Sunday 14 July 2013

Does this report REALLY tackle Brent's housing crisis?

Click on image to enlarge
A report going before the Brent Executive on Monday July 15th lays bare the extent of Brent's housing extent and how it has been exacerbated by the Coalition's changes to benefits.

The graph shows that Brent has been much more affected by landlords ending tenancies than our neighbouring boroughs. 47%of homeless acceptances in 2012-13 were homeless due to the ending of a private letting in the wake of the changes in the Local Housing Allowance. The private rented sector itself continues to grow with 31,784 households living in private rented accommodation in the 2011 Census, compared with 17,043 in 2001. The sector accounted for 28.8% of Brent households.

Unmet demand for housing assistance stands at 10,366 households. This excludes those on Band D who are assessed by the Council Allocations Scheme as having no housing need.

Current demand on the Housing Register, including the homeless in temporary accommodation and those on the Transfer list is just over 19,000 households. In contrast the Council expect to make just 844 lettings of permanent social housing tenancies by the end of 2013-14.

These are allocated thus:

Looking ahead the Report notes the pressures that will be experienced:

1. Local Housing Allowance changes will continue to impact and make it harder for the Council to procure private rented accommodation as landlords will be unwilling to 'engage with tenants in recipet of benefits'.
2. The changes in LHA payable to single people under 35, which limits payment to a single room in a shared house, will mean they will find it increasingly difficult to find accommodation in the private rented sector.
3. From 12th August 2013, over a five week period, the Overall Benefit Cap will limit the total amount of benefit payable to a non-working couple or a single parent to £500 per week, and £350 per week for a non-working single person. The OBC was expected to impact on 2,700 Brent households, but some have taken measures so as to be exempted and the DWP assesses the total as 2,267 now. The bulk of these are in temporary accommodation or the private rented sector.
4. The Bedroom Tax will reduce benefit for rent  for social housing tenants by 14% (average £17.50 pw) with one 'spare room; and 25% (average £32.66 pw) for those with two 'spare rooms'.
5. Many households will be making a minimum contribution of Council Tax for the first time when they are also faced with  financial pressure from other welfare reforms.
6. The DWP is predicting that approximately 40% of claimants currently receiving Disability Living Allowance will not qualify to receive the replacement Personal Independence Allowances. The report notes: 'these claimants will be a high priority for receiving support from the council to cope with changes in circumstances' as receipt of DLA by a member of a household previously exempted them from  the Overall Benefit Cap and Council Tax charge.

The consequences of all this, the report says, is that families are likely to live in over-crowded and poor quality accommodation in the borough rather than move out to cheaper and better quality accommodation outside Brent. 'Unscrupulous' landlords may take advantage of families affected by Welfare Reform by refusing to deal with disrepair issues, knowing that the families will be reluctant to report them for fear of losing their accommodation. Brent Council has therefore drafted a Private Housing Action Plan to deal with these issues.

The report confirms actions already approved by the council including:

1. The introduction of fixed term tenancies by the council with partner housing providers determining their own policies as long as they are 'broadly consistent with the council's priorities'.
2 To use Flexible Tenancies (fixed term tenancies at either social or affordable rent) on the same basis as approved for other social landlords.
3. Introductory or starter tenancies of 12 months will be used for all new tenants in concert with fixed-term tenancies as relevant, 'Five years normally but with shorter and/or longer periods for specified groups/circumstances'.
4. Changes in the Allocation Scheme which means the residence qualification is established through living in Brent at the time of application and continually throughout the last five years. (NB this is a tightening of the previous proposal of living in Brent for three of the last five years).
5. The definition of 'living in unsuitable accommodation', which gives priority under the Alllocation Scheme will be tightened so that 'households with only minor disrepair issues are not being given priority for rehousing'.
6. Households who are over crowded by 'just one room' should not automatically be given priority in the new scheme - each case will be considered 'on its individual merits;.

The Mutual Exchange scheme, originally aimed at providing an incentive to 'under-occupiers' to downsize as as a result of the bedroom tax, will be extended to cover for example those over retirement age who are not affected by the current benefit changes.

The maximum payment for someone wishing to downsize would be £1,000 plus assistance wit removal costs and access to a handyman service. Full payment would be made for a 'perfect fit' exchange and pro rata for others.

It does seem to me that while the Private Housing Action Plan to protect private rented tenants is welcome much of the report is really fiddling while Rome burns. Changing definitions and tenancy arrangements is not dealing with the underlying issue which is a shortage of social housing and the failure (cf Quintain Wembley Regeneration, Willesden Green Library development, Queensbury development, and the Bridge Park/Unisys development) to build truly affordable housing.

The full report can be found HERE

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