Thursday, 30 October 2014

Homeless granted shared room rate exemption

The government has granted some homeless people an exemption from controversial housing benefit changes.

In regulations laid before parliament yesterday the government revealed that it had bowed to lobbying from the homelessness sector over plans to reduce housing benefit payments to people under the age of 35. The regulations revealed that people who have lived in homeless hostels for at least three months will be exempt from the changes.

The changes follow last year’s announcement from the coalition government that it would raise the age – from 25 to 35 - at which it would pay single people enough to cover the cost of renting a one-bedroom flat. Instead they will be given enough money to rent a room in a shared house.

The changes to the shared room rate, which is lower than all other housing benefit payments, will be introduced in January 2012.

The government claims the change will save up to £215 million by 2014/15.

Homelessness charities had warned that the new rules would have a negative impact on people who were moving out of hostels as they took the first steps to independent living. St Mungo’s estimated the change would affect a quarter of its 1,500 residents who might not find it easy to share because of poor mental or physical health.

But Tuesday’s regulation change revealed that a person would be exempted if he or she had ‘for a total of at least three months (whether or not continuously), occupied as his home one or more hostels for homeless people’. While living in the hostel the benefit claimant would also have to have ‘been offered and has accepted support services with a view to assisting him to be rehabilitated or resettled within the community’.

Homelessness charities welcomed the exemption but said they were disappointed the government had not granted more exceptions – or dropped the plans altogether.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: ‘We are very disappointed that the coalition has forged ahead with this pernicious cut in the face of mounting evidence that there is simply not enough shared accommodation available and with no indication of where the tens of thousands of people affected are meant to live.

‘We are pleased that the government has recognised some of our concerns that shared accommodation is completely inappropriate for formerly homeless people.

‘It is baffling, however, that they can’t see that the same is true for other vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities or mental health problems, those fleeing domestic violence or parents who need to have their children to stay.’

The regulations laid before parliament also revealed that ex-offenders who pose a serious risk to the public, such as sex offenders, will be exempt from the change.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Melvin Bone

    www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/consult-supported-housing.pdf

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  • They seem to miss the big picture and don't understand what will be the consequences of the changes in the SAR come January 2012. But even with these amendments we need some clarification

    1 Is it retrospective, i.e. people housed over the past 7 or 8 years from supported housing directly into the PRS who are under 35 will they be exempt?

    2. What is the definition of hostel accommodation in this case; nightshelters or more general supported housing, supported lodgings

    3. Similar to point 1, would the 3 months or more in hostel accommodation need to be immediately prior to moving into the PRS or at any time before?

    4. What about Rough Sleepers

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  • Melvin Bone

    Have a look your self:

    www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/1736/introduction/made

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  • Although small changes welcome - they are very small and i shudder to think of the the additional paperwork that agencies will have to provide in order to make sure their clients get the benefit.

    Then there is the issue of having to disclose that a client is subject to a multi-agency agreement ...... such clients are often very difficult to house in the first place even when only a few people have needed to be aware of their background.

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  • Re exemptions ... how do they define 'homeless hostel' and 'resettlement support' and how do you evidence this to your local benefit office? I would expect they would use Supporting People funding as the yardstick, which is interesting given the number of SP funded schemes that are currently being decommissioned!

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  • Joe Halewood

    Only just seen this on here and the title is very misleading.

    There is no real exemption for hostel dwellers at all and i copy my blog below from August after the 'exemptions' were officially released to show the real consequences of this governments lack of exemption and what it will mean.

    "I have blogged on here that the changes the DWP wishes to impose on exempt and supported accommodation (ESA) rents are wrong and will have negative consequences particularly for hostels and refuges.

    An update to other proposed HB reforms was issued yesterday, by way of an Explanatory Note, concerning the move from under-25s to under-35s now getting the shared room rate and not the 1 bed rate. This made two exemptions to this change these being (some) rough sleepers in limited circumstances and to high-end ex-offenders such as arsonists and sex offenders covered by MAPPA.

    These exemptions cast some light and strong inference on those who will be exempted from the DWP move from ESA rent to LHA-based rent, and of course who won’t be exempted.

