Why these housing cuts will hurt the homeless

Guest post by councillor Mark Thomas

Wandsworth is in the grip of a growing housing crisis.

House prices up 10% in the last year and private rents by 14%

The disastrous effects of the Tories’ unjust welfare cuts, with lives turned upside down and those on low incomes pushed out of the borough.

Virtually every week now I am contacted by people – many of them in decent jobs – who are truly desperate because they have been evicted by their landlords and are unable to find anywhere else where they can afford to rent.

All in all, nearly 3,000 private renters in Wandsworth have been affected by the Government’s housing benefit cuts.

More than 2,000 tenants hit by the bedroom tax.

And around 850 residents by the overall benefits cap.

Unsurprisingly the result has been a rise in the levels of homelessness, with families now being rehoused as far away as Portsmouth and Reigate.

In the face of such challenges, surely what we need is a positive vision of how to develop Wandsworth’s housing function, based on the principles of preventing homelessness and increasing the quality and affordability of the housing available.

Instead, the Tories have put forward a set of cuts to the housing department totally lacking in imagination, clarity of purpose, or common sense. 

Under the council’s plans, the very area of the housing department that is most critical to dealing with the impact of the housing crisis will be amongst the hardest hit, with a reduction in the number of staff from 28 to 18 as a result of merging of the homelessness and allocation functions.

What this will mean in practice is more people falling through the gaps of an overloaded service and waiting for longer.  Already last year, the council missed its target for the assessment of homelessness applications within 33 working days.  

The staff summarised the situation very well in their submission to the Finance and Corporate Resources Committee:

“Given that the number of homeless applications per officer is expected to increase…. The proposal to reduce the size of the team responsible for assessing homelessness is illogical and totally non-strategic.” 

Indeed, if, as seems likely, the result is that people have to stay in temporary accommodation for longer while they wait for a decision, this could end up being self-defeating, by actually leading to greater, not less expenditure.

As a result of the policy of flexible tenancies, in future staff will be expected to review tenants’ circumstances every five years, to determine whether they should still get social housing. Yet, there is no assessment in the paper of the additional workload that this will entail, or how the new arrangements will cope with it.

Nor is there any assessment of how deleting two posts dedicated to private sector enforcement will impact on the council’s ability to protect tenants from rogue landlord activity – something that is becoming ever more important as competition for private tenancies increases.

We are in the middle of a programme of housing changes that are leading to massive social change and which will have a major impact on the future face of the borough.  Many people are experiencing real hardship, at the very same time as the rights that they have previously had are being watered down.

At such a time, it is more important than ever that the council is there to provide our residents with the help they need, by working with them to find solutions to their housing problems and stepping in where needed to provide a safety net.

We need to know that the housing department will have the capacity to take the right decisions to protect the vulnerable and least well off, and ensure that we retain the diversity of people that makes Wandsworth what it is today.

The changes we are being asked to approve today will fatally weaken our ability to achieve this.  They are a knee jerk reaction, that will hit hardest those who are already the victims of this Government’s and this administration’s failed housing policies.

Our residents deserve better. 

Text taken from a speech to Wandsworth council

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