Private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s, says the Chartered Institute of Housing

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) recently carried out research into the gap between rents in the private rented sector and what Local Housing Allowance (LHA) will pay.

LHA is based on the 30th centile of the range rents charged in the private rented sector. Except it isn’t. That was how it was supposed to be (having previously been reduced from there 50th centile). In fact, the level of payment has been frozen for three years and will be frozen until 2019/20. LHA no longer reflects in any way the reality of rents in a locality.

In Brighton and Hove the rates are £82.66 for a room in a shared house, £153.02 for a one bed flat, £192.48 for a two bed property. The average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is now £971 per month compared to LHA of £612.08 for the same period.

In Eastbourne the rates are £67.00, £116.53 and £151.50, and in Hastings £69.77, £92.06 and £120.29. (There are higher rates for 3 and 4 properties).

It is worse for you if you are under 35 where you are restricted to claiming LHA for just a room in a shared house.

And if you think it is bad for under 35s, it is EVEN worse for those under 21 for whom the rate is zero (unless you are ‘lucky’ enough to qualify for one of several exemptions – merely being a rough sleeper is not enough).

So what has the CIH found? It has found that the gap between LHA and rents has widened to the point where private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the senior civil servant responsible for housing policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, Darrell Smith, said that the government is now going to use LHA rates to set new, lower rents for specialist supported housing. Why? Because it is such a good barometer for the market? No. He said: “The one advantage of (LHA rates) is that they are already there, so it doesn’t cost the government anything to set it up. I know”, he continued, “that isn’t a great answer but that’s all I have got”.

BHT housing advisers, together with Eastbourne CAB, expose scam preying on those in housing need

A scam preying on people desperate for housing in the private rented sector which they can afford has been exposed by staff at BHT’s Advice Centres in Eastbourne, Hastings and Brighton, and colleagues at Citizens Advice in Eastbourne.

The criminals behind the scheme offer accommodation for rent and request a deposit up front, usually for several hundred Pounds, before the individual has seen the property. The property doesn’t exist, and the criminals and the deposits are not seen again.

My colleague, Veronica Tomlin from our Eastbourne Advice Centre, explained to me how the scam works:

“Mainly in papers like the Friday-Ad and Gumtree, ads showing one bed flats for a low amount of around the £450 mark normally, although they are starting to up the price on ones in Brighton, all furnished looking like show homes. They don’t show the outside of course, as it isn’t real, and some don’t show pictures at all.

“A lot of the email addresses are hard to track. In the beginning it was possible to track the IP address and we could see they were coming from America but any Hotmail addresses which are widely used do not show the original IP address. Therefore we cannot track them. We have picked up scams in Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton and as far as Bristol in their Friday-Ad equivalent called Trade-it.”

Veronica and her colleagues emailed and received the same wording of two different types, which makes them easy to pick up as frauds.  They have also had back the same names on some of them. Veronica said: “Once we receive the email, we report them and get the ad removed. Some of the obvious ones we get removed straight away without emailing them as they are quite easy to spot.

“Our clients are quite vulnerable and we don’t want them to fall into the trap of giving a deposit to these people, only to never see their money again, so it is important for us to get to them first.”

Our advice to people is to ask for three things and check them out for yourself. Even then we can’t guarantee everything is above board.

That there is an address and a picture of the outside of the property so you can actually go and see it

Make sure that the ‘landlord’ gives you a phone number and their address

Ask whether they are a member of a respectable and recognised body (such as the Southern Landlords Association) and of a rent deposit scheme.

Sometimes people question the value of advice services, but they not only resolve individual crises, prevent homelessness and help people into accommodation, they prevent people being ripped off, and they prevent the humiliation and hardship that scams like this cause.

This story is being covered by BBC South East at 6.30pm this evening (Monday 24th August 2015).

Big Lottery Fund £9.2 million grant to improve services for local people with multiple needs

This week the Big Lottery Fund announced that a partnership led by BHT has been awarded £9.2 million to enhance and improve services across East Sussex for people with multiple and complex needs.

The Fulfilling Lives: Supporting people with multiple needs initiative, aims to bring together organisations that tackle issues of homelessness, mental ill health, addiction and offending  to improve the stability, confidence and capability of people who are affected by some or all of these issues, and to enable them to lead better lives.

Four key areas have been identified as the focus of the programme:

  • improving service delivery,
  • ensuring flexibility,
  • ensuring involvement from service beneficiaries, and
  • sharing learning.

The eight year programme will create better systems and services across Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings to meet the needs of this target group.

BHT led the bid on behalf of the South East Regional Partnership consisting of twelve core partners from local authorities and the charity sector, service users, and sixty other partners, and will now be responsible for delivering the programme between 2014 and 2022.

My BHT colleague, Nikki Homewood, said: “New ways of working and the learning gained from this, will achieve long-lasting improvements to individuals’ lives and services, and how resources are spent. People who use services will have greater involvement in the planning and delivery of the services they receive. We are confident that our project will be instrumental in bringing about both positive outcomes for some of society’s most vulnerable men and women, and significant systems change to ensure the programme’s legacy lives on long after the end of the 8 years.”

