Down (and out) by the Riverside – LHA maxima charade again

When the Chief Executive of Riverside, one of the largest supported and sheltered housing associations in the country does not get the LHA maxima policy of this Conservative government, it’s time to pack up and go home!

An article by Carol Matthews CEO of Riverside in today’s Inside Housing of the usual diplomatic and deferential type we have come to expect from the apathetic housing sector is painful to read for anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the supported housing sector and the LHA maxima policy as she claims:

Government has said that this is not a cost-saving exercise, and this needs restating.

That is a major mistake as the government has not said this and the direct opposite in fact and stated the policy is a cost cutting measure in the Comprehensive Spending Review documentation that accompanied the announcement of the policy as page 119 of the Blue Book shows:

blue bookp119 csr 2015

Despite the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) saying they have a medium to high level of uncertainty on these figures (!!!) there is no doubt whatsoever that a cut and saving is expected by government, this is no cost neutral issue at all.

The original July 2011 consultation on housing benefit costs in supported housing which contained the original version of the LHA maxima policy was at pains to say it was cost neutral and not a cost-cutting exercise, yet that hastily dropped DWP consultation paper had this as one of 3 proposals, the other two being LHA (maxima) plus £20 per week and LHA (maxima) plus £40 per week.

Quite how Carol Matthews and Riverside could be under the hugely errant assumption that today’s LHA maxima policy is not a cost-cutting exercise beggars belief … yet typifies the housing sector unfortunately!

This is more than just a stupid mistake however as what flows from the flawed premise of this not being a cost-cutting exercise is (a) Carol Matthews believes the LHA maxima not to be an issue of ‘financial privilege’, and (b) Lord Richard Best can do anything about it in the Lords.

BECAUSE the LHA maxima policy does intend to save money on the HB budget, even if it was part of any Bill, which it is not, it could be steamrollered through parliament just as the bedroom tax as after the Lords made 7 (or was it 8?) amendments to it.

HOWEVER as it is not part of any legislative Bill at all the government can implement by Statutory Instrument in any case which leaves the only challenge to this of a prayer!

Even if the House of Lords responded to a prayer to it over the policy, the government could introduce using financial privilege in any case!

I would direct Carol Matthews, Riverside and anyone else involved in supported and sheltered housing to what the CSR Blue Book actually says (which the DWP has subsequently confirmed in parliamentary written answers from 7 to 14 December 2015 – that the policy IS going ahead and that the government has set aside increased DHPs in a (derisory and risible) attempt to mitigate these huge cuts.

bluebokkp36 lhamaxima

Page 36 of the CSR Blue Book as above says

  1. at 1.125 the LHA maxima IS the policy and
  2. at 1.126 confirms the policy will have added DHPs that DWP subsequently confirmed will be £35 million per year, and
  3. at 1.127 that the LHA maxima policy IS part of the £12 billion ‘welfare’ savings which means to change the policy CLG has to win over IDS at DWP and Osborne at HM Treasury!!

NOTHING said to date from the DWP or from HM Treasury contradicts this and everything stated confirms it!

This rest of this article is Panglossian delusion and incredulous acceptance of what the CLG department of government are trying to push – that they can somehow influence the LHA maxima policy after the IPSOS MORI research project.

Firstly, IPSOS MORI were awarded the contract in December 2014 some 14 months ago and the terms of reference included a full scoping of it back to DWP in 10 weeks.

Secondly, the ToR also includes that IPSOS MORI report back to DWP at least twice monthly so it will have done that 28 times to date at least.  As such the CLG position which Carol Matthews accepts is incredulous political spin and frankly total bullshit.

Thirdly, this has to be the case as the same DWP were informed how the LHA maxima would impact back in late Autumn 2011 after it was first proposed in the July 2011 consultation.

Moreover, the LHA maxima policy IS a welfare benefit policy and comes under the auspices of IDS at the DWP and it was announced by the Chancellor and hence has HM Treasury approval in the Autumn Statement.

I do wish Carol Matthews or any other housing leader that has this Panglossian belief in the powers of Greg Clark at CLG to win over IDS and Osborne at cabinet level would say how they imagine he has a hope in hell’s chance of doing so, because he simply hasn’t.

In summary, while Riverside will want to issue hopeful statements over the LHA maxima issue in order to reassure their funders of the tens of millions per year of HB cuts this means to Riverside (ECHG) supported and sheltered housing services, the fact its Chief Executive does not know simple critical facts of the policy means that Riverside is selling itself and the supported housing sector down the river with this incredulous and errant article.

______________________

The Carol Matthews thinkpiece from behind the Inside Housing paywall is below.

The government’s announcement at the end of last month of a year-long concession on rent reductions for sheltered, extra care and supported housing is a welcome step in the right direction.

For Riverside this means greater security for over 8,000 tenants living in schemes that make up the most financially marginal part of our operations, with many schemes cross-subsidised from elsewhere.

And this is not a result of inefficiency – our care and support services sit in one of the most efficiently-run parts of Riverside, which has had to respond to a torrid succession of funding cuts over the past years.

It’s simply because the provision of housing management and maintenance services are 30% higher than the equivalent for mainstream housing, linked to high re-let costs – many schemes turn over two or three times a year – significant amounts of wear and tear, and the time it takes to undertake routine management tasks with vulnerable residents. Of course, the historic cost of provision is usually so much higher, too.

Grand ambitions

This is why the case is overwhelming for treating tenants living in this type of specialist housing differently in the benefit system, and it is good that the government has listened.

However, we are only part of the way there, with the bigger threat of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) caps for all social housing tenants still casting a long shadow. At the close of the heady day of parliamentary debates recently, National Housing Federation chair Baroness Warwick was right to point out that the government had two opportunities to specifically reassure the sector in the face of concerted pressure, but had failed to do so.

But I sense growing momentum, with the government going on the record about bringing forward with urgency “appropriate protections for those in supported housing”. Lord Best, who has done so much to support the sector and secure the rent concession, suggested that government will eventually move to address the LHA issue, perhaps when the current “fuzziness” about numbers becomes clearer.

