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CARERS CLAIMING BENEFITS ? Just How Secure Is That Roof Over YOUR Head ? Housing Benefit & Council Tax Problems ? - Page 3 - Carers UK Forum

CARERS CLAIMING BENEFITS ? Just How Secure Is That Roof Over YOUR Head ? Housing Benefit & Council Tax Problems ?

All about money
Council tax debts soar 40% in six years.

Charities say " Huge issue " of arrears is now as big a problem as credit card debts.

Council tax debts have soared by nearly 40% in six years, Guardian research has found, with charities warning these arrears now rival credit card debts as their biggest concern.

Amid warnings that “heavy-handed” collection tactics are putting severe pressure on those already in financial difficulty, households face a fourth consecutive year of above-inflation council tax rises as local authorities attempt to recoup money cut from their budgets by central government. The annual band D bill will rise by an average of £75.60.

Guardian analysis of government figures found the total amount of council tax arrears across England and Wales in the 2017-18 financial year was £944m, 37% higher than in 2012-13, when it was £691m.

The total council tax debt in 2017-18 was £3bn, an increase of 27% on 2012-13, when it was just under £2.4bn.

Prison sentences should be used only if those who fail to pay have shown “wilful neglect or wilful refusal”, meaning people who are in arrears because they cannot afford to pay should not be imprisoned. But campaigners say many of those given jail terms have acquired the debts because they cannot afford their bills.

Figures released following a freedom of information request reveal 305 people were given prison sentences in the same period for failing to pay their council tax, while a further 6,278 received suspended sentences.

Campaigners called for the laws in England to be changed so non-payment of council tax was not punishable with a prison sentence. In November, the Welsh government joined Scotland and Northern Ireland in removing custodial sentences from punishments for not paying local taxes.

Debt charities said council tax debts were becoming a primary concern as requests for help with credit card debts and personal loans fell. In 2018, 30% of callers to the National Debtline had council tax arrears, up from 15% in 2008. The percentage of callers who reported credit card debts fell from 67% to 35% in the same period.

Joanna Elson, the chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs the National Debtline, said council tax debt was one of the fastest-growing types it helped with.

“Local authorities need to intervene as early as possible to ensure that people struggling to pay their council tax receive the free debt advice they need – as well as agreeing repayment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable,” she said.

In 2013, responsibility for supporting low-income households to pay council tax was given to local government, and funding for it was cut, though pensioners are still protected. Council tax arrears had fallen by 10% in the five years before that.

According to recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 90% of English councils have cut council tax support for those of working age. As a result, an extra 1.3 million working-age households are sent council tax bills and another 1.2 million have to pay more.

Local authorities in England are allowed to raise their council tax by up to 2.99% without holding a referendum, plus a further 2% if they provide social care. Research by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy found 80% of local authorities were imposing the maximum increase permitted this year. Increases vary substantially between regions, ranging from an average of £71 in London to £86 in the north-east.

Regulation 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 allows magistrates to commit someone with council tax debt to prison. Individuals can be jailed for up to three months and, as it is a civil offence, they do not get a criminal record. While the prison term does not clear the debt, once someone has been imprisoned, the council cannot use further enforcement measures.

Campaigners have also criticised local authorities’ regular use of bailiffs to collect debts. Research by the Money Advice Trust found local authorities in England and Wales referred 2.3m debts to bailiffs in 2016-17, an increase of 14% on 2014-15.

A report published by the justice select committee on 11 April recommended the government introduce new regulation for the bailiff industry to ensure people in debt are treated fairly. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced it would issue new guidance on how councils collect debts.

Last year, Citizens Advice helped almost 96,000 people with council tax debt and 67,000 people with credit card problems. About 30,000 people had an issue with bailiffs, 10,000 asked about the right of a local authority to use bailiffs to enforce the debt, and 2,600 people with council tax debt approached the charity due to issues relating to threats of prison.

Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said more people came to the charity for help with council tax arrears than any other type of debt. “It’s a huge issue for those in financial difficulty,” she said.

“Falling behind on a council tax bill can lead to serious consequences and send debts spiralling. The government must look at the rules that oversee council tax collection to encourage local authorities to use less heavy-handed tactics when collecting arrears.”

A spokesperson for MHCLG said: “We expect councils to show sympathy for people in genuine hardship and only use court action as a last resort, but every penny of council tax not collected means a higher bill for the majority of people who do pay.”
The woman jailed for a £4,742 council tax debt she could not pay.

Melanie Woolcock was not well enough to work and receiving benefits when she was sentenced.

