All posts from: May 2012
When a government minister hails an agreement his department has thrashed out with trade bodies as a ‘step in the right direction’ it doesn’t fill you with confidence.
There are some clear benefits in the code of practice Norman Lamb and his colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have agreed with the four trade associations representing the bulk of payday lenders.
In particular moves to improve transparency and freeze charges and interest when customers get into problems are welcome. But is it really going to make a difference?
It is hard to see why we need payday lenders at all. If you haven’t been able to buy something you want from your salary one month, you are unlikely to be able to buy it the next month, so you should probably go without.
In situations where people are really in need of short-term financial help to meet genuine need there are alternative ways to get hold of cash, with credit unions being the most obvious example.
If the government really wants to protect people from short-term lenders it should be looking for much tougher regulation, or to abolish payday lending altogether.
The biggest round of applause at this morning’s welfare conference was reserved for a peer, but it wasn’t Lord Freud.
Instead Baroness Patricia Hollis, Labour peer and chair of Broadland Housing, got the audience on her side with her eloquent summary of the impact the welfare reform minister’s bedroom tax would have on struggling tenants.
She wasn’t the first audience member during the National Housing Federation conference question and answer session to try to impress on the minister the impact his policy changes will have on the ground.
Another delegate highlighted the case of a 56-year-old woman, currently surviving on £71 a week, who faces a £15 cut in council tax support, and a further £11 cut as a result of the bedroom tax. How could this woman survive on £45 a week, with £20 of fuel payments, the minister was asked. And how could she afford the removal costs, in the unlikely event that a one bedroom bungalow for her could be found?
His answer was that the government is making funding available through discretionary housing payments, and that it is up to housing associations to handle particular cases. He talked about the benefits of using housing stock as efficiently as possible, ‘don’t forget we are chronically short of housing in this country’ he remarked at one point, somewhat unnecessarily.
Then he talked some more. ‘He’s mumbling now, he doesn’t have an answer,’ muttered my neighbour. Others were more vocal: ‘Cut the crap and own up’, a voice from the back of the room demanded.
The minister continued to try to defend the under-occupation penalty on the grounds that it would encourage better use of stock, an argument even chair NHF chief executive David Orr dismissed as a ‘ruse’ to divert attention from the true money saving aim.
Whether Lord Freud believes his own spin or not didn’t become clear. What was obvious was that if he was in any doubt about the view of the housing sector about the bedroom tax before the conference, he wouldn’t have been so afterwards.
Protestors outside the building delivered the message before he even got through the door, and Mr Orr noted: ‘I would imagine there are some people here who would have some sympathy with the people waving leaflets outside.’ The openly hostile reaction from the audience should have confirmed what Lord Freud already knew.
On 19 April 1976 an individual put their name down for housing in Hammersmith and Fulham. They’re still waiting.
The council won’t say any more about who this person is, for confidentiality reasons, but they have said the person has been on the waiting list for 36 years.
For the council this little fact illustrates that the current allocations system – where anyone can go on the waiting list regardless of need – needs to be scrapped.
A draft housing strategy going before the council’s cabinet next week proposes a radical overhaul of housing allocation and tenancy management. Gone is choice-based letting, and a guarantee of social housing for homeless families.
Instead you will have to meet priority need categories just to go on the list, and successful applicants will be offered a choice of ‘housing options’ including social housing, accommodation in the private rented sector, or low-cost homeownership.
If households don’t fancy the ‘offer’ then they’ll drop down the priority scale.
In common with other councils who are reviewing their allocation policies, H&F is looking to favour those in work, people with a local connection, ex-armed forces, and foster carers. It’ll offer five year tenancies to most, but two-years for the young, or anti-social, or anyone who is going into a property the landlord might want to sell.
It is also planning to set an income threshold of £40,200 for social housing (the angle picked up in today’s Times), and potentially shift homeless households out of London (which the Guardian covered when it got hold of a leaked – but accurate – version of the papers a couple of weeks ago).
The newspapers are interested in this one because it is H&F, which is seen as a hotbed of Conservative Party policy development, especially on housing. Its departing leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, has just been appointed as London mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy for policing.
But the reality is there isn’t much that is unusual in what H&F is up to. It’s plans are pretty similar to those being considered in Wandsworth, Barnet, Richmond, or a host of other councils in London and beyond.
It’s quite noticeable that having been given the freedom to manage their own allocation policies, councils seem to be coming to very similar conclusions about the best way to do this.
That could be because the answer is obvious, and they’ve all seen it, or it could be because central government has given quite a clear line about how it sees allocations reform, and councils are beginning to understand that localism doesn’t mean quite what they thought it did.
Either way it’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Will these new policies really result in people getting the housing that is best suited to their needs? Or is this just a very complicated way of disguising the fact that there aren’t enough homes?
Perhaps that person who has been on the H&F waiting list since 1976 knows the answer. Please get in touch if it is you.