So the focus of our attention now needs to turn to the review of the whole system of costs associated with supported, sheltered and extra care accommodation, set up when government realised that the blunt rules of Universal Credit would not do. So what do we know?

We know that Ipsos Mori has been appointed as lead contractor to establish a baseline position, reporting in March – just how much of this accommodation is out there and how much does it cost, especially in terms of the benefit bill? This will then be used to inform decision-making about policy, which if it is to ensure that a clear position can be established for next year’s rent variation and budgeting processes, will need to be in place by Christmas at the latest – already sounding ambitious to me!

Going into the review, I think housing associations and those commissioning services need to be looking for four things:

  • Complete transparency of process, and the meaningful involvement of the providers and commissioners. Given what was said in the Lords, I think we’re already on a promise, however we need to ensure we are at the centre of the review, rather than on the periphery;
  • That whoever administers a new system going forward, it needs to be based on the principle of basic national entitlement. One option would be localisation, however it would be outrageous if general needs tenants who meet national criteria are automatically entitled to state support, whereas vulnerable tenants living in specialist accommodation are only entitled to support if they meet local, politically set, criteria and if there is enough cash;
  • That the system is adequately funded and protected. Government has said that this is not a cost-saving exercise, and this needs restating. Too often we have seen the localisation of budgets accompanied by centrally-imposed reductions. And if funding is localised, it needs to be ringfenced;
  • That some form of uprating mechanism is built in, so the funds available grow to meet changing needs and we can avoid returning to this issue year after year.

Of course, some sort of efficiency test is also needed. The Department for Work and Pensions will demand no less, and we need to show that we understand this, albeit in a nuanced way.

So let’s prepare for an interesting year. It will go quickly, and while rent reductions may be off the agenda (for now), and hopefully LHA caps too, we need to deploy our expertise and evidence to ensure we don’t jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Carol Matthews, chief executive, Riverside

Cameron’s known PMQ lies over LHA maxima

At Prime Minister Questions today The Prime Minister told a known lie over the Conservative’s policy of the LHA maxima cut / cap. Twice.  He then also tried to dismiss factual comments about the policy as scaremongering and only the result of research full of leading questions.  He also knows that is deceitful too.

Firstly when asked about in a general question by Jeremy Corbyn he said:

The other change that we are making, which does not actually come into force until 2018, is to make sure that we are not paying housing benefit to social tenants way above what we would pay to private sector tenants.

Cameron couldn’t even bring himself to name this policy – the LHA maxima – and the lie and known lie is that the policy comes into force in April 2016 and a little over 8 weeks away and not in 2018.

In 8 weeks time and any date after 1 April 2016 a pensioner who moves into sheltered housing will have their full housing benefit paid in 2016/17 and in 2017/18 yet face a massive cut in housing benefit from April 2018.

That pensioner has to be told that now before he or she takes the decision to move into sheltered housing.  If not  that pensioner will need to find £50 per week from their state pension just to make the rent as (s)he will get a £50 per week cut in housing benefit.  Of course a pensioner will not be able to afford to pay £50 per week out of state pension and £2,600 per year that is what the policy means as I illustrate (again) below.

lhamaxshelt1 lhamaximashelte2

The above is the first two pages of a spreadsheet which shows how much a 1 bed sheltered housing pensioner will have in the housing benefit cut from the LHA maxima policy.

In Barnsley, the pensioner will have a £3,508 cut in housing benefit and have to find £67.28 per week from state pension just to make the rent if (s)he moves in after April 2016 – JUST EIGHT WEEKS AWAY MR CAMERON!

The policy of the LHA maxima was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement of 25 November 2015 and he said:

The rate of Housing Benefit in the social sector will be capped at the relevant local housing allowance – in other words, the same rate paid to those in the private rented sector who receive the same benefit. It will apply to new tenancies only from April 2016

Cameron repeated his lie that the policy will only come into force in 2018 in a second question from Mike Weir as below:

Q8.[903576]

Women’s aid groups, including my own in Angus, have raised the serious concern that changes in housing benefit may force the closure of many refuges. Will the Prime Minister undertake to specifically exclude refuges from the changes and to protect this vital service for vulnerable women and children?

The Prime Minister:

As I said in my answers to the Leader of the Opposition, we want to support the supported housing projects that work in many of our constituencies. We have all seen how important they are. The changes to housing benefit that we are talking about will not come into place until 2018, so there is plenty of time to make sure that we support supported housing projects.

It’s the same policy of the LHA maxima – the one that Cameron noticeably did not mention by any name – that will close ALL DV refuges and homeless hostels and sheltered and other supported housing.

Note well that some if not much will close BEFORE April 2018 as the cuts are so severe and for example here is why just one provider the YMCA (England) will receive a £40 million first year cut and will have NO OPTION BUT TO CLOSE the majority of its homeless hostels and is also why DV refuges will have to close their doors for good on or BEFORE April 2018.

The policy does not come into force until 2018 Prime Minister?!

Oh yes its bloody well does as well you know – as you tried to implement this policy back in 2011 and know full well what its consequences are!

I do like the irony of today at PMQs you said this on Question 4:

Q4.[903572]

Young people afraid of losing their homes, women denied the pensions that they were expecting and, increasingly, the needy left exposed without the social care they need to live a decent life: when will the Prime Minister address these scandals?

The Prime Minister:

What we are doing for pensioners is putting in place the triple lock so that every pensioner knows there can never be another shameful 75p increase in the pension that we saw under Labour. They know that, every year, it will increase either by wages, prices or 2.5%, and that is why the pension is so much higher than when I became Prime Minister.

Yes we all remember the political significance of the 75p per week state pension increase under the ‘last lot’ Prime Minister – YET your increase to the pensioner in Barnsley is MINUS £67.28 per week – You are cutting the pensioners welfare benefit by SIXTY SEVEN POUNDS PER WEEK!!!

