One year on welfare reform in the north east and its impacts on single homelessness
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ONE YEAR ON - Welfare Reform in the North East and its Impacts on Single Homelessness. May 2014 . Adele Irving and Sheila Spencer. Project Overview.

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One year on welfare reform in the north east and its impacts on single homelessness

ONE YEAR ON -Welfare Reform in the North East and its Impacts on Single Homelessness

May 2014

Adele Irving and Sheila Spencer

Project overview

Project Overview

  • To explore the views and experiences of local authorities, housing providers and VCS organisations regarding the implementation of and responses to welfare reform in the North East.

  • To understand the experiences of welfare reform for people who would be classed as single homeless.

  • To examine evidence about the impacts of welfare reform on single homelessness and known risk factors for homelessness.

  • To highlight good practice responses to welfare reform.

  • To identify areas for further action.




  • 8 semi-structured interviews with stakeholders from local authorities and housing providers, supplemented by discussions and attendance at working groups.

  • 8 semi-structured interviews and one focus group with strategic and frontline workers from VCS.

  • 15 semi-structured interviews with homeless people.

  • Review of local, regional, national and international research reports, policy documents, briefing papers and administrative data.


Welfare reforms considered

Welfare Reforms Considered

  • The Under-Occupation Rule (‘Bedroom Tax’)

    • Extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate

    • Changes to Non-Dependent Deductions

  • The Localisation of Social Fund

  • The Localisation of Council Tax

  • Changes to Conditionality for Work-Related Benefits

    • Universal Credit


Welfare reform and single homelessness

Welfare Reform and Single Homelessness

‘Homelessness is something that there’s an awareness of and it’s something that is potentially going to get bigger as welfare reform continues’

‘It will have an impact on homelessness generally but single people especially’

‘Single people/non priority is an area where we have concerns’

‘Some people do manage to get their lives on track and then something like this comes along and destroys it’


The under occupation rule context

The Under-Occupation Rule – Context

  • Over 90% of housing associations in the NE likely to be significantly affected by welfare reform, compared to 58%nationally (Ipsos Mori, 2013).

  • Only 1% of customers on the housing register in July 2013 in a preferential category due to overcrowding (Local authority briefing paper, 2013).

    ‘We’ve spent over £4m fixing a problem that never existed’

  • 61% (almost 28,000 of over 44,100) affected were single-person households (Jarvis et al, 2013).

  • The number of people requiring a one-bed property is more than four times greater than the number of one-bed properties that become available in the NE per year (Jarvis et al, 2013).

    ‘There are not enough one-bedroom properties to accommodate all those affected. Over 3,000 need to be re-housed into one-bedroomed properties, which become available at the rate of 800 a year’

    ‘It would take five years to move all of those in need of a one-bedroomed property into the right sized property, not taking into account any other moves’


The under occupation rule homelessness

The Under-Occupation Rule – Homelessness

‘It is evident when speaking to our customers that there are affordability issues and they simply do not have the income to pay the under-occupation charge. For single people in receipt of JSA, a typical £12 under-occupation charge is a huge proportion of their income’

‘We are the lowest tier of affordable accommodation in the borough and if they can’t afford accommodation with us, what do they do?’

  • Prior to welfare reform, young people on JSA had as little as £4 a week for food, socialising and phone costs once other bills were paid (YHNE, 2014).

  • The biggest gap in provision is move-on housing in both private rented and social housing (Homeless Link, 2013).

  • ‘Non family friendly’ - Rebuilding relationships with children is a significant motivating factor for change (Rowe et al, 2014).

    ‘I have a five year old daughter who I’d like to spend weekends with but I can’t at the minute as all I seem to be offered is shared accommodation’


Responses to the under occupation rule

Responses to the Under-Occupation Rule

  • Housing associations predicted an average spend of £109,000 per affected household to help them to prepare and cope by March 2014 (Ipsos Mori, 2014).

  • Up to 20% decreases in the number of under-occupying households across 2013/14.

  • Responses include: Taking in a lodger, supported lodgings, mutual exchanges, stock re-designation, movement into the PRS, DHPs, investigation of rent payment methods.

  • The average (median) PRS rent in the North East is £450 a month, compared to an average of £243 a month in social housing, and £282 a month for housing association rent (Shelter, 2014).


Discretionary housing payments

Discretionary Housing Payments

‘[Local authority] has made it very accessible and worked with us to develop a fast track approach for all tenants who are suffering financial hardship. This has resulted in greater take-up by affected households’

‘Generally speaking, [local authorities] have operated in terms of looking at the specific person and looking at their own personal income…I think they have done it in quite a fair way’

‘[Local authorities are] using DHPs as a means of helping people, not just delaying the problem’

‘[DHPs are] a sticking plaster’


Extension of the shared accommodation rate

Extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate

‘Private landlords are taking up housing references now and people are getting more and more picky about who they are going to offer their housing to. If they have mental health issues, rent arrears, they won’t take them, so it’s really cutting off more and more options’

