Sex-for-accommodation and denying housing benefit to 18-21 year olds

BBC South East has done a great public service by uncovering the sex-for-rent scandal where young people are asked to provide sexual ‘favours’ in return for accommodation. The report on tonight’s programme (13th April) shows the need for a change in the law as this arrangement is not illegal.

Demanding sex for accommodation has not been an uncommon reality for homeless people for many years.

Earlier this month the government withdrew the automatic right of young people aged 18 to 21 to claim housing benefit. While there are some exemptions, up to 11,000 are expected to be affected over the next few years.

That seems like a sensible policy in light of tonight’s exposure ….! What do politicians think young people will do if they can’t get help towards their housing costs?

Special showing of Cathy Come Home 10th October 2016

The iconic film about homelessness in Britain, Cathy Come Home, will be shown at a special screening at the Duke of York cinema, Preston Circus, Brighton, on Monday, 10th October which is World Homelessness Day.

cathy-come-homeCathy Come Home tells the desperate tale of Cathy, who loses her home, husband and eventually her children through the inflexibility of the British 1960’s welfare system. A bleak picture is painted of mid-sixties London, and though realistic the viewer cannot but realise that a political point is being made.

The film, directed by Ken Loach, was first screened as ‘The Wednesday Play’ on BBC 1 in 1966.

This special screening will be raising funds for our Advice Centre in Queen’s Road, Brighton.

My colleague, Nikki Homewood, who is BHT’s Director of Advice and Support Services, said: “Our day centre, First Base, works with the visible homeless – those sleeping on the streets now. The Brighton Advice Centre works with people who are invisible, who you wouldn’t notice, but who are facing homelessness and major disruption to their lives and those of their children.

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Nikki Homewood

“Our Advice Centre prevents several hundred households from becoming homeless each year. Each case of homelessness we prevent saves the local authority £16,000.

“Through our Court Duty Scheme, a service not available to Cathy, we had a 93% success rate over the last year in preventing homelessness for at least 28 days and usually for ever.

“Events such as this screening are so important for the future of our Advice Centre. We receive invaluable funding from Brighton and Hove City Council and the Legal Aid Agency, but BHT still has to invest £200,000 each year into supporting our advice centres in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings.  I dread to think of the consequences if these advice services were not there.

“Advice services prevent homelessness, and without them the invisible people we work with would soon become the visible homeless living on our streets.”

The screening will take place at 6.30pm on Monday 10th October 2016.

We now have our fourteenth housing minister since 1997, and none have got the job done

Last night on the Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio 5 Live I heard a lovely interview with Ed Vaisey who, until Friday, was the only member of the government to have been in the same position since 2010. (Apparently the other three not to have changed role in government – Cameron, Osborn and May – left their respective positions two days earlier!)

Back to Ed Vaisey. Most people won’t have heard of Ed Vaisey. He gave a fascinating insight into the life of a minister up to and including his sacking in Friday. He was warm, funny, self-effacing and accepting of his fate. He said that just the main players tend to be known to the public and that the only time he was ever recognised was after appearing on a programme called the Wright Stuff on Channel 5. I don’t think we have seen the last of someone as talented as him.

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Gavin Barwell MP, the new Minister for Housing and Planning (oh, and also Minister for London)

Longevity in ministerial life, and in one position, led me to think about housing, and the high turnover of housing ministers. Yesterday Gavin Barwell was appointed as the new minister. He is the eleventh housing minister in the thirteen years since I became chief exec of Brighton Housing Trust, and the fourteenth since 1997.

The Conservatives have had five in six years:

  • Grant Shapps June 2010 to September 2012
  • Mark Prisk September 2012 to October 2013
  • Kris Hopkins October 2013 to July 2014
  • Brandon Lewis July 2014 to July 2016
  • Gavin Barwell July 2016 to ?

Labour’s record is no better with nine in thirteen years with some not lasting even a year:

  • Hilary Armstrong 1997 to 1999
  • Nick Raynsford 1999 to 2001
  • Lord Falconer 2001 to 2002
  • Lord Rooker 2002 to 2003
  • Keith Hill 2003 to 2005
  • Yvette Cooper 2005 to January 2008
  • Caroline Flint January 2008 to October 2008
  • Margaret Beckett October 2008 to June 2009
  • John Healey June 2009 to June 2010

With the housing crisis at its worst in living memory (rough sleeping alone has increased by 55% since 2010), wouldn’t it be something if a minister was appointed and told they would stay in the job until they had got the job done rather than housing being the stepping stone in someone’s fabulous (or not so fabulous) career?