The highest cut is in Hull at a whopping £70.27 per week average housing benefit cut and that is £3,664 you are taking off the pensioner Prime Minister!

There are also higher actual cuts than these average figures and I am also aware and have proof of one extra care sheltered scheme in the North East with a weekly housing benefit cut of over £96 per week due to your LHA maxima policy.

I have also reported here that SVHA in Greater Manchester have a new HAPPI sheltered scheme that will see ALL pensioners there lose huge amounts in housing benefit and make that scheme non financially viable.

You were also informed in the LHA maxima debate two weeks ago that Mencap have pulled £100 million of new sheltered housing schemes because of your LHA maxima policy.  As John Healey said in that debate:

Golden Lane Housing, Mencap’s housing arm, had plans for £100 million investment over the next five years in supported housing across England, but they have been scrapped.

Yet you say this is all hyperbole and scaremongering or skewed / leading research questions?  You are a liar Prime Minister, a consummate one I agree, but a deliberate liar nonetheless.

Not only have you had the information on the LHA maxima consequences since 2011, your government awarded a research contract on this specific issue to IPSOS / MORI in December 2014  – 15 months ago -with terms of reference to report back at least monthly and preferably twice monthly so you and your government KNOW without a shadow of a doubt what the consequences of this policy are.  That is up to 30 reports to date and to dismiss these factual consequences and fully evidenced based consequences as anything other than fact and known fact is a huge lie from your lips Prime Minister.

Finally, Prime Minister, a question for you.

If a social landlord accommodates a pensioner on say Monday 4th April 2016 and does NOT tell them they will be liable for a huge housing benefit cut in April 2018, what action will your government take to sanction that social landlord for misrepresentation / knowingly not telling the pensioner of that consequence?

Or will they be able to get away with such deceit by saying none other than the Prime Minister assured us that he “…wants to support the supported housing projects that work in many of our communities.” Or that he assured us all such issues were just scaremongering and we took him at his word?

Sorry, second question and the one Mike Weir really should have asked….

Can the Prime Minister advise where women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse can flee to given you are closing all DV refuges?

A final third question Prime Minister….

Can you advise on how we hug a hoodie given that there will be 36,000 more of them on the streets sleeping rough as your policy closes all homeless hostels?

Cameron, cruel victim of satire

 

 

 

Homes for Heroes founded by Bedroom Tax hypocrite Shapps

Duplicity -Hypocrisy – Two-faced – Insincerity -Deceit … all terms very apt when it comes to Grant Shapps the former housing minister and former Conservative Party Chair.

Yet for sheer temerity nothing beats the latest wheeze from the acknowledged internet fraudster also known as Sebastian Fox or Michael Green than his latest don’t touch with a bargepole scheme – the Homes for Heroes Foundation.

An article in 24Dash today says:

A new campaign is being set up to stop the “bias” against veterans getting council housing.

The campaign, called Homes for Heroes Foundation, will launch tomorrow with the backing of Lord Robertson and Lord Richards, former NATO secretary general and former chief of defence staff respectively.

Former housing minister Grant Shapps is the founder of the group, aiming to ensure the best housing is available to veterans within the next four years, to coincide with 100 years since the original homes for heroes Housing Act was passed.

Homes for Heroes (fit to live in) was the report done by Sir John Tudor Walters, an eminent and internationally renowned architect who became Paymaster General in Lloyd George’s post WW1 cabinet.

You may have seen reference to “Tudor Walters” in the leading Upper Tribunal bedroom tax case when the three judge panel said any alleged bedroom that is smaller than the Tudor Walters minimum criteria sets off alarm bells that the room is NOT a bedroom.

Grant Shapps was the Housing Minister when the Bedroom Tax was launched and indeed is credited with coming up with the “Spare Room Subsidy” name that the Conservative’s prefer and here is the huge deceit and duplicity of Shapps when we look at what Tudor Walters report said:

tw6verylarge

The smallest possible acceptable bedroom size is 65 square feet (and 520 cubic feet – meaning a normal ceiling height of 8 feet) and that is for a property with one living room.  For a property with two living rooms (a parlour house) the minimum size laid down was 110 square feet.

Yet Shapps who NOW wants to see homes fit for heroes to commemorate a standard of 100 years ago spent his time as Housing Minister saying a bedroom is a room that accommodates a single bed (circa 21 square feet) and nothing more.

What a two-faced hypocritical little shit Grant Shapps is!

That picture above referencing and quoting the Tudor Walters report comes from a Ministry of Health command paper from 1921 and the table is on page 6 and here is its frontispiece:

tw1

The report reads like the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and anyone seeking any history of council / state provided housing history should read it.

There was no housing ministry back in 1921 and housing came under the Ministry of Health who commissioned the Tudor Walters report because British men called up for active service from 1914 were found to have such poor health and the link was made between this ill health and their housing conditions.

In this 1921 Ministry of Health report it states clearly that (a) no funding for housing would be given unless it met the above minimum room specifications; and (b) the majority of local authorities believed the above size standards were too SMALL!

tw6tw7

That is pages 6 and 7 of the MoH report and a larger view of the top of page 7 sees this:tw7largebSo either Grant Shapps is a two-faced duplicitous hypocrite who is latching onto the good name of Home for Heroes to try and rest his political career which is not just in the toilet but half-way around the U-bend; or he has had a Damascene moment like IDS’s Easterhouse Epiphany that resulted in the bedroom tax for people’s own good!!

Bedroom Tax Sizes

It was I who gave the Tudor Walters size argument to the Fife Law Centre the day before final submissions were due in the Nelson brothers Upper Tribunal case.  I only found it the night before in an obscure PhD thesis and nowhere with perhaps the exception of the British or Bodleian Library is there a paper or digital copy of the Tudor Walters report.

Yet plenty of reference is made to it in the Ministry of Health command paper above, which also sees no paper copy available and the above are from a digitised version online from the University of California that can only be downloaded via a page by page screenshot grab.