Nat Sloane, Big Lottery Fund England Chair, has said that “Tens of thousands of people are passed from pillar to post with many inevitably leading chaotic lives – rebounding in and out of A & E departments and criminal courts rather than being helped by integrated support services. This £112 million investment will allow people to become assets rather than drains on society and go on to lead fulfilling lives benefitting their communities and society as a whole.”

Jason Mahoney, Programme Manager – Joint Commissioning at East Sussex County Council, one of the core partners, said: “I’m involved with services in East Sussex for people experiencing homelessness, reoffending, substance misuse and mental ill health every day. Most of the time, these services help most of their clients really well. And sometimes – often for people with the most complex needs – something else is needed. A different approach. A new way of working. Perhaps more flexibility. Perhaps better integration, or some other additional support.

“The Big Lottery Fund Fulfilling Lives programme is a fantastic opportunity to try new things. I’m excited about the potential for people in Eastbourne and Hastings. Local organisations are leading an ambitious programme to learn more about helping people with multiple and complex needs to get the right support. The people who benefit will be at the core of what we do. Local commissioners are committed to sustaining the benefits of the programme. What we learn will inform and influence our future commissioning plans as we develop services for local people.”

This is fantastic news for BHT (even though we will be getting just a small fraction of the total fund), for our partners (who will receive the bulk of the funding), and most of all the men and women who will benefit from the programme.

Do I support measures to tackle under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing? Yes. Do I support the Bedroom Tax ….?

In a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI in November 2013, 78% of respondents said they thought it important to tackle under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing. In comparison, just 14% disagreed, with a further 9% undecided.

The polling found that 54% agreed that it is fair that people of working age, who live in social housing, should receive less housing benefit if they have more bedrooms than they need.

I was surprised the results were as low as 78% and 54%.  I was amazed that as many as 14% did not support measures to tackle under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing.  It seems to me to be a no-brainer.

Does this mean I support measures to reduce the spare bedroom subsidy, better known as the bedroom tax?  My answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.  Put very simplistic, any one measure taken in isolation, doesn’t always stack up to scrutiny:

  • Are there the smaller homes in social housing to move to? Rarely.
  • Will the public purse benefit from people moving from the social housing to private rented accommodation? Probably not.
  • Will there be waste if people have to move from ‘under occupied’ homes that have been specially adapted for those with disabilities? Probably yes.
  • Are all homes designated as being under-occupied really under-occupied? Certainly not when you consider children of opposite gender having to share for longer.

The argument has become too simplistic on both sides.  The Ipsos MORI poll has been used as evidence by the DWP that various welfare reform measures, including the spare room subsidy, have public support.  Opponents of the bedroom tax cite another poll, a ComRes poll conducted in September that showed public opinion was “shifting further against the policy as new evidence reveals the bedroom tax is pushing many vulnerable and disabled people into debt”.

The ComRes poll found 79% of people who intend to vote Labour in the next election believe the Government should abandon the bedroom tax, and more than a third (34%) of people who intend to vote Conservative in the next election say that the government should abandon the bedroom tax entirely and think of other ways to save money.  The poll found that opposition to the bedroom tax had grown to 59% of the general public agreeing the bedroom tax should be abandoned (up from 51% in April).

The impact of the bedroom tax on some households (many of which I doubt are under-occupying) can be huge.  The average loss per household per annum in some local areas are:

  • Brighton and Hove: £778.15 (1,337 households)
  • Eastbourne: £776.98 (473 households)
  • Wealden: £859.91 (340 households)
  • Lewes: £778.16 (282 households)

One of the failings of social media is to pose questions in absolute terms such as: “Yes or no: do you support changes to the bedroom tax / spare room subsidy?”  I find it hard to answer.

Yet, do I think that it is important to tackle under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing? Absolutely, yes!  But let’s first get the analysis and solutions right.

(PS: I hope we don’t need to debate terminology on this occasion.  Just like the Community Charge was better known as the Poll Tax, the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ is widely accepted, even by a few government ministers).

Note: Added on 1st January 2014: Impact on households in other localities in Sussex

  • Adur: £802.79 (251 households)
  • Arun: £899.33 (451 households)
  • Chichester: £945.43 (488 households)
  • Crawley: £971.82 (818 households)
  • Horsham: £973.56 (360 households)
  • Mid Sussex: £979.93 (277 households)
  • Rother: £875.88 (362 households)
  • Worthing: £929.15 (319 households)

 

Good news as BHT-led partnership is given the go-ahead to bid for £9.2 million Big Lottery funding

We have had some very good news this week which is attracting some media interest.  A consortium, being led by BHT, is in the running for funding from the Big Lottery of up to £10 million over 8 years.  The initiative is designed to improve services for men and women with complex needs (a combination of mental ill health, homelessness, offending behaviour and substance misuse problems) in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. Between now and September, a full bid and business plan needs to be prepared.  A decision will then be made by the Big Lottery and the new services will begin from April 2014.