BHT’s Learning and Development team wins prestigious business award

I am really pleased that BHT’s Learning and Development team won the Training and Development Award in the Brighton and Hove Independent Business Awards at the weekend.

BHIBA Winnter 2016The ceremony took place in the Bupa Lounge at the Amex Stadium and was presented by Nick Wallis, BBC One Show presenter and Channel 5 reporter.

The award recognised how the team effectively manages the training needs of BHT’s 250 staff across 20 services. Each service has differing client groups with varying needs.

The team also provide an essential service to the wider community through their annual training programme under the guise of BHT Training, which is offering no less than 42 different areas of training in its 2106 / 2017 programme. Do check it out, there’s bound to be something for you.

At BHT we are all proud of the reputation of the Learning & Development team, and the success of the service is largely due to the team’s dedication and hard work. Congratulations to Pascale, Susan, Nicola and Daniel for this great achievement.

To find out more about the great work of the team or to book some of our quality training please click here to visit the BHT Training website.

 

 

 

In light of the housing crisis, the Help to Buy ISA is like a pimple on the bottom of an elephant

Home ownership and renting in Brighton and Hove will remain, indefinitely, beyond the means of most ordinary people, especially those under the age of 35, because of a combination of high house prices, rocketing rents in the private rented sector, and government policy that is costly but ineffective.

The government’s Help to Buy ISA is irrelevant in areas with high housing costs like Brighton and Hove. Very few properties are for sale below the £250,000 cap.

According to the BBC and Zoopla, the average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is £240,000. What hope is there for any household with a child who need something larger? The average 2 bed house is £408,252, the average two bed flat is £338,598.

A report published today by the BBC has shown that very few people can take advantage of the government’s starter homes initiative.

Even if they can take advantage, the maximum they can benefit is just £3,000. That represents a pimple on the bottom of the elephant that is this housing crisis!

It is one thing if a single initiative fails, but there are other measures that are costly but ineffective.

The government’s Starter Homes initiative is equally ineffective in areas like Brighton and Hove. Starter Homes allow discounts for homes in new developments for first time buyers but you will need an income of £60,000 to £70,000 to afford the cheapest new homes coming on the market in the city.

This initiative is costing £4.1 billion and is doing next to nothing to alleviate the housing crisis, does nothing for people in the private rented sector, does not address the obscenity that sees people sleeping rough on the streets of the people, and does nothing for the 23,000 people on the housing waiting list in Brighton and Hove.

The extension of the right to buy to housing association properties will just add to the shortage of homes that are affordable to ordinary people. There is no economic logic, housing imperative, or moral justification to continue with the Right to Buy, let alone extend it.

There are other measures, due to come in from April 2018, will further add the affordability crisis. Rents in social housing will be capped to the Local Housing Allowance – less than 1% of private sector accommodation in Brighton and Hove falls within LHA levels.

Forget shared housing. We will soon be seeing an increase in shared rooms, with total strangers renting beds rather than their own room. We are turning the clock back to the bygone age, one that I never thought we would see again.

The impact of the government’s announcement to restrict housing benefit to the average cost of a room in a shared house for anyone under 35 will make much housing, even in social housing, unaffordable.

BHT’s most recent analysis shows that all the properties that we lease from private landlords and then rent out to people who would otherwise be unable to compete in the housing market, will be unaffordable for anyone under 35.

Even amongst the homes we own, which have rents amongst the very lowest in the city, 57% will be unaffordable.

There will be an ever increasing number of people sleeping rough over the next 5 to 10 years and an increase in the number of people living in overcrowded housing.

The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, it’s justice

(A version of this post was first published in the Brighton and Hove Independent on Friday 26 June 2015)

I’ve been asking people recently what they considered to be the opposite of poverty. The best answer I’ve received is “Justice”.

This week the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, gave a speech in which he said that the “creaking and outdated” justice system in England and Wales is failing society’s poorest.

The BBC has reported that he said that the best legal provision was the preserve of the wealthy, while victims of crime are “badly” let down, and he is seeking a £700m investment in the courts to make better use of technology and speed up trial procedures.

The point has been made many times since his speech that cuts to legal aid has widened that divide. It is not just the victims of crime that are being badly let down. So too are those in debt, those being failed by the Benefits Agency, and those in poor quality housing. Early intervention to prevent homelessness is also denied to many, which ultimately results in more costly Court appearances that could be avoided.