As such the Upper Tribunal when they reference it specifically would not have seen sight of the Tudor Walters report and all they had was the basic argument of how can standards of 100 years ago possibly be smaller than today and the version of the above Tudor Walters room size table found in the dissertation which is below.

tudorwalters report 1918

YET, far more importantly for bedroom tax appeals on size is that the 3JP in the Fife UT specifically mention Tudor Walters report in its judgment and say any room smaller than these minimum sizes sets off alarm bells.

At paragraph [55] after dismissing that you could import or drop in the minimum bedroom sizes from overcrowding legislation such as the 1985 Housing Act (the in pari materia denial) the 3JP judgment says:

“…the Tudor Waters Report (which relates to the building of houses for soldiers returning from the First World War, and was referred to by the Fife Law Centre in its further submissions), is that the floor areas referred to in them provide cross checks that indicate that (or warning bells that) the room may be too small and thus the need to provide reasons why, in the particular case, either it is or is not too small.”

It may seem bizarre that the 3JP rejected that a bedroom has to be 50 square feet or more in the overcrowding acts, yet also said that a room of less than 65 square feet sets off alarm bells and that all councils as decision makers need to provide the reasons why any room of an absolute minimum of 65 square feet is or is not a bedroom.  Yet that is precisely what it does say!

Look a bit closer at the Tudor Walters table and it gives a normal height of all rooms to be 8 feet – the 65 square feet of floor space x height = the cubic feet.

The 3JP case in Fife also say for a room to be a bedroom it needs to be of normal height at [64(ii)] and I fail to see how a tribunal of today can say ‘normal’ height is less than the normal height of 100 years ago.

While I strongly doubt and would advise against any bedroom tax appeal saying a minimum bedroom size is 110 square feet as a literal reading of the Tudor Walters report above says, the issue of 65 square feet is a viable argument, and not only does the Fife 3JP decision leave that door wide open, the fact they say the decision maker (the council HB department) has to provide reasons why a room of 65 square feet or less is or is not a bedroom does place an onus on every local council to come out and measure a disputed room if the tenant challenges the decision.

Shortly, all councils will be issuing the bedroom tax decisions for 2016/17 and they all carry renewed rights of challenge through (a) requesting further information, (b) requiring the council to review each decision and (c) a formal appeal to the tribunal service.

Every tenant affected should request a review as I have said here as this would cost £1.26 billion per year to administer for a policy that reduces housing benefit by £0.357 billion per year!

How good of my old friend Grant Shapps to remind me of homes FIT for heroes in terms of minimum room sizes!

________________________

I started to compile some sources here on the number of times Grant Shapps was caught out lying over the bedroom tax but that would at least triple the length of this post.  From calling the UN rapporteur “that woman from Brazil” for which he was ultimately pushed to saying to Sky News that his children share a bedroom only for him to retract this when it was pointed out his 3 children did not share a bedroom in his 5 bedroom house!

He is a compulsive liar and charlatan and a blend of Alan B’Astard and Arthur Daley and whichever pseudonym he uses what the hell are the highly reputable armed forces having anything whatsoever to do with him beggars belief.

The same Grant Shapps said the benefit cap would not see homelessness increase (only 55% Shappsy Old Boy!) and that stories of a homeless diaspora from London were scaremongering!

The same Grant Shapps proposed that the homeless live on boats docked out to sea and that people should live on barges to solve the housing supply crisis.

Oh and he also said that social tenants should do their own repairs…

A Yes Minister sketch about him is here that I had almost forgotten about – and yes he does make Jim Hacker seem thoroughly competent!

Oh he also said that the Affordable Rent model would not increase the Housing Benefit bill … I must stop reader as my sides are splitting over this easiest of easy targets for lying buffoon of the decade candidate…

The same Grant Shapps who ruled out any regulation of the private landlord as one of his first decisions upon being made housing minister here

Though Shapps did admit that Cameron misled parliament when the PM said the disabled were exempt – see the BBC report here and so the odd truth does utter from his lips – rare I Grant you….

Though there is only one image that springs to mind about Shapps – that of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz…

Altogether now for a singalongashapps

I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers
Consultin’ with the rain.
And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain.

 

wizard-of-oz-gif-500Is that Grant in a suit of armour seeking out homes fir for heroes…!

 

LHA maxima makes older people distinctly unHAPPI

The LHA maxima is wrongly called the LHA cap by too many people in housing who should realise that we already have a policy called the LHA cap – in 2012 the coalition capped LHA at £400 per week and did away with any LHA rates for 5 or 6 or higher bed properties.

The LHA maxima is the policy announced by Osborne in the Autumn Statement which said no social tenant can receive more in housing benefit than the maximum LHA a private tenant can receive – hence the LHA maxima.

More importantly the message of what the LHA maxima does is still not getting through to social landlords and local government who both really should know better.  Today, Wednesday 3 February saw the Chief Executive of St Vincent’s Housing Association say this on Twitter:

charliesvha

Follow the link and we see this:

svhashelter

The two red lines are there as (a) these new homes are not ready to take the first sheltered tenants until May 2016 and hence after April and because of this (b) they will ALL be hit by the LHA maxima cut from April 2018.

A 1 bed property with a rent set from £135 in Bury which has a 1 bed LHA maxima rate of ….

burylha

£135 per week rent sees housing benefit pay just £84.00 per week of that meaning the sheltered tenant has to find an additional £51 per week just to make the rent – something that will not be too HAPPI about!

Delve a bit deeper onto SVHA’s website and we find that this scheme has 16 number of 1 & 2 bed flats to rent that I presume means 8 of each not 16 of each and the following on rent level which is lower than above and presumably means the HB eligible amount.

svhadanesmoor

SVHA has 8 x 1 beds that will see a HB cut in 2018 from £125.62 to £84.00 and 8 x 2 bed rented flats with a HB cut from £140.62 down to £98.96.

Compute that over a year and in 2018/19 this all singing all dancing state of the art HAPPI complex will have a HB cut of £34,739 per year or £2,172 per year less than when this new scheme was initially developed.

