This is the Wandsworth-based letting agency that took £5.5million in housing benefit from a charity which housed the homeless. £2.1m of that was paid by Wandsworth council. Crisis, the housing charity, described the arrangement as “a new low”.
Several of their properties – used to house vulnerable people – were unsuitable, due to lack of heating and hot water, rats and damp. The BBC reports the company earned £11,568 profit per year from one property alone. Continue reading →
This paper covers council rents, money to tackle the homelessness crisis and elements of councillor Govindia’s new housing strategy. There are positive and negative sides to each.
On councilrents, the average increase this year will be 2.2%. This is fair – but in reality almost no one will actually pay it.
Sometimes you just have to look at a policy and apply a common sense check. 10,000 of our tenants will get less than £1 a week rent rise but 3,500 households on historically lower rents will get more than £8 a week rent rise, with almost nothing in between. Continue reading →
Local rents went up an average of 14 per cent last year. With pay freezes and housing benefit cuts, many local families can’t keep up.
All it takes is an illness or relationship break-up for families to get trapped in a downward spiral of debt. For too many local people this ends with homelessness.
The main cause of the crisis is eviction by private landlords. This led to 13pc of homeless cases in 2010 but had risen to 53pc by last year.
The homelessness crisis hits families hardest. In 2010, only five homelessness families qualified for four-bed homes, last year it was 68 families. This week’s Wandsworth Guardian has a report on local homeless families who will be moved outside the borough.
More and more homeless families have to be housed in temporary accommodation, in particular dingy Bed & Breakfasts.
I’ve seen how homelessness affects children in Putney, Battersea and Tooting. School runs that take two hours. Fights within families sharing one cramped room. The symptoms of depression. Continue reading →
Speech on Government Welfare Reforms to Wandsworth Council, 5 December 2012
Thank you Mr Mayor, this motion relates to a series of government measures that affect people who need support to afford to live in Wandsworth.
So the debate is about the sort of place we want to live.
We could start with the views of two residents – neither one a known Socialist: the Director of Housing and the Director of Finance.
In paper 12-689 they conclude these measures will affect thousands of residents and will lead to an increase in arrears, evictions and homelessness, and the reforms will cost the council more than £7m a year in unpaid rent.
So it’s an important debate – and I hope a reasoned one. Residents deserve more than ‘no cuts at all’ versus ‘something must be done’.
So while I think this policy is badly intentioned and will have awful consequences, I’m happy to begin with three straight statements:
Housing Benefit has got out of control; I agree with the principle of a benefit cap; and I think there is too much fraud in the current system.
To take these in turn:
1. Housing Benefit is out of control
It is sinful that £20bn a year is paid to landlords, money that could be much better spent building homes.
Remember that Housing Benefit itself was a short-term sticking plaster for lack of affordable home-building under governments of both parties.
So now we have ripped off that sticking plaster. More than 500 3- and 4-bedroom houses are left exposed. The landlords of these properties, not being charities, will over time most likely return them to market rents or sell up. This will force people from our community, and crucially dozens of family-sized properties will be taken out of the affordable stock forever.
So what steps has the council taken to negotiate with these landlords? Are we reaching out to residents, or simply waiting for them to come to us?
2. The benefits cap
I don’t think one family should consistently live a better life on benefits than the neighbouring family that works every hour God sends.
But any cap set nationally needs a serious London weighting.
A search in Battersea for 2-bed flats under the new Housing Benefit cap of £290 a week today turned up no properties.
The Universal Credit cap of £500 a week for a family including housing costs is reasonable in Plymouth, but not Putney.
The most obvious impact of caps at these levels are to exclude low-income families from certain parts of London. Why not set the caps at Wandsworth averages?
3. There is too much fraud in the system
There is, I’m co-operating with the Housing dept on a case at present.
But this paper contained no anti-fraud measures at all. This is a policy that targets legitimately claimed benefits – in the depths of the recession.
These reforms will end the situation where the children who live in a Housing Association home in my road can grow up chatting to the doctor and the accountants who live in the neighbouring properties.
We want to make social housing truly something people aspire to, not qualify for, but these reforms will only intensify poverty on our estates.
Government should move housing subsidy from landlords towards bricks and mortar and we should focus relentlessly on housing delivery and training and job opportunities for local people. A housing stimulus is a good way out of recession, and a good job is the only way out of poverty.
However you vote tonight, I would encourage all members to investigate these issues in their own wards. There are people out there who will need your support and protection. Thank you.