‘Under 35s, they are the people who are in the worst position from the bedroom restriction point of view as they can’t just dip and go to the private rented sector as they are going to go onto something worse. They are a real targeted group’


The localisation of the social fund early days

The Localisation of the Social Fund – Early Days

‘It’s much more harder to access now’

‘In the PRS, many landlords want a bond and rent up front. In [local authority area], you have to be homeless and have dependants in order to qualify, so single homeless adults are automatically ruled out’

‘They are trying to set themselves up in their own tenancy and don’t fit the criteria [like leaving an institution] and it just seems there’s nothing there for them’

‘They are awarded very little. They are only getting a small proportion of their application. They were awarded much more under CCGs’

‘Before, it was a fairly consistent national scheme, whereas now, how it’s interpreted and what money is put into, it’s a minefield’


The localisation of the social fund recent months

The Localisation of the Social Fund – Recent Months

  • Understanding of constraints to local welfare assistance schemes .

  • Several schemes revised following consultation.

  • Broader criteria, i.e. support for those affected by benefit delays and sanctions.

  • Additional welfare-related projects being explored, i.e. employment initiatives, low-cost white goods schemes.

  • Commitment to welfare assistance in the future.

    ‘It’s not just responding to the cut but what people need. This may be what government are doing but we need to look at the needs of our people which might mean finding money from elsewhere…It is a small amount of money but has a highly proportionate impact on the poorest’


Welfare conditionality the national picture

Welfare Conditionality – The National Picture

  • DWP figures for first 8 months of new regime: Referrals increased by 30%, the number of sanctions imposed increased by 13%, over half of all reconsideration requests and appeals against JSA sanctions are successful, length of sanctions has increased.

  • CAB (2013) clients supported with sanctions-related problems increased by 45% (from 8,400 to 12,200).

  • A third on JSA and nearly one in five homeless people on ESA had received a sanction, compared to 3% of JSA and 2.7% of ESA claimants nationally (Homeless Link, 2013).

  • Between October 2012 and April 2013, 46% of JSA sanctions imposed were on claimants aged 18-24, despite accounting for just 25-30% of the total benefit caseload (Homeless Link, 2013).


Welfare conditionality local experiences

Welfare Conditionality – Local Experiences

‘Sanctions are much more rigid now…they are holding them to the conditionality now. It’s more strictly applied’

‘In the past year, every other client has been sanctioned’

‘I had one chap who was having panic attacks and couldn’t leave the house and didn’t go to a meeting as he had a panic attack… they sanctioned him for the very reason that he was on benefits’

‘My clients don’t understand anything. I have to explain it to them every time I see them and they don’t seem to retain the information’

‘Because our staff have good relationships with JCP, they can talk to staff and explain the situation of our users to stop them being sanctioned, but if you don’t know how the system works, it’s going to happen more…you are going to leave people in real poverty’


The localisation of council tax support

The Localisation of Council Tax Support

  • Local authorities have implemented a range of measures to support affected households.

    • Discretionary funds

    • Expansion of financial inclusion teams

    • Multiple payment options

    • Texting services

  • Council Tax collection rates remain positive.

    • The number of reminders and summonses has increased significantly.

    • Rent arrears are increasing for households in receipt of housing benefits not affected by the under-occupation rule.

    • Council Tax being prioritised over other bills and basic needs.


Monitoring the impacts

Monitoring the Impacts

‘Robust monitoring is the key’

‘[The response is] local government at its best’

  • The use of local monitoring frameworks (including the development of case studies)

  • The establishment of welfare reform boards and key working groups

  • Maximising existing partnerships as a vehicle for disseminating and capturing information

  • The funding of new infrastructure projects to ensure consistent data collection

  • The appointment of ‘welfare champions’ to engage with people in the community

  • The recognition of issues relating to welfare reform within a range of strategies


Positive outcomes

Positive Outcomes

‘One of those unintended benefits is that it puts into focus those people whose needs weren’t highlighted as they were sustaining a tenancy’

‘It’s brought people together in a way that sometimes hasn’t been done in the same way across the local authority and with third sector partners’

‘Locally, we are working more closely with the faith groups. They are filling those gaps, so we see them as partners providing information and support’

‘The previous system used to be based on the idea that you used the food bank until the welfare system kicks in...but now you use the food bank as the benefits system is failing’


The impact


The headlines

The Headlines

  • Concerns about vulnerable people accepting poorer quality accommodation.

  • Concerns about individual resilience being undermined by less chance of being able to have secure and settled accommodation with space for children to visit.

  • High rate of vulnerable and young households being sanctioned – leading to greater hardship and financial difficulties.

  • Higher levels of rent arrears, debt, use of food banks, fuel poverty, crime.

  • Concern about impact on health.

  • No evictions solely related to welfare reforms as yet.

  • Limited evidence that welfare reform is encouraging people into work.


Changing picture of single homelessness

Changing Picture of Single Homelessness

  • Almost impossible to measure – no robust measure of single homelessness in England.