This is a 31.3% reduction in maximum housing benefit.

The scheme is ONLY financially viable IF SVHA only occupy these properties with those over 55 who do NOT receive housing benefit.  Or put another way these properties exclude the social housing tenant on benefit that now average at least 75% of all tenants in sheltered housing.

_________

The issue here is that SVHA must have costed this scheme a while back and way before the Chancellor’s out of the blue LHA maxima policy announcement on 25 November 2015 in the Autumn Statement.  They are now being shafted by that ill-conceived policy.

I wonder how many other new builds in development have a scheduled completion date after April 2016 as they too will all be in the same boat of being non financially viable.

All similar schemes to this and by any social landlord will not get the go ahead now and we read in the LHA maxima debate last week that Golden Lane Housing (Mencap’s housing arm) has shelved £100 million worth of new build investment because of this policy.

In this SVHA case would it be cheaper to tenant the scheme fully on the morning of 31 March and decant all tenants to a hotel for 5 weeks until the properties are ready?

It that was feasible legally then financially it would be worth it as these tenants would not then face the massive HB cut from April 2018.  SVHA could decant them for 5 weeks in Malta and still be better off financially as of course the tenants would be too!  Contrived to hell and almost certainly contrivance under HB regulations and hence unlawful.

Could SVHA have their builders work 24 hours a day and get the properties built by 31 March?  Being really sarcastic here but given that this government voted down the policy of making homes fit for human habitation could SVHA tenant the properties with no windows or doors or even internal walls on 31 March just so they are existing tenants the day before this policy comes into effect?!

This is just one example of perhaps many hundreds of new build schemes that are already in development and all of them expose the sheer madness of the LHA maxima policy.

The HAPPI standards are what is needed and Housing Ageing Population Panel for Innovation or HAPPI first reported back in 2009 as being greatly needed and THE way forward.  So the LHA maxima policy also means that HAPPI homes are probably all non financially viable and the whole concept is dead and buried.

Put another way, this government with one announcement by the chancellor has ensured that older people – the grey vote in political terms too – do not get the homes they need and want all because this Conservative administration is (a) incompetent and (b) hell bent on destroying the social housing model created in the Welfare State of 1948.

That just leaves 2 choices for older people – take the lowest or low level no frills and ‘bog-standard’ sheltered housing with no support and no care provision; or go into a residential care home and cost the (local government) public purse around 5 times as much as a HAPPI home would do!

That begs one simple question – Why the hell aren’t social landlords and local authorities screaming at this Conservative government what a flea-ridden dog’s breakfast this LHA maxima policy is?

 

Bedroom Tax – Let’s all cost IDS £1.26 billion per year and get rid

Jeremy Corbyn tweets a story in today’s Mirror which says that the Tories are to spend more in legal fees appealing last weeks Court of Appeal defeat than the ruling would cost them to implement.

corbyn bedroom tax

IDS is prepared to waste taxpayer’s money in spitting out his dummy is the implication and it’s a correct implication.

So is what is good for the goose good for the gander?

When 449,151 bedroom tax households get their new bedroom tax decision notices in March this year, which on average cuts their housing benefit by £795.72 per year then ALL 449,151 could appeal this decision which is their right and if they did then each First-tier Tribunal costs central government £2,800.

The bedroom tax cuts saves government £357.4 million [449,151 x £795.72] yet if everyone appealed the decision then 449,151 bedroom tax appeals will cost government £1.26 billion – or 3.5 times what they wish to save from it.

For every £1 allegedly saved, the government would be spending out £3.50 to defend that decision in simple terms.

Every one has a right of appeal against the decision to impose it and they SHOULD use that right.

It costs nothing to appeal and it would severely damage the policy by a form of lawful direct action.

All it takes is a letter with a signature within one month of receiving the HB decision notice and handed in to your local council’s one stop shop or office.

Sample letter to explain the simplicity of this below.

Include the date and your HB reference number and/or NI number and say as an opening paragraph the following.

Dear sirs,

I request that you reconsider your housing benefit decision dated dd/mm/2016 as I maintain you have not considered all relevant circumstances of my individual case which the Upper Tribunal state you must do as the decision maker in paragraph 54 of the three judge panel in [2014] UKUT 0525 (AAC).

Then you need to say (a) why you maintain a room is NOT a bedroom and then (b) sign it and hand it in.

There are many reasons you could give as to why you maintain the room or rooms upon which you have been deducted bedroom tax are not a bedroom and I cover some of these at the end (also in blue.)

The key issue is that you appeal as part of a direct action protest which is lawful and a legitimate form of protest – else you would not have the right to appeal in the first place – and these appeals all going to the tribunal service would cost central government £2,800 each.

All it takes is one letter with a signature.  Your council’s HB department then have to conduct a reconsideration of the decision and say, in writing to you, why they maintain the original decision was correct to impose the bedroom tax.

Then you could email your council’s HB department (this second step does not necessarily need a signature though the first step does, hence a letter) to say you disagree with their decision and require the matter go to the tribunal.

One letter and one email is all it takes.

Is 1 letter and 1 email worth the trouble to potentially save £795.72 per year?  Of course it must be and note many of the 449,151 bedroom tax cases could have very legitimate reasons of appeal.

If EVERYONE appealed which I restate is your absolute right, then this would cause an almighty political stink as well as cost the government much more than they could possibly save.  So what!

The fact such a direct action protest would bring the matter to a head and do to IDS what he is now doing by using taxpayers money to appeal the Court of Appeal decisions which will cost more to appeal than the government gets if it wins – is example the same principle.

Do unto IDS as he is doing unto you!!

____________________

Some valid and arguable reasons why a room is not a bedroom are below and kept deliberately short.

