Welfare Reform and Work Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA) (WRW 75)

Suggestions on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16

Contents

1.0 Executive Summary

2.0 Background

3.0 Introduction

4.0 Young People

5.0 Benefit Cap

6.0 Back to work

7.0 Summary

8.0 References

1.0 Executive Summary

· This submission provides an overview of the impact the new welfare reforms and rent controls will have on Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA), a smaller registered provider servicing the local community.

· This evidence also supports the amendment and briefing provided by Homeless Link and the National Housing Federation, to remove supported housing which meets the definition of Specified Accommodation from the mandatory 1% annual reductions in rents charged by registered providers for the next four years.

2.0 Background

2.1 BCHA is a housing and social care provider, helping homeless and vulnerable people access the right housing, health, learning and work opportunities. BCHA has a diverse range of approximately 2000 dwellings across the South West. Of these 2000, over half are rooms or shared facilities and only 822 are owned.

2.2 Founded in 1968, BCHA supports over 10,000 people every year to take control of their own lives and equipping them to find a way forward. A significant proportion of the people they support have suffered domestic violence, human trafficking, have mental health issues or drug and alcohol addictions. The company’s vision is to ‘create lasting solutions to homelessness, unemployment and social exclusion in the local communities’.

2.3 Key achievements in 2014:

· 392 people moved on from BCHA supported accommodation to live independently.

· 890 people achieved a qualification, entered into employment or started volunteering through the learning and work programmes.

· The BCHA leaving hospital discharge service helped over 4,918 vulnerable patients experience a safe and timely discharge.

· 15,596 prisoners accessed prison services through RECOOP, a BCHA subsidiary business.

· Over 800 people accessed tenancy support through community based floating support services.

2.4 Group turnover for the year ending 31 March 2015 was £24.2M. 48% of the income came from rents charged to residents, and 44% from various revenue contracts to support the people BCHA houses or works with.

3.0 Introduction

3. 1 The welfare system plays an essential part when it comes to preventing and tackling homelessness.

3.2 Putting the work BCHA delivers into context, research by Homeless Link (2013) estimated that each homeless person represents a cost of £26,000 [1] per year to the public purse .

3.3 Therefore, services that prevent homelessness and help a transition away from this situation will likely result in a saving to the public fund . However, Government proposals for the new rent reduction schemes, will mean that BCHA as a provider of housing and support services, will suffer a huge loss of revenue (currently estimated at £300,000 in the first year and up to £3.2million over the five year period) making the support services they deliver hard to maintain.

3.4 In addition to the impact on BCHA as a company, the individuals they support are also suffering. If someone has lost their job, benefits can prevent them ending up on the streets. Whilst looking for work, benefits provide an income to help people survive. If someone is unable to work, the welfare system can help cover the basic necessities of living.

4.0 Young People

4.1 BCHA support hundreds of young people every year with housing, learning and work programmes. With the proposed removal of benefits for young people BCHA is concerned that providers won’t be able to support young people until there is a commitment that housing costs will be met. This situation can only lead to more people being held in B&Bs or an increase in young people’s homelessness and sofa surfing. BCHA is already aware of an escalation in the use of B&Bs and in one Local Authority it has been reported that it currently has 40 young people in B&Bs. This is unacceptable and the knock on effects and additional costs for health and wellbeing is high. A B&B is an expensive and short term solution.

4.2 This situation will be further exacerbated by the potential removal of Housing Benefits from young people. Further problems will be caused in moving young people onto independent living if not eligible for Housing Benefits, with an overall impact of preventing the system from working. Homeless Link reported that over the past five years there has been a 37% increase in the cost of renting a home privately, this is more than twice as fast as income and they further report that termination of private tenancies accounts for 29% of households becoming homeless [2] .

5.0 Benefit Cap

5.1 BCHA is a large provider of single persons’ accommodation; the biggest risks identified were the JSA sanctions (particularly for young people and those with mental health issues) and the requirement for working age claimants to pay a proportion of Council Tax. Both will severely impact on the ability of residents to pay their rent and result in more evictions.

5.2 BCHA is also seeing a rise in challenges and delays with Housing Benefit agreeing service charges. This can also result in potential evictions and closures of services.

6.0 Back to work

6.1 BCHA believes and supports proposals already submitted from the National Housing Federation that Housing Associations are well placed to support people in social housing into sustainable employment, forming part of the longer term solution to meet the Government aims.

6.2 One of the main strategic priorities for BCHA is getting people back to work which echo’s the aims of the new Government. Even though BCHA are a small orgnaisation, in 2014 they supported over 890 people achieve a qualification, enter into employment or volunteer through the BCHA social enterprise.

6.3 BCHA has strong relationships with their residents, understand the local areas they operate in and have already established many strong relationships and partnerships to support employment opportunities for residents.

7.0 Summary

7.1 BCHA supports the overall aims the Government want to accomplish in helping to achieve a more sustainable welfare system and increase employment. BCHA welcomes the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the committee for any further investigations.

7.2 In summary:

· The information provided to date on Housing benefits for young people has been too broad. BCHA requests that clarification is provided urgently, in order to fully understand and report back on the impacts this will have on customers.

· Clarify whether exempt status in relation to Universal Credit will remain into the medium term.

· Provide further details on the proposals to limit or end benefit entitlement to the under 25’s.

· Look at providing direct contracts to Housing Associations for employment schemes.

· Provide detail on what housing stock the 1% rent reductions will apply to in order to avoid having to look at closing specialist or supported housing services that support vulnerable customers.

· Support the proposal from Homeless Link and the National Housing Federation for social rent, services charges (fixed and variable) to be excluded.

8.0 References


[1] http://homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-downloads/Value%20of%20the%20homeless%20sector.pdf

[2] Homeless Link Publication ‘Lets make the Difference – A manifesto to end homelessness’2014

[2]

[2]

[2] October 2015

Prepared 20th October 2015