Bill and Ben the power flop men explain the LHA maxima

At the end of every Bill and Ben episode the question was asked Who knows? The answer was always the little house knows! 

When it comes to social housing, both supported and general needs, there are many candidates for Little Weed to go alongside HM Treasury as Bill and DWP as Ben when it comes to the LHA maxima cap policy. It could be Gavin Barwell the housing minister, it could just as easily be David Orr or any housing leader as when it comes to the need for support we find the little house doesn’t know tenant need and doesn’t know tenants.

This post brings together many issues I have discussed many times before;

• Landlords do NOT know tenants

• The increased need for landlords to know much more about tenants

• The social care crisis

• The LHA maxima cap impacts and especially on general needs tenants

… and especially the superficial nonsense of Localism and even greater nonsense when Localism is expressed and sold as a case of of local government know local needs best when it comes to commissioning.

This post is long and aimed at the housing professional and each one of them can thank @LucyFerman who on Monday tweeted she was surprised that I was not tweeting about the Panorama programme over social care crisis in Liverpool. My response was (a) I had been watching the truly abysmal Channel 4 Dispatches programme on the overall benefit cap, and (b) “Shit, I feel a 4000 word blog coming on!” This also has the merit of blaming everything on a Chelsea fan which is always a worthy cause!

[Note: This post rambles as the four bullet points above are interwoven and I could easily draft 4000 words alone on why commissioning is the biggest load of bovine anal secretions there is and wholly unworkable and the dangers that the LHA maxima cap proposals really give to all social landlords, so please bear with me as I adopt a surprisingly non-ranty tone in what follows.]

In the last 24 hours I have also red a thought-provoking as always piece on these issues from John Wade at Bromford, an avowed Stoke City fan and thus deserving of sympathy for that, and who is also mentioned in an Inside Housing piece today over the LHA maxima cap and a further interesting piece by Matthew Gardner at THT entitled “We need better safety nets for vulnerable tenants” which presupposes that landlords know social tenants and their needs.

Do landlords know tenants (customers)?

No is my short answer and for which regrettably there is plenty of evidence and social landlords do not know their tenants and while I find calling tenants customers as distasteful as they are not in many key aspects, it also means that landlords do not know their customer, which is something any organisation does at its peril and indeed at its own risk to survival.

Jon Wade’s piece recounts his 30 years in housing primarily like mine in supported housing and John will know that it is not untypical for staff to resident ratios of 1:4 and sometimes even 1:1 or more happen in supported housing.  As such this staffing ratio explains that in supported housing tenants and their needs are known in huge depth and necessarily so.

Compare that to the housing officer in general needs housing with a patch of 350 to 750 households which could be 1000 men, women and children and the comparison gives light to the ability to know tenants.  Express it in weekly time terms of a 40 hour week and the supported housing officer with a 1:4 ration has 10 hour per tenant or resident while the general needs housing officer has 2400 weekly minutes for 1000 residents and thus 144 seconds per resident per week.

Why that is a significant analogy is for two main contextual reasons of firstly, the many cuts to Housing Benefit such as bedroom tax, benefit cap and pay more to stay dictate that landlords know much more about the social tenant in general needs housing; and secondly, the fact that there is far greater if indeed not more support need in general needs housing than there is in supported housing!

More support need in general needs housing?

That statement will surprise and it surprised the hell out of me these past 4 – 5 years when I have been mostly advising tenants, tenant groups, welfare rights organisations and welfare teams at social landlords over the many cuts to housing benefit that we wrongly term as ‘welfare reforms.’   This work has been right across the country and private data I hold on the scale of ‘vulnerability’ within general needs social housing is staggering.

I have not mentioned this before in any of my hundreds of blogs for two reasons. Firstly it is anecdotal and I didn’t want that charge thrown at it especially when I always rant about pesky facts.  Secondly, because it has been collated over the past 4 – 5 years and came in piecemeal so for example the very high incidences of mental health need, disability of all type need and the level of carers and social tenants who qualify for and get a spare bedroom for their overnight carers, I had to ensure was not limited to either those tenants who were coming forward or to given geographic areas.

The sheer level of learning, mental, physical and sensory disabilities in bedroom taxed and other general needs tenants I have personally seen these past 5 years has surprised the hell out of me, as has the levels of COPD and countless other physical health matters.  I knew full well from the Supporting People programme that there was a likely high level of unmet support need in the general social tenant populace yet the scale of that unmet need and its level is truly spectacular and something that it still largely unknown.