  1. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it does not conform to the minimum size requirements in order to be a functional bedroom in accordance with Tudor Walters issues as stated in paragraph [55] of the above 3JP case
  2. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as of its unusual design and layout 
  3. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as to put a bed in that room would deny access to a built-in cupboard
  4. I maintain 1 room is not a bedroom as it has no window
  5. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not ventilated in the same way as other bedrooms
  6. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not heated as other bedrooms
  7. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is needed for therapeutic other uses.
  8. I maintain that 1 room is not a bedroom as it is not of normal height
  9. I maintain that 1 room has a sloping roof and it not a bedroom

All of the above are very legitimate legal reasons why a room is not a bedroom even if the landlord says it is a bedroom and you only need to add one reason in the original letter and in addition to the opening paragraph as drafted.

There will be and are dozens more reasons that have all been upheld at tribunals or in which the decision has been changed before the matter going to a tribunal.

One such reason which was an example of common sense and good practice was a case where an 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother were sharing a bedroom which is what the regulations say.  Two children of opposite sexes can share a room if both under 10.

Yet the 8 year old girl started her periods and after discussion and consideration the council bedroom tax decision maker agreed that the girl needed a bedroom of here own which she clearly did.  Note too that the NHS have this on their website:

Most girls start their periods when they’re about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it’s important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they’re prepared before the big day.

So we see the NHS admitting that some girls start their period as young as 8 years of age.

Regrettably many councils believe they do not have the discretion to do this and must stick rigidly with 2 children under 10 must share a room for bedroom tax purposes.  However every council decision maker DOES have discretion and they are free to determine in the individual circumstances that the housing need in terms of bedrooms was not 1 for the 8 year old girl and her 5 year old brother, but, as a matter of correctness 2 bedrooms or a bedroom each.

The example above is used because it illustrates what I drafted in the opening paragraph of the letter above in the council decision maker considering all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis which is what paragraph 54 of the legal precedent says.  In discussing what is and is not a bedroom and how decision makers approach that question paragraph [54] says:

We also agree with the Secretary of State that the choice by Parliament of a test using an undefined familiar or ordinary English word supports the view that Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis

All relevant circumstances on a case by case basis is discretion for the decision maker and so decision makers – and they are your local councils HB department and no one else – have to consider my points 1 – 9 above and also have to consider the much rarer examples of an 8 year girl starting her periods as I illustrate.

In summary, the most important issue and for me the quickest way to get rid of the bedroom tax is if all 449,151 households who are currently affected write 1 letter and then insist in 1 email their council refers their individual case to tribunal to cost the government £2,800 or so.

Do unto IDS as he is doing unto you!

LHA Maxima – £40 million HB cut per year to YMCA!

YMCA England will see their housing benefit funding reduce by over £40 million per year under the LHA maxima policy of the Conservatives government.

The government says housing benefit cut by the policy will be mitigated by giving local councils £35 million per year in Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), yet that is not enough to cover the housing benefit cut to just one provider in  YMCA England!  So…

  • What about the HB cut to all other homeless hostels?
  • What about the HB cut to all domestic violence refuges?
  • What about the HB cut to all extra care sheltered housing?
  • What about the HB cut to much of the rest of sheltered housing?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for mental health?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for learning disability?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for physical disability?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for sensory disability?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for acquired brain injury?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for autism?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for homeless families?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for ex-offenders?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for detox and rehab?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for mum and babes units?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for care leavers?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for refugees?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for travellers?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for HIV / Aids?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for aspergers?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for alzheimers?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing from male DV victims?
  • What about the HB cut to all supported housing for any other vulnerability that you can possibly think of however rare or specialist who will all face significant levels of cuts?

Ahem!

The policy

No social rented sector tenant can receive more in housing benefit than the maximum LHA rate. LHA is Local Housing Allowance which is the private rented variant of Housing Benefit and is set at a fixed rate in 152 localised areas called Broad Market Rental Areas.

 

A YMCA Statement on the 2 hour debate held this week says

“YMCA is the largest provider of safe, supported accommodation for young people in England, providing almost 10,000 beds every night.

When this policy was first announced I computed that single homeless services in Liverpool would lose £3 million per year in housing benefit.  As part of that YMCA Liverpool would lose £677,000 per year and have to close.

Two nights ago I looked at YMCA England’s website which contains the housing benefit costs for each YMCA and the age groups which is relevant as the under 35s get a lower rate of LHA called the SAR – shared accommodation rate.

What I found for the first 6 YMCA’s alphabetically was as follows:

  • Basingstoke YMCA would lose £343,517 (see below)
  • Bridgewater YMCA would lose £102,500
  • Colchester YMCA would lose £108,452
  • Cornwall YMCA would lose £358,344
  • East Herts YMCA would lose £106,936
  • Goole YMCA would lose £111,197

Each YMCA has a table such as the one for Basingstoke here:

ymca-basing1830

YMCA Basingstoke now gets £150.52 per week per tenant in housing benefit – the £153.05 less £2.53 personal service charge figures above – and its age group is 18-30 which means that £150.52 will reduce to £68.17 per week, the SAR rate for Basingstoke.  This is a cut of £82.35 per tenant per week and for the 80 tenants this is a total housing benefit cut of £343,517 per year.

Collectively for the 6 YMCA’s detailed this is £1,130,946 per year in housing benefit cut for the collective 280 bedspaces they have.  This cut in housing benefit of £1,130,946 for 280 bedspaces is an average loss per bedspace of £4,049.09p per year and that YMCA England have 10,000 bedspaces.

YMCA England will therefore face a housing benefit cut of £40 million per year

 

Note that the figures are in no way skewed to misrepresent as figures for YMCA Liverpool reveal a £677,000 per year cut for 98 bedspaces or £6,908 per bedspace and 50% higher than the above average.

In addition to the cautious £40 million housing benefit cut to YMCA England (and YMCA have homeless accommodation in Scotland and Wales too) it is reported that Housing & Care 21 will lose £23 million per year and Anchor will lose £13 million.

Other figures are trickling out individually and many are reluctant to state what their losses in housing benefit will be.