But it is Mr Gove’s first big outing since becoming the Justice Secretary that reminded me of what he regarded as household necessities. The Telegraph reported:

“Over a five-month period between December 2005, and April 2006, he spent more than £7,000 on the semi-detached house, which Mr Gove, 41, and his wife Sarah Vine, a journalist, bought for £430,000 in 2002. Around a third of the money was spent at Oka, an upmarket interior design company established by Lady Annabel Astor, Mr Cameron’s mother-in-law.

“Mr Gove bought a £331 Chinon armchair from there, as well as a Manchu cabinet for £493 and a pair of elephant lamps for £134,50.

“He also claimed for a £750 Loire table – although the Commons’ authorities only allowed him to claim £600 – a birch Camargue chair worth £432 and a birdcage coffee table for £238.50. Other claims in the five-month period included Egyptian cotton sheets from the White Company, a £454 dishwasher, a £639 range cooker, a £702 fridge freezer and a £19.99 Kenwood toaster.

“Mr Gove ….. also charged the taxpayer for eight coffee spoons and cake forks, worth £5.95 each, four breakfast knives and a woven door mat worth £30. A claim for new patio furniture worth £219, including a four-seater bistro dining set, was turned down by Commons officials.”

By contrast, I thought I would repeat something I was told by a colleague.

“The Hastings Furniture Service (HFS) was delivering beds and mattresses to a woman for her and her children who had just been placed in accommodation. The woman was in floods of tears as the beds were delivered and having delivered them and put them in the rooms, the worker from HFS asked the woman if everything was ok, had they done something wrong. Her response: “You brought pillows and duvets, I was only expecting bed frames and mattresses. Having pillows and duvets means I will be able to tuck my children in tonight when they go to bed”.

Exactly how much is a starter pack of REAL necessities? The starter pack is approximately £60. A starter pack with 3 beds, cooker, fridge freezer, bedding, the whole kit & caboodle to make a house a home for a family is just over £800.

A relatively small amount of money makes a HUGE differences to the lives of people and children which is why I so strongly oppose cuts to Local Welfare Assistance Grants. They need the basics, not Egyptian cotton sheets, coffee tables and cake forks!

The Supreme Court has given the most important, and most positive, judgement for homeless people in 15 years

Earlier today (13 May) the Supreme Court gave a ruling on a case about the way local councils decide who is ‘vulnerable enough’ for housing help. The judgement is quite sensational. Until now, single homeless people had to prove that they were particularly vulnerable compared to other homeless people in order to qualify for support.  This has now changed.  They no longer have to show that they are more likely to come to harm (commit suicide, resort to drug use, etc.) than “an ordinary homeless person”.

That led to situations where single homeless people suffering from problems including depression and suicidal thoughts were deemed not vulnerable because “an ordinary homeless person” would also be expected to suffer from those problems.  (I kid you not!).

The Supreme Court has, in effect, said that councils must do more to help single homeless people, that local authorities were failing to recognise homeless people in vulnerable situations.

Speaking to the BBC after the ruling, Giles Peaker, a partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, said it was the “most significant judgement in homeless law on vulnerable people in the past 10 to 15 years”.

He said, “The ruling makes it more likely that vulnerable, single homeless people will have their vulnerability taken seriously and it clears the way for them to go into priority need.  Vulnerability had become almost impossible to demonstrate but this now gives purpose to the original intention of the law that people with more risk are given accommodation.”

Of course this ruling was based on three test cases, which had been supported by Crisis and Shelter, and is not a reflection on our local councils in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne, and Hastings.  However, it does set the bar for councils, and could make challenges easier to define.

Of course, challenging a local council’s decision is the last thing we want to do.  It is better all around, to work together to resolve individual cases of homelessness.  That is why today I have published an open letter to councillors in Brighton and Hove calling on them to work with others, including BHT, to end the scourge of street homelessness, as far as it is possible, by 2019.

I also recently published an account of an advice worker’s attempt to get her local council to respond positively to help a suicidal 18 year old suicidal young woman.  Do read her account.  It brings into clear focus why this decision by the Supreme Court is so important.

Finally, given the law has been clarified on this matter, I do hope that central government will provide the necessary resources to allow councils to do what Parliament, and now the Supreme Court, expects them to do.