What has prompted me to now discuss the unmet support need which also means that landlords do not know social tenants is a number of very important official datasets that have been released, I think with pure coincidence, AFTER the closing of the consultation on the LHA maxima cap consultation on supported housing.

Last week the Family Resource Survey (FRS) whose dataset in incredibly influential and always has been used by all governments in terms of social policy was released.  A 22% increase in disabled households from 2013/14 to 2015/16 with numbers increasing from 11.9 million households to 13.3 million – a further 1.4 million disabled households – which equates to a city that is five times the size of Liverpool if that aids perspective and in just two years!  These are incredulous increases in numbers and in impact.

To use the same time references in June 2012 and prior to the 2013/2014 FRS data the DWP estimated that 63% of all bedroom-taxed households included a disability.  Now with a 22% increase in all disabled households that extrapolates to almost 81% of bedroom taxed households including a disability and with significant impacts for social landlords as well as tenants obviously.  Then add in to that the high likelihood of DHPs becoming as rare as rocking horse sh*t for bedroom tax with their inevitable transfer to benefit-capped households and the income / arrears / eviction issues of social tenants becomes much greater.

The fact that the abysmal Dispatches programme told us that Croydon council were paying a £166 per week DHP to a newly benefit-capped household also means that Croydon will have to stop bedroom tax DHP for 8 households as the average bedroom tax there is £21 per week.  This is not a one-off and will be typical practice as it simply represents more immediate savings for the DHP budget holder, each local council, in terms of temporary homeless cost.

Landlords have relied upon Bedroom Tax DHP for social tenants yet now will have to abandon that reliance and the slow burning £15.21 per week average bedroom tax HB cut to arrears now burns stronger as councils will transfer DHP funding to the average £76 per week benefit-capped household.  That strategy has been in play with London councils ever since the overall benefit cap began yet in the regions LA’s paid out far more DHP for bedroom tax purposes and now that the OBC will see 80% of those capped be in the regions due to the 23% cut in its level that same DHP practice will follow.

The OBC is THE most significant HB cut of all as it means that social landlords will drastically have to review allocation policies and they will not let out any of the new 385,000 social housing properties each year without very strict affordability tests.  No social landlord will or CAN let out the 3 bed property at the regional average £100 per week to the Simpsons family of a couple with three children who will only receive £50 per week maximum housing benefit.

Yet critically this level of knowledge over income and benefits is NOT known for the 4.3 million or so existing social tenants of whom 3.2 million receive housing benefit which is 74% of all social tenants get HB and shows the significant link between cuts to HB entitlement and the operation and strategy of social housing and when we look at who receives HB as I discussed here we find that less than 6% are on the dole.

As just 5.89% to be exact of social tenants are on the dole and thus ready and able to take up employment to escape the many HB cuts, why is it that social landlords spend huge amounts on EET activities of employment, education and training?  There are far more social tenants who cannot take up work immediately as the HB data shows such as those receiving ESA and what we used to call Incapacity Benefit who are not able to take up employment straight away and indeed the premise of ESA is those receiving it will take up employment in up to two years and only then if they have support which is largely not available in any case!

In short does the landlord funding which goes on EET activities primarily focus on just 5.89% of tenants and reveal that they do not know their tenants / customers?  There is a valid argument there!

Some landlord EET activities are very good indeed with close tie-ups to local large employers yet some are not and I could describe as being more for top show PR purposes.  However even the very good ones have to be very iterative to meet rapidly changing variables such as the increase in zero hour contracts which by definition sees workers called in on demand and necessitate that tenants have child care provision on the same demand, which it is not and which is outside of friends or family non-existent outside of Monday to Friday and 8am to 6pm.

As the DWP’s own benefit-capped data reveals some 59% of all those capped are lone parents who have preschool age children and so their availability to take up even the minimum 16 hours per week on low pay to escape the ravages of the benefit cap is heavily constrained by the non-availability of child care provision and thus landlord EET activities can easily be all for nought.

Again the lone parent is who lives in social housing, they are the majority customer if you will, and despite the good intentions of landlord EET activity programmes again reveals that landlords do not know the (needs of) their tenants.

The rapidly changing nature of cuts to HB entitlement and wider welfare benefit matters mean that landlords have to become ten times more responsive to them and to put services in place ahead of such cuts being implemented … which is a problem for any sector and especially for social housing with its noted and long held cautious and conservative approaches in the main.  Some do have very innovative and far-sighted policies such as Coast & Country Housing Association who pro-actively support their tenants to appeal the bedroom tax and other ‘reforms’ as their tenants requested it.