We first had a figure of £177 million per year from the NHF of 50,000 properties at £68 per week and then a day later a NHF figure of 156,000 supported and sheltered housing closures just for housing associations reported by John Healey in the House of Commons debate on Wednesday this week which if at the same £68 per week is £553 million per year…

…and the government is saying £35 million per year in DHP is appropriate!

That same HoC debate also had John Healey say that Mencap’s housing arm had shelved plans for a £100 million investment in new supported housing which shows the real issue of taking away the revenue funding, the HB which allows such services to operate and not only will services close, they will never reopen or be rebuilt.

Golden Lane Housing, Mencap’s housing arm, had plans for £100 million investment over the next five years in supported housing across England, but they have been scrapped.

 

Is it really the government intention to close ALL supported and sheltered housing services?  If the policy goes ahead in this planned form then every homeless hostel and every DV refuge will close by 2018.

There is no doubt that every DV refuge becomes non financially viable under the policy and also no doubt it will affect every women and child in every refuge on 4 April 2018 as all will have entered refuge after April 2016 and so all will receive the cuts and no DV provider can afford to operate a refuge.

What is truly bemusing is that this government knows the impact of this policy and has known the likely impacts since 2011 when they issued a consultation paper on this very same issue – capping housing benefit to the LHA rate.  That consultation did not even see a consultation response and the issue was dropped by the DWP, who are the same DWP personnel now as back in late 2011!

The House of Commons debate on Wednesday saw the CLG under which housing sits say they will defer the 1% planned rent cut for supported housing while awaiting a DWP study into housing benefit in supported housing.  Yet, the LHA maxima policy which holds the £40 million cut to YMCA England, is a housing benefit policy which comes under DWP and no deferment or even a commitment to look again at the issue, with or without this research study led by IPSOS MORI.

Instead all we have is a vague comment by Lord Freud in the House of Lords – and remembering Lord Freud was a full part of the original LHA maxima consultation in 2011 that was abandoned:

“I am not in a position to be utterly specific about how we will do this, but I can say that we will put in place the appropriate protections for those in supported housing. DWP (the Department for Work and Pensions) and DCLG (the Department for Communities and Local Government) will be working closely together to make sure that those protections are in place. We appreciate the concern, and we will aim to do this urgently.”

 

Lord Freud has had over 4 years to formulate “appropriate protections” since the July 2011 consultation yet has not done so. His definition of ‘urgent’ clearly finds no dictionary definition of that word.

 

The 2011 DWP consultation proposed 3 options of (a) LHA only (b) LHA + £20 and (c) LHA + £40 per week and was at pains to say this was not a cost cutting exercise but a recycling of existing funding on a cost neutral basis.  Yet as the above YMCA Basingstoke example shows what is now proposed is a cut of £82.35 per week as the current housing benefit is LHA + £82.35.  So even the most generous option from the 2011 consultation would see a cut of £42.35 per tenant per week if option (c) of LHA + £40 was implemented and a cut of £176,660 to YMCA Basingstoke that would still mean closure.

Some in supported housing are welcoming the statement of Lord Freud to look at this urgently and provide “appropriate protections” yet he has had over 4 years to develop these since the July 2011 consultation and has not done so.  That welcoming cannot be anything more than Panglossian delusion and supine or spineless delusion.  Lord Feud has had more than 4 years to find an ‘appropriate response’ yet has not done so and what the YMCA Basingstoke example above shows is no wriggle room and government has no option but to abandon the policy for all supported and sheltered housing.

Finally, the LHA maxima policy was announced out of the blue in the Autumn Statement on 25 November 2015 and was accompanied by the OBR estimates of savings which also included the certainty level of achieving the stated policy aims.

The OBR said the LHA maxima had a medium to high level of UNCERTAINTY in achieving its aims and its projected savings!

This policy is a dog with fleas and the government don’t have a Scooby Doo what they are doing. Abandon the policy

________________________________

 

PS I had to somehow get this work of genius below into one blog post reader – just how can anyone see a map of Australia and think Scooby Doo?  Inspired just doesn’t cover it!

scooby doo australia

Damn, says Osborne…I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky bloggers?

 

What the LHA maxima policy really means

Imagine your Mum or Dad is getting a bit frail, a bit forgetful, perhaps now living alone in the family home and maybe you recognise the initial onset of multi infarct dementia as I did with my Mum 20 years or so ago.

I was lucky as working in supported housing and at the time line managing 4 regional sheltered housing managers too, I knew the signs to look for.  I was also lucky in that low level sheltered housing was available and Mum moved in after much consideration, and loved it.

She was quite anxious about it and perceived sheltered housing to be ‘old folk’ sitting around in wheelchairs with commodes and dribbling from the mouth and similar imagery, which it is not,  yet a fairly commonly held view of it being a dreaded ‘home’ as in your not putting me in a (care) home.

I showed her round a few to dispel that myth and the low level non resident warden (category 1) scheme she moved into was two tower blocks adjacent to one another and had a community centre attached; more function than form and aesthetically ugly as hell yet safe and secure.

Mum began to sing again for ‘the pensioners’ as she had done for man years previously that I had often witnessed during school holidays and ran around with her boundless energy that she had always had.  She looked younger, made dozens of new friends and had a whole new lease of life and a better quality of life than if she had stayed rambling round in the family home.

Then about 10 years ago the multi infarct dementia really began and what Mum needed was the then very new extra care provision -sheltered housing with added care services – but none was available and I was on the phone to every social landlord asking if any was in the pipeline as you’d expect.  However, the concept of extra care was still relatively new and little provision was around and so I had to take the decision to put Mum in a care home.

I told and persuaded Mum more correctly, the decision was all my brothers and sisters, and after a great deal of deliberation and anger and tears as you can imagine, but as my other sister said I will have to do it as I was the blue-eyed boy, the spoilt youngest child and still Mum’s baby…

Putting your Mum in a care home is every Mum’s nightmare but there was no choice as there was no extra care sheltered housing available which was the only other option and the preferred one.