The purpose of this funding is to bring about lasting change in how services work with people with multiple and complex needs; this funding is a vehicle to help bring about that change. The legacy of the 8 year programme will be that systems and services in all 3 geographical areas will better meet the needs of this group.

At this stage we have been awarded funding to develop the bid on behalf of our partnership which includes partners in local government and in the third / charity sectors.  Should the partnership be successful, it won’t just be BHT staff (contrary to what the Argus reported this morning) who will provide services.

My colleagues, Nikki Homewood and Jo Berry, are leading on this initiative for BHT. Nikki said: “As the lead partner for the Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings area, BHT is thrilled to receive funding to develop our partnership bid to ensure better service provision for people with the most complex needs.

“Using the wealth of knowledge and expertise within our local Core Group, comprising seven voluntary sector organisations and five statutory partners including commissioners, along with the 60+ organisations in our Partnership Group, we will develop a programme that will truly bring about change for the clients the programme work with, and local communities.

“Our vision is to bring about long-term systemic change by putting service users at the heart of services, fully understanding what they need in order to move forward with their lives: thorough monitoring and evaluation will result in well-evidenced findings, which will then be used to influence future commissioning.”

BHT’s partners in this initiative, and who are represented on the local Core Group, include: Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton Women’s Centre, CRI, East Sussex County Council, Eastbourne Borough Council, Hastings Borough Council, Homeless Link, Sanctuary Supported Living, Southdown Housing Association, Sussex Oakleaf, Sussex Probation Service

Seeking advice at the earliest possible time can save a huge amount of time, added complications and worry

We can’t pick up the newspapers these days without hearing about the struggle ordinary people have in making ends meet. Inflation is up again, fuel bills are causing huge anxiety, and many households going ow having to cope with the additional cost of Christmas.

Where households are getting into financial difficulties it is important that they get advice at the earliest possible time.

I’ve recently been told that our Eastbourne Advice Centre is seeing an increase in the number of people who are delaying seeking advice until their situation is at a critical point.

My colleague, Sue Hennell,  BHT’s Advice Services Manager  in East Sussex  told me  that it is very common for people to feel unable to face up to the growing difficulties if at all possible.  She said that it is never too late to get advice but that her advice is not to delay if at all possible.  Early advice can save a huge amount of time, added complications and worry.

Sue told me: “In over 80% of housing cases, we either prevent homelessness or achieve other positive outcomes such as sorting out disrepair and helping with finding accommodation.”

Here is an example of a client, John (not his real name) who we have helped. John was a client of our Eastbourne Advice Centre and knows first-hand how important it is to get advice as soon as possible. He said: “I came to the advice centre because I was unemployed and six months behind on my mortgage payments. I had left it and left it and eventually it got so bad that the mortgage company applied to the County Court for a Warrant of Possession.

“I thought that I would lose my home and couldn’t see a way out of it.

“I went to see an adviser at BHT Sussex and they realised I had not been receiving a state pension or pension credits. They were able to adjourn the hearing for 6 weeks and make an application for the state pension and pension credits.

“I received a backdated payment which allowed me to pay off my mortgage arrears and I was then able to pay my mortgage each month with the on-going payments.

“I had spent the last six months worrying about losing my home and wondering what I was going to do. Early advice would have prevented all of this worry and stress. I should have sought advice as soon as the problem started.”

BHT Sussex Eastbourne Advice has recently moved to share an office with Citizens Advice Bureau, Eastbourne. The co-location of the two advice agencies has resulted in a ‘one stop shop’ for advice in Eastbourne.

Click here for contact details of our advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

Meeting housing need requires cross-authority co-operation in Sussex

Martin Randall, head of planning and public protection at Brighton and Hove City Council, has called on neighbouring authorities, including the South Downs National Park Authority, to help the region meet housing need.  I think Martin is absolutely right.  The National Housing Federation has said that the number of new homes needed in East Sussex alone is set to increase from 354,600 in 2012 to 434,000 by 2033.

Yet the National Housing Federation has reported that Sussex Councils have reduced their house-building targets for the next 15 years by 43%. In Mid Sussex the target has been reduced from 17,100 to just 10,600.

Neighbouring authorities may not like it, but the Brighton and Hove economy is the powerhouse within the region and the well-being of neighbouring authorities, including Adur, Worthing, Crawley, Lewes, Mid Sussex and others, depend on a balance provision of housing and jobs across all authorities.

Eastbourne Borough Council deserves praise, having increased its target from 4,800 new homes to 5,022, and Worthing which has maintained its 4,000 target.

Brighton and Hove, under successive administrations, has had vision regarding the provision of housing, its economic success and that of the sub region. Far from Brighton and Hove trying to push housing need onto neighbouring areas, as claimed by the leader of Crawley Borough Council, the City Council is doing what it can but wider co-operation is necessary if we are to meet the housing needs of our children and others, and for the ongoing success of the sub regional economy.