CCHA have the trust of their tenants unlike many social landlords who simply bombarded their tenants with red-inked letters, doorstepping practices (of which I was informed of this for benefit cap reasons just two weeks ago) and the infamous KHT letter of, essentially, pay your bedroom tax or social services will come and take the kids, that I revealed in November 2013.

The reason I have reported on social landlord red-ink bombardment and named and shamed is because social landlords need to have the trust of social tenants. The relationship of trust between landlord and tenant is sacrosanct in supported housing and on an organisation wide basis not just sporadic one-off cases and it needs to be in general needs housing too.  IF tenants perceive their social landlord as just a money grabber and only concerned for their own bottom lie finances then no relationship of trust can be established … and without that relationship of mutual trust no tenant is going to seek support for welfare benefit maximisation or appealing any welfare benefit decision as they do not trust their landlord.

In short, landlord actions and inactions prevent landlords from ever knowing their customer and finding out what their tenants needs are.

Matthew Gardner in his Inside Housing article today relates the story of “Maurice” a THT tenant who relapsed back into alcoholism due to Hurricane Doris and the very good work done by THT staff in supporting him.  It is to be commended but also expanded as even the best social landlords have scant idea as to the scale and level of support needs and ‘vulnerabilities’ among their general needs population.

I heard Matthew speak passionately over THT spending many millions of their own money into putting in place much needed supported housing for older persons on the basis that it was the right thing to do.  That was at a seminar on the supposed integration of housing health and social care a few years back … at which Matthew was rightfully angry that housing dis not even have a seat at this holistic table in Trafford, which is surprisingly common, and leads in nicely to a condemnation of Localism and commissioning which are superficial as hell, can never work and simply local authorities having the nexus of control.

LHA Maxima Cap and the little house doesn’t know!

At this same seminar jointly organised by SITRA and the LGA Matthew Gardner spoke of housing, health and social care while the other four (?) speakers spoke of joint health and social care only and as is all too typical negated the role of housing per se and especially its stabilising central role and key preventative one in avoiding the disempowering tenant aspect and hugely added cost of health and social care to health and social care budget holders.

Yet that is precisely what putting the money into the hands of local authorities does in commissioning as we are informed will happen with the LHA Maxima cap and what we know all too well happened in the Supporting People programme … and which the average 67% cut to support funding in SP that the JRF released in the past week has played a huge part in creating what we call the social care crisis that is on top of the national political agenda today.

Prevention is not only better than cure it costs a shitload less to the public purse – and yes shitload is a very professional term here!

Supporting People had prevention at its heart.  Yet cut any preventative service by 67% and the proverbial is always going to inevitably hit the fan at some future point with the only unknown is when.  Putting SP funding in the hands of local authorities and with no grant conditions saw administering local authorities move funding into their own in-house services and/or into service that would save LA budgets the most.

This is a wholly different context to support need and is at play right now with DHP budgets transferring from bedroom tax to benefit cap and will be massively increased when the excess over LHA rates transfers into a locally managed and commissioned pot of money from April 2019 in the LHA maxima policy.

There is a chronic level of unmet need and note well the FRS data of a 22% increase in disabled households was released AFTER the IPSOS MORI report that is used as the basis of purported support need in the recent LHA Maxima consultation and the policy that follows in 2019.  So when this alleged consultation says that it will somehow factor in some funding element for increased support need can anyone see the government increasing the general disability element of that by 22% and the mental health element of that by 28% which the FRS report also stated?

No is the simple answer which means that any projected and promised extra funding to reflect extra support need is pie in the sky political mumbo jumbo.  To which you could even add the political ‘sounding’s put out yesterday that the state pension age will have to rise from 67 to 70 which also creates more support need and a greater amount of support being given to a much increased new working-age population and a much reduced exempt pensioner basis for all HB cuts such as bedroom tax and benefit cap and LHA maxima cap etc.

Then there is the huge unmet need I discuss from my anecdotal data and the official data sources only some of whom I have discussed above and the comments I have made as to even if social landlords are aware of this level of unmet support need and vulnerability in general needs tenants.

Then add in how many local authorities view just health and social care need and not the housing housing and social care need I discussed which is surprisingly common.  If housing do not have a seat at the table for reporting support need than even if they are aware of the any increases that just the 1.4 million added disabled households give this need is not going to be factored into the commissioning process.

