Wednesday, 01 October 2014

People, not cash

From: What's the benefit?

Grahame Hindes, chief executive of Octavia Housing, outlines why he supports the What’s the Benefit? campaign for fairer reforms to the housing benefit bill.

A great deal of rubbish has been written since the budget about the proposed caps on housing benefit.  Reading much of it you would think that it was a system designed by imbeciles and prayed upon by the feckless. Neither is true. While the costs of the current system are significant and short term savings can be made by limiting benefits the simple fact is that in doing so there is a whole group of decent people, with real local connections and close community ties who have been affected for some genuine reason of homelessness that are about to see their lives turned over.

Octavia Housing supports Kensington and Chelsea with a scheme that houses a minority of those accepted as homeless each year in private leased properties in the borough.  But it is at a cost. There has been pressure on the system for a long time and the inner London authorities have all responded conscientiously to government pressure over the last few years to minimise costs. In fact the current housing benefit cost is in part a product of the last Government’s focus on reducing the numbers in Bed and Breakfast which has been unmatched by sufficient funding to build new homes. There is so little in the way of development opportunities in Central London that the use of the private sector has been the only realistic route.  Even so many of those that are accepted as homeless are already housed outside the borough but the current legislation recognises that some families genuinely need to be housed locally. And accommodation in central London is expensive. Indeed it was just two years ago that Westminster Council were in the High Court seeking judicial review against Labour proposals to reduce the levels of Local Housing Allowance in Inner London. How times have changed.

The simple fact is that behind the tabloid headlines with their usual mix of a mite of truth and a large dollop of spin lies the reality of more complicated stories of people with lives in inner London, many of whom feel they are being driven out of areas such as Notting Hill by the incoming affluent classes.

And if the human stories are not sufficient cause for reflection and perhaps a slowing down of the rush for reform, then perhaps the economic consequences are also worth thinking about.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the rich inner boroughs of London that at a time of austerity should be bearing their share of some of the costs of homelessness related social provision.  To suggest that exporting a significant number of the poorest families from inner London where the cost may be higher but the systems are in place to manage them, and replace this approach by increasing the social deprivation in some of the poorer outskirts,  is short sighted.  There really is a benefit in mixed communities and central London can, and should, take its fair share of those in most housing need.

In the current cost cutting environment where gestures of savings seem to be what count then change may be inevitable.  But let’s please show some compassion in making the change. This is about people as well as well as cash.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Melvin Bone

    The ones given the biggest reality check being Housing Associations ...

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  • Can i endorse the sentiments behind this article and expand its remit and to include wider afield than London. Tennats are Taxpayers to.
    There is a general belief that tenants equal Full Housing Benefit. If you take those tenants who don't want to be on any benefits at all, Shared Owners who have not bought their properties outright, and tenant's on partial HB the picture is very different. So when we refer to the poor in our society we must also potentially include those trying to escape relative poverty.
    When we talk about reform of Social Housing provision this affects far more people than at first thought. If we genuinely are going to talk about reform then let us not get hung up on the HB issue and lets talk about genuine reform.
    Home Ownership can be an aspiration for tenants who currently rent their properties but if they do not have the income to move forward to at least aspire to Shared Ownership why penalise them if they want to rent their property? Why insist on Home Ownership as the only answer? Make the Private Rented Sector much more flexible than it is now as in Europe and to some extent in the US as well if we want to support genuine tenant mobility?
    I say to Chief Execs, the Government and to Tenants Groups be careful about pushing too hard on financial issues only within the sector. Given the current financial climate RSL's will have to give a little on being the best performers for their Income Collection to avoid their customers resorting to bankruptcy as the only way out of their problems.
    Salutory lesson. I tried to warn the Board of Directors I was on as a Cutomer Representative about inadequate bad debt provision for Shared Owners. The we had the banking crisis!!

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From What's the benefit?

The blog for our What’s the Benefit? campaign, which is calling on the government to find a fairer way to reduce the £21 billion housing benefit bill than its current proposals.

Isabel Hardman writes about

housing benefit, welfare

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