Five years ago I started blogging as a direct consequence of a July 2011 consultation paper seeking to limit the amount of HB paid to supported housing provision to the local private sector levels (LHA) for non supported housing.
This has now become the LHA maxima policy and the one that will close ALL refuges, ALL single homeless hostels and most sheltered housing.
As I said 5 years ago this policy (and others then still to become law such as bedroom tax and benefit cap) all were radical policies with radical impacts … that required radical responses.
This morning I went to the launch of Liverpool’s new Homeless Strategy for 2016 – 2020 and I may as well have travelled there in a De Lorean as the same old issues cropped up that were around a generation ago when I first began working in homelessness, and the same old tired responses or strategies were offered as potential solutions, with a few positive exceptions.
I am not attacking Liverpool City Council necessarily as indeed some positive programmes are in place or soon to be. Rather I am saying that the same old explanations but not excuses that were offered – such as Liverpool has had huge cuts from central government – are correct yet are wearing extremely thin and are no longer acceptable.
Homelessness and homeless provision is about to undergo an attack that is seismic compared to anything ever seen before with the reducing benefit cap and the LHA maxima cap. The former creates a huge increase in family homelessness and the latter prevents any sustainable accommodation solution to family and single homelessness. The term ‘radical’ simply does not describe what is going to happen and happen very quickly. It is much worse that that.
Even if you believe I am a scaremongerer over the above two policies then all local councils and all involved in homelessness need to have contingencies in place for when I am proved correct – and no I don’t care how arrogant or conceited that reads!
Ordinarily, I would have been delighted to hear that Liverpool intend to prioritise single homelessness and childless couples who for the best part of a generation have been most marginalised in terms of homeless support and provision … YET to finally do this at the time that the Benefit Cap reducing will create a surge in family homelessness accounts for the title of this piece as tomorrows strategy for yesterdays issues!
All strategies can ever be is a best guess as to future issues and all strategic documents need to be living ones that adapt and have built in flexibility and not simply monitored. When homelessness is going to become ever more dynamic and fast changing due to the benefit cap and LHA maxima cap this applies much more so in a homeless strategy and for all local councils as these two policies will directly create a huge surge and huge additional cost to every local authority.
Again, ordinarily, to hear any council say that they have commissioned longer term contracts to providers would be very welcome indeed … ordinarily … yet when surges happen in family homelessness which they will first as the Benefit Cap comes in 16 months before the LHA maxima cap then committing expenditure to single homeless services and prioritising them makes little sense.
Much of the statistics and data the council produced was both meaningful and scary and they rightly said there needs to be much greater awareness of the realities such as 6,000 households dealt with by the housing options services per year. With just over 200,000 households in Liverpool that is 3 per cent of the entire city. It also means that the 23 housing options staff each deal with 261 households each per year or just over 1 household per staff per day.
The cost of each homeless case is therefore 1 day of staff time and huge, so IF as I am confidently predicting that the Benefit Cap reduction will quintuple homelessness as a minimum, then that translates to a 5 fold increase in cost and a 5 fold need for more staff just to administer that increase. Will the same team also be dealing with the mandated pay MORE to stay policy too? If so where the hell is the money coming from becomes a very legitimate question.
Yet that is just admin cost and the huge increase in temporary homeless accommodation will dwarf that cost … and shows what a thankless task every local council is going to face in the very near future – the benefit cap reductions of 23% in the maximum benefit allowed to each family will begin in 8 weeks time, though probably 11 – 12 weeks in Liverpool given the latest rumours from the DWP. (Yes local government is being sh*t on by central government and by rumour and a complete lack of any hard information!)
Homelessness through direct and foreseeable impacts of central government policy is about to go beyond radical and beyond a dynamic area of activity for all local councils … and most like Liverpool will hold strategy meetings once ever 6 months!!
The real radical issue is that ‘strategists’ still wrongly refer to these policies ass ‘welfare reform’ when they are correctly called housing benefit reforms. To explain that the removal of the £29.05 ESA enhancement for those in the ESA wrag is a welfare benefit reform. Yet the Benefit Cap and the LHA maxima cap all cut Housing Benefit and at source which immediately threatens the housing provision of those caught by these policies. It has immediate impact in terms of arrears as one seminal difference.
A further impact is that the scale of the average Benefit Cap HB cut is around 5 times greater than the bedroom tax and will not only lead to widescale evictions but will also likely see housing associations using the dreaded Ground 8 as the normal means of eviction. That is not an attack of housing associations, it is merely stating what will become an inevitable consequence of the Benefit Cap policy. It is a piece of nudge theory or behavioural consequence that the government and indeed housing associations are loathe to even mention yet it has to be.
In short housing associations given the average £70+ per week HB cut to their tenants will have no choice (a) but to evict; and (b) to evict using Ground 8 in order to reduce their losses. That means a huge increase in social housing evictions due to the Benefit Cap and directly due to it – and in Liverpool which has no council housing (and neither do 36 of 39 councils in the NW region) then the proverbial will hit the fan concerning homelessness from the social rented sector. The PRS will take absolute flight from the benefit tenant and will be issuing s21 Notices like confetti directly due to the Benefit Cap policy too.
