverty" yet this is not always an option. The evidence is that homeless people want to work but struggle to find employment. Research by Off the Streets and into Work [4] (OSW) found that 77% of homeless people want to work immediately and 97% want to work in the future (including most of those who were currently sick and/or disabled). However, St Mungo's one of the largest homelessness providers in London found only 4% of their hostel residents are in employment, two thirds have been out of work for five years or more, and around 15% have never worked at all. [5]

2 2 ) The difficulties for homeless peopl e in obtaining employment can be evidenced by the singular failure of the Work Prog ramme to make a positive impact amongst clients of homel ess services . [6]  A number of homelessness agencies have now withdrawn their participation in the Work Programme as they have seen no increased employment for their clients. In introducing a cross-party report on the issue , Work and Pensions Select Chair Dame Anne Begg said:

"The work programme has proved much less successful to date in addressing the problems faced by jobseekers who face more serious obstacles to finding a job – people with disabilities, homeless people, and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse." [7]

2 3 ) Homeless Link believes Sections 9 and 13 of the B ill risk making homeless people even less likely to be employed. E vidence shows [8] that cuts to welfare benefits to the poorest do not increase the probability of finding work. In fact, our research suggests that increased poverty amongst those living with homelessness has forced people to become more focused on day-to-day survival and moved them away from the labour market. [9]

24) We believe the amendments suggested here will prevent the B ill having unintended impacts of creating increases in homelessness and worklessness and the longer - terms costs associated with these. We hope this evidence will be considered by the Committee and Homeless Link would welcome the opportunity to provide further evidence to the Committee , should this be helpful.

August 2015

[1] It does not cover some local authority supported housing. It also includes domestic violence refuges regardless of whether care, support or supervision is provided

[2] Annual Review: support for single homeless people in England, Homeless Link 2015 http://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Full%20report%20-%20Single%20homelessness%20support%20in%20England%202015.pdf

[3] http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/our-research/homelessness-and-health-research

[4] OSW "No Home, no Job: Moving on from transitional spaces ." 2005.

[5] St Mungo’s "Work Matters" June 2010.

[6] Crisis, Homeless Link and St Mungo’s, The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme, November 2012.

[7] http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/work-programme-failing-homeless/6527032.article

[8] Peter Kenway, Should Adult benefit for unemployment now be raised?, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, April 2009; British Social Attitudes, the 25th Report, 2008/2009, chapter 4, Employment Commitment in different welfare states, 2009.

[9] http://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/A%20High%20Cost%20to%20Pay%20Sept%2013.pdf

Prepared 11th September 2015