Posts

Government Announces LHA Cap Freeze

The Government has announced an exemption from the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap for those tenants living in hostels and supported housing but is proceeding with the 1% rent cut.  In a written statement to Parliament, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, said that he would defer the imposition of the LHA cap on supported housing until 2019-20 after which a new system would keep funding at current levels.

The announcement follows deep concern from the housing sector, charities and third sector organisations who warned that if the cap were to apply to those living in hostels and supported housing, it would see the schemes providing support to these vulnerable groups become financially nonviable and at risk of closure.  One of the chief concerns raised by those organisations working with the homeless and the mentally ill was that the LHA cap would mean widespread closure of many hostels and shelters which could force thousands of people on to the streets.

The NHC’s own research and member engagement on this matter has found that many registered providers in the North froze development of new supported schemes after the announcement of the cap last year with nearly all plans for future schemes left in doubt. The Ministerial Statement on LHA Cap freeze outlines the broad structure of a replacement model which would see Local Authorities receive funding to ‘top up’ LHA – however, many questions remain. Whilst the LA fund is ‘ring fenced’ it is not clear how long this ring fence will last – or indeed how porous it turns out to be. Equally, the impact on sheltered schemes is not yet clear. The government will shortly issue a consultation paper and the NHC will respond to this.  For more information on LHA issues please contact Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Callum Smith at callum.smith@northern-consortium.org.uk

Financial Exclusion call for evidence

The House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion has published its call for evidence. Interested parties are invited to submit written evidence to the Committee by Wednesday, 14th September.

The Committee has been set up to consider financial exclusion, which results in people having difficulty accessing or using the mainstream financial services that are necessary to participate in daily economic life and society.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield, who chairs the Committee, said: “Our inquiry will attempt to find a way forward. We will look at the role banks and others in the financial services industry can play in helping those who are currently excluded and we will examine the role of charities, Government and regulators. We will also look at the quality of financial education in the UK. Are we doing enough to ensure that children, young people and adults understand their finances and know where to seek help if they need it?”

The call for written evidence contains 14 questions that the Committee wishes to receive responses to. The questions can be found here.

For the inquiry to be effective it is important that views and experiences are heard from a wide range of people and organisations, the NHC urges members to feed in views and supporting evidence from their organisations and tenants. The NHC will be submitting evidence on behalf of our members across the North, so would appreciate any information to be sent to satty.rai@northern-consortium.org.uk by Monday, 5th September.

Regional Policy Network Round-up

The NHC as a membership body, facilitates three regional Policy Networks across the North East, North West and Yorkshire & Humberside. The North East Policy Network has been up and running for many years, and recently has grown and attracted interest from even more members across the north east.  The Yorkshire & Humber and North West Policy Networks are very new, and have met once to date with a second meeting for each scheduled in the next coming months.

The Policy Networks provide NHC members the opportunity to come together on a quarterly basis, at different member venues in each region to network and discuss policy developments and what they mean for each region, challenges and approaches to mitigate their impact on business, tenants and communities, and good practice.

Across the three networks there were shared concerns which included:

 

Universal Credit (UC) 

  • Huge concerns and challenges around inconsistency of messages from DWP/JCP
  • Organisations need to increase staff time and resources to manage the small number of current cases and time spent on each one. This will not be sustainable going forward as UC is fully implemented.
  • Concerns around the Full Digital Service and how this will be managed by each local JCP office. What about those who can’t access the service for various reasons? What support will be in place for them? Will this delay their claim/payment?
  • Relationship with local DWP Partnership Managers largely positive. However there are issues with the Service Centres – are the messages being communicated to the relevant colleagues there?

 

LHA Cap

  • Members are currently carrying out various impact analyses and modeling different scenarios.
  • Seen as a high business risk across the sector – high rise stock and supported housing poses the greatest risk to businesses.
  • Ways to mitigate the impact of the LHA cap include reviewing allocations and tenancy policies. What do these look like? The introduction of affordability checks and refusing tenants who are unable to afford it will cause problems.
  • The general view is that no-one really understands what the effect of the change will be and that the impact probably won’t be known until it actually happens. Often, tenants will only deal with financial changes when they actually hit, as was the case with the under occupation charge.

 

1% Rent Reduction 

  • Has had a huge impact on businesses. Many organsiations are experiencing staff cuts and restructures.
  • Many members are carrying out reviews of non-core and core services, looking at costs and benefits.
  • Developments are being stalled until a full review of business plans is carried out

 

Benefit Cap

  • Identifying tenants who will be impacted is a difficult process as the sector does not collect information on tenant income.
  • Some members are contacting those that were affected by the £26,000 cap and informing them of the up-to-date changes.
  • Some members are visiting households potentially impacted.