Then throw into the mix that local councils are already urging central government to use the 2% adult (only) social care precept to be used by them in a more flexible manner, a term they used to persuade the last Labour government to remove the SP ringfence, which has led to a 67% reduction in the amount spent on preventative support and the true horrors of the failed Localism ideology of superficiality writ large and the commissioning process of local government know local needs best should send shock waves through any social landlord and supported housing provider!

In short while my personal and professional passion for supported housing says and knows we need far more supported housing and that if needs based we could easily quadruple supported housing to meet it and more, my professional consultant head says any social landlord or support provider who is even contemplating keeping its existing supported housing never mind increasing it wants their bumps read!!

There is no logical or business rationale for continuing with supported housing and only a moral imperative – especially for the majority of providers who are not in-house council services in housing associations or charities.  

I genuinely feel queasy just typing that sentence and it sickens and saddens me in drafting it yet it is my emotionless summation of where both social and supported housing is at.

It is bad enough that the LHA maxima cuts what is now given in funding as a right to make it become discretionary and at the behest of local commissioners even before stating that the commissioning process is superficial bollocks that can never work as intended to meet need.  It can only ever meet financial imperatives of those who hold the budget and local councils will use it to commission what suits their budgets and that alone.

There is no correlation between the pithy superficial statement that localism and commissioning process uses of local people know local needs best and the funding flowing to that local need, even if that local need is known which it is not!

Supporting People is the de facto analogy of localism and the commissioning process and the LHA maxima variant of it, at least the little and vague amount we have been told about it, holds no constraints whatsoever such as the grant conditions that were places on SP between 2003 and 2009 prevented local councils from pillaging the supported housing pot it created.  Giving freedoms and flexibilities to all local councils and not just the 22 of 151 of them who were ridiculously given excellent authority status at the end of October 2002, totally undermined the strong theory of Supporting People and led to its failure and that failure was the failure to support vulnerable people.

This variant in the LHA Maxima cap policy is much worse and holds much greater risk to all supported housing providers and to social landlords who support tenants in varying ways in general needs social housing.

I could go deeper and rant and rave at the spineless apathy of support providers who say oh the government has promised a different more substantive set of arrangements for emergency provisions such as refuges and hostels.  Aside from believing that government posturing (and which they have yet to work out even if it can be worked out) all such DA/EA provisions are a form of staged resettlement and if you can’t move people on from refuge and hostel because of the LHA maxima cap and even the banning of 18 – 21 years olds then you can’t move people into refuge or hostels in the first place … which of course leads to more homelessness, more rough sleeping and more domestic violence.

Summary

Is there a correlation between a 67% cut in preventative support funding the JRF report on SP funding and (a) the increase in homeless figures we see, (b) the increase in rough sleeping number we see, (c) the increase in disability households we now know and the housing and support problems they all give, and (d) the social care crisis?

Sorry that’s rhetorical and the answer is a clear and definitive yes and I and many others predicted this back in 2008 when the removal of the SP ringfence was first mooted by the ODPM under the last Labour lot.  The SP department within it that was headed up by the now President of the CiH and the same department who hauled me in to see them after I ranted on the old SPKweb that Supporting People was made into a dog’s breakfast in October 2002 with the freedoms and flexibilities the ODPM gave to the so-called excellent authorities.

That rant made the national newspapers which led to my being ‘called in’ and then asked if I wished to work for the ODPM in SP and in whichever part I wanted and at a fee of my own choosing too.  A generous offer, very generous in fact … yet one I refused as I would no longer be able to criticise what even the ODPM knew then was a dog’s breakfast that couldn’t work even with grand conditions which are wholly absent from the LHA Maxima incarnation of the same that is now Tory policy.

There is no logical or business rationale for continuing with supported housing and only a moral imperative – especially for the majority of providers who are not in-house council services in housing associations or charities.  

I have argued that the benefit cap is the end of the social housing model.  It is yet the end of supported housing with the LHA maxima cap and its superficial nonsense of commissioning means supported housing will die a much quicker death.  Regrettably, the apathy and lack of real challenge over this from many so-called social landlords has come down to a question of whether supported housing’s graveyard is a brownfield site on which they can build some private housing upon or not.

Anyone recall my numerous arguments over HA’s shafting local government over the forced sale of LA properties to fund HA tenants RTB discounts and how this would come back to bite HAs on their arses?

Guess who the LHA Maxima commissioners are?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Bill and Ben the power flop men explain the LHA maxima

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