On the day she went in I can still see the look on my other sister’s face in the car park and remember her saying to me “You’ll have to take Mum in, I just can’t do it” while she was fighting back her emotions and tears so Mum wouldn’t see.

Mum died a couple of years after and while the care home staff were fabulous, it was a care home with all the loss of independence that brings.  Mum went into a shell, she wasn’t Mum: She was not the fiercely independent woman any longer and some other residents there were in commode wheelchairs and were dribbling from the mouth, constant reminders in Mum’s mind of what she would become…

Mum, in part, and understandably so, stopped fighting and gave in to the bastard of all bastards which is dementia and all that goes with it.

IF there had been extra care provision, which still maintains a fair level of independence and much more dignity than a residential care home, Mum would have lived longer.

Even if that had only been 6 months longer, there would have been at least one day when she would have been lucid and when she was Mum and not the pale imitation of a wonderful Mother, woman and human being she had become.

Oh to have one more day…

Mum stopped talking altogether rather than say the wrong thing, pride kicked in and the look in her eyes was one of I am a burden to you even being here and one of stupid shame and of she had let us down … Mum was a typical Mother …

……………

Over the past decade Extra Care has been increasing significantly in terms of provision to give that just one more day (and more) to many adults whose Mum or Dad is deteriorating.  Yet this government will kill extra care off altogether with their LHA maxima policy and it will also reduce that low-level sheltered housing Mum first went into.  We also have the demographic ‘time-bomb’ as it used to be known of an increasing number of older persons. and need much more of it.

Yet there will be nowhere for your Mum or Dad to go soon except into the dreaded home that is all parents worst nightmare and fear as it becomes financially non viable to operate.

I make no apologies for the emotive and personal narrative above as that is the reality of what this government is doing with the LHA maxima policy.

Factual data as to why all the above is true

  • The government policy is that a 1 bed sheltered housing property cannot receive any more in housing benefit than a private tenant receives for a non-sheltered general needs property.
  • The housing benefit a private tenant receives is called the Local Housing Allowance or LHA and is a fixed maximum figure in each local area.
  • So the maximum housing benefit a sheltered tenant can receive is the 1 bed LHA rate, hence the policy being correctly called the LHA maxima.
  • George Osborne announced the policy out of the blue in the Autumn Statement in late November 2015 and announced it with no consultation, no impact assessment and not as part of any legislative Bill.  Government will introduce it by statutory instrument and with no scrutiny, which they can.
  • The policy affects new tenants from April 2016 and is only applied from April 2018

The 1 bed LHA rate in Greater Liverpool, a low rent area which includes most of Merseyside, is £90.90 per week, hence that is all the sheltered tenant there can receive from 2018.

A typical 1 bed sheltered housing property receives £140 per week in housing benefit which is £50 per week more than the maximum housing benefit.  This means the sheltered housing tenant will have to find £50 per week from state pension or savings in order to make the rent.

This ONLY applies to NEW tenants from April 2016 and not to current or existing tenants … HOWEVER …

A recent 165-page report into older persons housing in Sefton, one of the 5 Merseyside councils found that sheltered housing has a 16% per year turnover – 16 new tenants per year for every 100 sheltered properties in simple terms.

Thus, in April 2018 when the housing benefit cut of £50 per week begins it will affect 32% of all sheltered tenants.  This is the 16% new tenants from 2016/17 and the 16% of new tenants from 2017/8. (It will also affect 16% more in 2018/19 making 48% by financial year end but let’s leave that aside for argument sake.)**

For every 100 sheltered properties this will mean 32 lots of £50 cuts per week which is a cut of £1,600 per week and over a year that is £78,000 less in housing benefit that the landlord will receive if all new tenants are on housing benefit or, a £58,500 funding cut to the social landlord if 75% of sheltered tenants receive housing benefit. Note that 75% is a low percentage in sheltered housing.

The social landlord will have no option but to close such a low level sheltered housing scheme given income cuts of this size and scale which equate to an income loss of 8% – 12% just in the first year and increasing each year thereafter.

Recently I was given figures for a new Extra Care sheltered scheme in the North East (all singing, all dancing, state of the art, multi-million pound development) and the social landlord receives just over £180 per week in housing benefit for each tenant which will fall to the 1 bed LHA rate there of just under £84 per week.

That means a weekly shortfall of just over £96 per week and £5000 per new tenant per year and if the same 16% turnover rate applies then this is a £120,000 – £160,000 per year cut and undoubted closure as the entire scheme is not viable.

Those 100+ extra care tenants will also have the only option of registered care, that’s 100+ Mums and Dads put in a home and at a cost of anywhere between £500 to £900 per week in the North East, and very much more cost to the public purse than the current £180 per week in housing benefit.  It is between 3 and 5 times the cost in fact and that also reveals why this LHA maxima cut is the falsest of false economies.

Summary

The LHA maxima policy has no merit in moral or economic terms.  None of the above is hyperbole or scaremongering or the use of polarised figures to skew the figures in any way to embellish the economic argument.

The LHA maxima policy is not just amoral it is economic incompetence from this government and the policy simply has to go.

____________________

** This same system means that all  – that means 100% – of women and children in a DV refuge will be hit by massive cuts from April 2018 and the refuges, all of them will close.  The typical length of stay in a DV refuge is 6 months or less and so on 4 April 2018 every resident at a refuge will have entered it way after April 2016 and so ALL will be affected.

In a separate blog the level of housing benefit cut from the 17 refuges I have advised is 62.40% and obviously closure.

The exact same happens with all other short-term supported housing such as single homeless hostels and is why they will also ALL close.

In a separate blog the single homeless provision alone in Liverpool will see £3 million per year cuts to housing benefit and the government is planning to give Liverpool just £360k more in Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to cover this £3 million per year loss to homeless services; and a further £1.3 – £1.45 million housing benefit cut to sheltered housing and £x million per year to all other supported housing such as provision for mental health, learning, physical and sensory disability, acquired brain injury and a range of other vulnerable persons supported housing.

Figures do not lie, only MP’s do when they say all the above is scaremongering.