 

This is a summary of some of the discussions that have taken place to date across the networks, for further information on the regional policy networks, please visit http://www.northern-consortium.org.uk/services/policy/working-groups/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estimated Number of Households for the new Benefit Cap in 2016/17

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill incorporates a number of policy changes designed to improve work incentives. One of the measures included is that from 2016/17, total household benefits payments for working-age claimants will be capped at new levels, so that workless households will no longer be entitled to receive more than £20,000 in benefits (£13,400 for single adults with no dependent children) outside of Greater London.

In February, the Government produced a report which gives an ad hoc analysis of the estimated number of households in scope for the benefit cap in 2016/17 by Local Authority once the new cap levels have been rolled out.

You can read the categories of the estimated average number of households, in the absence of behavioural response to the cap, in detail in a set of tables here.

UC Implementation Impact Research Update

Universal Credit poses challenges to both social housing landlords and individual claimants. We announced in a previous news post that NHC will undertake a longitudinal research project to collect intelligence on the on-going issues during roll out of Universal Credit. The research includes a survey to member organisations as well as focus group sessions to collect more quality information and case studies with tenants to focus on the effects the changes will have on the welfare system.

Having consulted with our sounding board members, Phase 1 of the research – the self-completion survey – is ready to start. Members are invited to participate in this research, which will be in four quarterly surveys. You can access the survey here.

The findings of the study will be produced in a number of reports and the NHC will run UC events/workshops and seminars as part of our wide events and training service.

If you would like your organisation to participate in this research please contact Barry Turnbull, Policy Services Officer on 0191 566 1030 or at barry.turnbull@northern-consortium.org.uk

Tackling the skills gap – Call for Evidence from NHC members

Unemployment rates are generally on the decline, however in our buoyant labour market, skills shortage vacancies present a growing challenge for employers, local economies and communities. According to the Employer Skills Survey 2015, 6% of all employers have at least one skill shortage. This is a significant increase from 4% back in 2013.

Tackling the skills gap is one of the key priorities for getting more people into work and to help cities attract businesses and jobs. This is a major focus of the devolution deals, with the majority highlighting Employment & Skills as a priority.

The skills system is, therefore, an interesting tool to help identify what central government and local areas need to work together effectively in the devolution deals process. This will in turn achieve a clearer, consistent and localised approach.

Outlook 2016, published by the Centre for Cities last month, argues that “in order for the Chancellor to achieve his objective of a ‘higher wage, low-welfare’ economy in Britain, as set out in the Summer Budget 2015, he will need to vary his approach across the country. To deal with increases in welfare spending in recent years the focus will need to be on addressing housing shortages in high-wage areas. Meanwhile in low-wage areas, to tackle both low-pay and high-welfare, the focus needs to be on boosting jobs and skills.”

Improving employability will lead to more growth and less spending on welfare, devolving employment and skills to local areas is important in tackling some of the challenges faced by groups and working with local employers to ensure the right skills are in place. The appetite for greater devolution from cities and local areas reflects their understanding of the importance of local flexibility in meeting these needs.

As part of the NHC’s wider work programme around employment & skills, the first stage of which includes gathering evidence and intelligence from members, we would like to hear from members on the approaches your organsiations and your local partners are adopting or planning to tackle the skills gap including:

  • Partners around the table
  • Engagement with employers and education sector
  • What key skills are required by local employers?
  • What approaches are you and your partners adopting to fill the skills gap and raise skill levels now and in the future?
  • What evaluation processes are in place or carried out to date?

The NHC is aware of some of the pilots and great work underway across the North to tackle the skills gap, and will be engaging with the pilots.

If you would like to find out more or submit any information on the above, please contact satty.rai@northern-consortium.org.uk

UC Implementation Impact Research to be launched

Universal Credit is designed to support those on low incomes or out of work, it replaces six benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support and will be rolled out across all job centres by the end of the financial year.

Universal Credit offers a huge challenge to social housing landlords and individual claimants alike. Learning from the Direct Payment pilots, housing providers, local authorities and wider partner agencies have reported various issues and challenges from rising rent arrears to a range of impacts on tenants’ and their ability to budget.

To better understand the issues being faced by tenants and landlord organisations in the north, the Northern Housing Consortium will undertake a longitudinal research project to collect intelligence on the on-going issues during roll out of UC. The research would include a survey to member organisations, supplemented by focus group sessions to collect more quality information and case studies with tenants to focus on the effects of the changes in the welfare system.

Members are invited to participate in this research, which would take the form of four quarterly surveys/focus groups/case study interviews. The findings of the study will be produced in a number of reports and NHC will run UC events/workshops and seminars as part of their wide events and training service.

If you would like your organisation to participate in this piece of research please contact Barry Turnbull, Policy Services Officer on (0191) 5661030 or at barry.turnbull@northern-consortium.org.uk