  • Non-priority homeless applications increased by 3% Oct-Dec 2012 / Oct-Dec 2013 at the national level

  • In NE, 7% increase between 2012 and 2013

  • Nationally, rough sleeping increased by 5% between 2012 and 2013 – but decreased in NE.

  • Youth homelessness: amixed picture, some report increases, others decreases.

  • But too early to gauge effect of welfare reform as yet.

    ‘We expect an increase in homelessness. We have to ensure our services are robust to meet demand’


Financial difficulties

Financial Difficulties

  • Financial hardship increasing amongst vulnerable people.

  • Even where no sanctions, cost of living and housing is not covered by benefits.

    ‘I’m managing my money to the penny but I still have nothing’

  • Young people particularly struggling to make ends meet.

    ‘…they’ve got to pay gas and electricity, food…and the maths just don’t add up. Even the most capable young people will struggle as £56 is not a lot of money to live on.’


Rent arrears and evictions

Rent Arrears and Evictions

  • At national level, Housing Associations report:

    • 66% of tenants hit by the UO rule are in arrears

    • 38% in debt because of the UO rule (IpsosMori, 2014)

  • At NE regional level:

    • 33% increase in court actions amongst housing providers

    • 15% increase in court costs

    • Rent arrears levels vary – some providers report lower increases than expected, and currently levelling off


Increased use of advice and support

Increased Use of Advice and Support

  • CAB: rent arrears / possible homelessness - higher proportion of enquiries (social renting 38% increase, private renting 50% increase), 3,000 clients advised about DHPs.

  • Council and third sector advice struggling with demand.…but acknowledge that advice can’t solve the problem.

    ‘Our organisation is really feeling the bite of welfare reform. Our waiting times have increased from 15 minutes to more than two hours’

    ‘No amount of advice is going to replace the entitlement that has been lost’


Food and fuel poverty

Food and Fuel Poverty

  • Trussell Trust three-fold increase in no. of people given at least 3 days’ food.

  • More than 50% of customers in Apr-June 2013 referred due to Bedroom Tax, sanctions, or benefit delays.

  • NE food banks two-fold increases in demand, some food banks emptied, not advertising.

    ‘Young people are finding it very difficult. They are very conscious of their Council Tax bill. Young people are sacrificing food, fuel and water bills in order to pay’

    ‘I have clients saying, ‘I can’t put my gas on as I’ve paid other bills’’




  • Financial difficulties 2nd most significant factor affecting desistance from re-offending (Rowe et al, 2014).

  • Historical evidence that crime rises when claimants are disallowed or have reduced benefits (e.g. Machin and Marie, 2004).

  • Service users and homelessness agencies reported clients turning to crime when sanctioned.

  • 2 of 3 NE Police forces report 10% increase in acquisitive crime since April 2013.

    ‘I had a friend who had been sanctioned and had no money that went into a shop and filled his pockets with bars of chocolate as he had no other alternative to be able to eat’


Physical and mental health and complex needs

Physical and Mental Health, and Complex Needs

  • Link between housing, poverty and health well-established.

  • Housing provider staff have reported:

    • Over 75% say customers more upset, angry, frustrated, challenging

    • 58% said increase in customers with mental health problems

    • 45% reported suicide threats amongst tenants

    • 55% said they were more stressed (Straightforward, 2014).

  • Organisations report clients not wanting to use food banks, and a sense of hopelessness amongst young people in particular.

  • Increasingly complex needs reported for young people, as a result of welfare reform and public spending cuts

    ‘JCP don’t care about young people anymore, they sanction for anything. They did not take into account my disability. The JCP did not help me or listen to me, they gave me a one month sanction’


Move on accommodation

Move-On Accommodation

  • Increasingly difficult to secure move-on to settled housing from supported housing.

  • Particularly difficult if residents have built up rent arrears in supported housing as a result of sanctions.

  • Increasing use of PRS to find move-on accommodation

    ‘There is difficulty in move-on..…there’s always been more demand than availability but that’s much worse now..…there’s now more hoops to jump through..…increased demand [for social housing] through the Bedroom Tax..…and Council Tax makes it more difficult to move on’


Relationships with family friends and partners

Relationships with Family, Friends and Partners

  • Welfare reform seen to be increasing tensions between family members and leading to increased homelessness for young people

  • Third sector agencies increasing tensions amongst young people sharing tenancies




  • Key Government assumption that welfare reform will “encourage” people into work.

  • Considerable NE evidence that unemployed homeless people do want to work, are depressed at not being able to get work, but are in a weak position to secure work.

  • Evidence that increasing conditionality for benefits is dis-incentivising people to engage with DWP’s Job Centre Plus.

    ‘I really, really want to get my own job, stability, my own wages…’.

    ‘I need employment – it’s a big problem in my life’




  • Welfare reform could be impacting on single homelessness / risk factors.

  • The true impacts of welfare reform on single homelessness are unlikely to be felt for several years to come.

  • Further reforms: Universal Credit, HB cut to under 25s.

  • Further cuts to the public and voluntary sectors.

  • On-going monitoring of the impacts.

  • Robust monitoring of single homelessness.


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