Homelessness is heading for a perfect storm and directly due to correctly termed HB reforms and not errantly termed welfare reforms.
That storm will become a hurricane when the LHA maxima cap policy limits housing benefit. A member of the audience – who complained of the ‘transition’ from hostel to his own place saying he waited 5 weeks for his cooker, bed and fridge freezer to arrive and so had to sleep on a rug on a concrete floor – said why did his hostel place cost £263 per week in HB and then had a £20 per week top up from the resident.
From April 2018 the maximum HB that will be paid towards this £283 per week gross rent will be £90.90 per week – the 1 bed LHA rate – if the resident is 35 or over and just £57.77 per week if aged 34 or under. That is why all hostels will close as they cannot survive financially … and Liverpool has 750 units of homeless accommodation so go figure!!
I did crunch the numbers immediately after the LHA maxima policy was announced last year and its a £5 million+ per year cut to homeless providers in the city, ergo closure. Just as it is with DV refuges and with sheltered housing too as the typical £135 per week cost of a 1 bed sheltered property will also have a maximum of £90.90 per week paid in HB.
Temporary homeless provision for pensioners anyone?
It won’t happen for a number of reasons yet what will happen is that sheltered provision will reduce as the HA providers will shut down schemes and offer residents the options of moving to other sheltered schemes, which while complicated to explain will happen and will mean that sheltered housing provision reduces dramatically, which in turn will lead to even more bed blocking and more cost to those in Health Care and of course mean more and more delayed operations, just as increased homelessness will lead to more A&E cases and yet further cost for health and social care.
Liverpool at least does have some integrated and holistic housing, health and social care programmes (note many housing providers squeezed out of this in many parts of country as health and social care take housing for granted!) yet even greater integration and holistic provision is needed and quickly due to the impacts on housing benefit reform policies on homelessness.
This is why even legitimate explanations such as central government funding cuts are no longer good enough.
The radical nature and consequence of these policies required even more radical responses and not the same old same old with a piecemeal element of new and good practice thrown in. Homeless strategies require a radical rethink and an immediate one and in every area of the country. Even the DWP admit that the benefit cap reductions will see the current cohort of 46% in London affected to 54% in the regions will become 20% in London and 80% of all capped households in the regions.
I did smile to myself when Crisis raised Housing First. I looked around the audience when it was raised and saw 90%+ of the audience bemused by the term, including regrettably the councillors and council leads on the rostrum. To those who know what Housing First is, all I can say is that this is perhaps the least radical policy of what is needed in terms of homeless provision and that is how radical homeless strategies have to become and very quickly.
Finally, I mention one very peculiar issue regarding Liverpool and homelessness that is of huge significance. On Monday this week Frank Hont the cabinet member responsible for housing raised a truly significant point when giving evidence on the Homelessness Reduction Bill in the Houses of Parliament. He said Liverpool has just 47% home ownership which (a) means 53% of the city live in the rented sectors and so Liverpool will be harder hit by HB reform policies; and (b) this compares to the 64% national average and also to the 65% North west regional average.
Central government (of all persuasions) sometimes draft housing and housing related policies based on national variables yet mostly on the perverse London housing variables. All of them are implemented carte blanche and without any recognition that Liverpool is a huge outlier in terms of home ownership to rented split and other similar factors. These vanilla and generic policies cause much greater problems for Liverpool than they do even for the other 4 councils in Merseyside because of that very low home ownership and very high rented provision.
Yet that is just one more HUGE reason why Liverpool’s Homeless Strategy has to be even more radical than its neighbouring authorities and be as flexible as possible and not a tome that gets dusty on a shelf. When you then add to that by looking at the census for Liverpool in 2001 and 2011 and you notice the huge increase in the private rented sector and an actual shrinking of the social rented sector, the issue that nobody thinks is moot that the PRS will issue s21 Notices like confetti becomes all the more a bigger concern and cost for the city council.
Then if you want to throw in how Liverpool City Council has gone hand in glove with housing associations developing the ‘affordable’ (sic) rent product that becomes unaffordable to the benefit family with 2 children and thus even more homelessness is created; and then their own plan for a local private housing company run by the council you get a flavour of how the homelessness problem in the City is about to become even more volatile and ever larger.
Housing not just homelessness is extremely volatile in every area of the country and the same old same old strategies that have never worked are going to become less than useless in the very near future. That is a statement of apolitical fact and the few areas I touch on above (and there are many more) all give huge headaches to tenant, landlord and council alike. It puts a touch of meat onto the bones of the skeletal ‘housing crisis’ that is invariably and wrongly seen as just a shortage of properties when it is 100 times more than that.
The same old same old tomorrows solutions to yesterday and yesteryears issues simply is not good enough whether it is responding to the ‘housing crisis’ or a very local homeless strategy. We need uber-radical responses just to stem the many crises in housing and especially in homelessness.