    Those single people who won’t be exempted and we must assume only be guaranteed the shared room rate of LHA in the future include the following:

    1. Single women fleeing domestic violence and abuse
    2. Offenders not covered by MAPPA arrangements (ie the less serious ex-offenders)
    3. Single homeless persons with no offending history
    4. Single homeless persons aged under-35
    - And many others

    All of the above tend to inhabit hostel and refuge and receive ESA rent which averages £184 according to the DWP research paper. Note that as they are entitled to this under current law that is HB regulations, then payment of this is a mandatory entitlement. They will in the future receive the shared room rate of LHA which ranges nationally from about £55pw in the West Midlands to £79pw in Brighton in the South East. (The London rate is £124.)

    So excepting the London rate the client groups mentioned above including a single woman fleeing domestic violence and abuse will receive less than 50% of their rent. That is all they will be guaranteed under the DWP imposed LHA replacement plans. Rather than discuss emotive arguments that a serious sex offender has more chance of accommodation than a single woman fleeing violence and abuse, however valid a reality that is, let us look at the implications and the consequences of this policy.

    A refuge provider will have little choice but to change policy and not admit any single women without children fleeing violence and abuse. This is because such clients only attract between £55 and £79 in rent payments against a rent of £184. Even if the DWP decide to replacement ESA rent with LHA+25% – one of the options – then they still ‘attract’ a rent benefit of between £69 and £99 and this is still woefully short of the rent figure of £184.

    What this paper does is replace a mandatory entitlement that is based on very transparent and actual costing with one that is on average at £67pw a whopping 64% less than is now paid. As an aside imagine if this was applied to all single persons in ESA and we would see pensioners all having to find extra money each week to put towards rent and the outrageousness of this imposition from DWP in put in context.

    I’m sure many will say that the young single people are mostly miscreants that riot and why should we care that ex-offenders aren’t given another handout from the state and similar arguments that NIMBY client groups often attract. But as we can see this affects only the least dangerous ex-offenders and the serious offenders are better looked after, AND critically single women fleeing violence and abuse – the antithesis of a NIMBY client group – will have nowhere to go.

    The DWP expect or rather hope that local authorities will decide to top up this LHA replacement for single women fleeing violence and abuse. Aside from this being ‘localism’ in action it flatly contradicts one of the key drivers for the change to LHA that the DWP attempt to make in the consultation paper.

    The last bullet point at 11 entitled “The need for Reform” states:-

    • It is costly to many local authorities who often have to meet some of the Housing Benefit costs for expensive properties themselves.

    Well it’s a hell of a lot more costly to local authorities in this DWP imposed solution!

    Further this is imposing a 66% on average reduction to a mandatory benefit entitlement and replacing it with a ‘hope’ or expectation that local government tops this up with some discretionary funding.

    This recycling of the chopping of ESA rents is the purported funding for this ‘discretionary’ top-up system for local government. So all the 64% reductions they take off single people are to be given to local government to decide who should receive them. I return now to the 4 client groups listed earlier in this paper:

    1. Single women fleeing domestic violence and abuse
    2. Offenders not covered by MAPPA arrangements (ie the less serious ex-offenders)
    3. Single homeless persons with no offending history
    4. Single homeless persons aged under-35

    None of the above client groups is likely to have care funding or be part of a mandatory duty for a local authority. Yet some others will including all of the ‘supported living’ model of care clients such as those with learning disabilities or mental health issues. Deserving groups of course but that is not the issue. If local authorities pay these groups that they have mandatory spend duties for more in housing payments, it reduces the amount of care funding from existing LA care budgets they have to put in.

    Are LA commissioners going to fund those they have mandatory duties to support and care or are they going to use this recycled ESA HB to fund discretionary client groups such as single women fleeing violence or NIMBY groups? That’s a rhetorical question of course as the funding will be use for mandatory spend client groups and NOT on single women fleeing violence or single groups entering homeless hostels and foyers.

    The result is inevitable and hostel and refuge provision will close, or more correctly will be forced to close as it will be chronically underfunded"

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