Tackling arrears in homeless hostel
30/08/2011 3:54 pm
I am new to the Hostel I am working in, but have previous experience of working in hostels.
From my viewpoint, the hostel has a huge turnover of residents through evictions due to rent arrears. Much of the arrears are from non-payment of personal top-up amount. This is the fee not covered by Housing Benefit.
I have spoken to the staff and it seems that the only option to pay the top-up fee is by cash. No direct debits, bank transfers, cheques or direct payments. The residents with addictions cannot produce the cash because as soon as the money is in their hand it is spent to feed their habits. Many of the staff believe that paying top-up should be at least one of the responsibilities that residents should have. I agree residents should have responsibility, but this system is not working. The business is loosing money and people are being evicted.
I have spoke to residents and they would like to have different payment methods offered. Some are asking that direct debits or direct deductions from benefits be available.
I spoke again with staff and they said it was not possible as the accounting structure was not able to provide this function. Surely as part of 'client empowerment' we should be offering different ways to pay? If my landlord said 'cash only' I would suspect he was up to no good, and be quite offended by it.
I would like to see that if a client has been assessed as needing financial support, we could offer the service of direct deductions through their benefits. They could choose to accept this or decline depending on their preferences. If they choose to accept, then during a review of support we could discuss if they feel they could manage their topup and come off direct deductions.
I really think this would reduce the cycle of new residents quickly running up arrears, being evicted and little support achieved. I think if we can secure their accomodation it will give us that extra time to deliver meaningful support.
I don't know where to go from here as the Hostel doesn't seem interested, the residents are desperate for change and I can see the problem clearly.
So I am seeking the advice and opinion of experts because I don't know if this is actually legal or how else I can help?
Sort: Newest first | Oldest first
30/08/2011 4:24 pm
Your bosses are right. Claimants with addiction problems are not daft. Just addicts. They know when their money is coming into their accounts and they will withdraw it that same day. No opportunity for a direct debit. Maybe if they lower the fees so that HB DOES cover the costs they'd be ok.
30/08/2011 4:26 pm
I'd like to see this question put directly to Shapps - is there any chance of making it the next item in his Ministerial proclaimation to Inside Housing piece (which must be fairly due soon)
30/08/2011 5:01 pm
Many options - yet residents have to accept their responsibilities too - and like all tenants in the real world if you dont pay you lose your accommodation.
Put another way - if a hostel resident is unable to pay his or her rent because of other 'priorities' (addiction or any other) then they are not ready for independent living. They will go from hostel to hostel via sofa surfing or via rough sleeping until they learn this lesson and its a lesson that they have to learn.
In that regard paying for a roof over their heads has to be support issue number 1. Its not harsh in any way its reality and they cannot get any real support for other matters such as addiction if they dont have the stability of a safe and secure roof over their heads.
31/08/2011 11:15 am
Fully understand your frustrations about rent payments. We have used the direct deduction from benefits method which does work and residents we have worked with in the past have opted for this method, although it was not one that we offered either, but we did it to ensure the income. It does take a little while to set up, but I found it was the benefits agency that were the slow coaches and rent would be paid a bit in arrears, but it was always paid. You just have to be very cute about the start date of Licence and end dates due to the fact that we can evict within 24 hours or on a NTQ and the benefits agency take a bit of time to sort this out. We currently have nobody on direct deductions, but if they request it then we would ensure that it is set up. We do not work with a lot of long-term addicts so this may make it a bit easier for us to collect rent. What we also found in reducing the amount of debt, is the introduction of a part-time Rent Officer whose sole responsibility is to ensure payments and has direct regular contact to talk about budgeting and payments, and this seems to work.
Options have to be given to people, or are we supporting them or just there to ensure they pay their way?
31/08/2011 11:26 am
"They need to lower there charges so LHA covers the cost."
LHA is set at the '30th' percentile. This means that only the the lowest priced 30% of the rented property market in an area is used to work out the amount that people are eligible for.
Hostels, whether supported or not, have to have staff of some sort, they needs cleaners and maintainence people and so on. Now put this into context; I have a lodger who lives in my home. His rent is £63 per week, a rate set based on the old system of LHA. The current rate of LHA is £53. Under this new system, if he were on benefit he would have to fund the extra £10 out of his JSA.
So, given that LHA in my area at least doesnt even cover the cost of an average unsupported room, how on earth could it cover the cost of running a large homelessness project!?