In July 2016, Melanie Woolcock, a single mother from Bridgend in Wales, was given an 81-day jail sentence for failing to pay her council tax. Not well enough to work and receiving benefits, she had racked up £4,742 in council tax debts.

A court initially ordered her to pay £10 a week towards her arrears. While she kept up the payments for a few months, Woolcock eventually defaulted and was sentenced in her absence. Despite making a last-minute payment of £100, on 8 August, bailiffs and two police officers went to her home and took her to Bridgend police station and then to HMP Eastwood Park.

“I was being treated exactly the same as someone who had murdered somebody,” she said after her release. “But when you’re in there and you feel you haven’t committed a crime, you feel a vast injustice being done to yourself.”

She is one of 305 people sent to prison in the past six years in England and Wales for failing to pay their council tax, according to government figures released following a freedom of information request by the Guardian. There were 6,278 suspended sentences handed out for the same offence in that period.

Regulation 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 states people can be given prison sentences for not paying council tax only if they have done so due to “wilful neglect or wilful refusal”, meaning those who have fallen into arrears because they can’t afford to pay should not be imprisoned. But campaigners say many of those given jail terms have acquired the debts because they can’t afford their bills.

Woolcock was released from prison after 40 days following an appeal. A judge found magistrates had failed to conduct a proper inquiry into her means before sentencing. A subsequent high court judgment ruled magistrates were making mistakes and wrongfully imprisoning people in 9.5%-18% of cases, but while “that level of error by magistrates is of concern and unacceptable”, it was too low to suggest “a problem inherent within the system”.

Following Woolcock’s case, the Welsh government decided to abolish custodial sentences for non-payment of council tax – a change that comes into force this month. Scotland and Northern Ireland do not punish non-payment of local taxes with prison.

In another case, a woman in her 40s from Kent, who asked to remain anonymous, was committed to a closed women’s prison for 90 days for a council tax debt of £2,684.28.

“They kept moving me from cell to cell, from one house block to another,” she said. “I was scared every night in case I got stabbed.” She said she was still suffering the effects. “I’m still suffering to this day … It makes you always look over your shoulder,” the woman added.

Samuel Genen, a solicitor who represented both Woolcock and the woman in Kent, said he did not trust the figures from the Ministry of Justice in response to the Guardian’s FoI, as information provided in the past had often been incomplete and wrong.

“The problem with imprisonment for council tax in England is simply the system gets it wrong,” he said. “Poor people are wrongly imprisoned and the government chooses to do nothing.

“The government had a choice, and even after being told that more than 15% of people a year are sent to jail unlawfully, they have chosen to do nothing … I regrettably have no answer as to why no one in government has acted.”

Naima Sakande, a women’s justice advocate at the Centre for Criminal Appeals, which has been campaigning for a law change, said the poorest were being hounded by some councils, which used the threat of imprisonment to obtain the money from them.

“Prison should be reserved for the most serious of offences. It is unconscionable that we use the sanction for such a thing as civil debt,” she said. “Poverty is not a crime. England must step into the modern world and abolish imprisonment for council tax debt.”

Alistair Chisholm from the debt charity PayPlan, who has conducted research into the use of imprisonment for council tax debt, said there had been a lot of focus on how the private sector collects debts, but less on the public sector.

“On the back of PPI scandals and aggressive debt collection after the financial crisis, the George Osborne government introduced more regulation on debt collection, but they didn’t apply it to themselves,” he said.

A Bridgend county borough council spokesperson said of Woolcock’s case: “Local authorities have a responsibility to recover unpaid council tax, but have no influence over court decisions.

“We understand that in this specific case the resident was jailed after failing to meet the requirements of the suspended sentence which had been issued by the magistrates court. Our advice to anyone who is experiencing difficulty in paying their council tax is to contact us as early as possible so that we can help and advise them.”
How a missed council tax bill of £167 can cost £2,065.

A resident who fails to pay their first month's council tax bill of £167 can see the cost increase to £2,065 in nine weeks, according to Citizens Advice.

The missed payment in England and Wales can mean they are liable for the rest of the annual bill, as well as court costs of £84 and bailiff fees of £310.

The charity wants the rules changed to ensure people whose finances are stretched do not receive a big bill.

Councils say people in financial blight can be supported.

The government is also reviewing the rules surrounding the way local authorities collect council tax.

" It became very stressful "

The calculations by Citizens Advice were based on a resident missing the very first bill of the financial year, which typically cost £167 in England. As a result, the full bill of £1,671 could be levied. This outstanding bill would be lower if a payment was missed later in the year.

Mark, who is unemployed and has mental health problems, is one of those who has faced such a situation.

"Last year was not a good year in terms of my health or finances. I had so many debts that it became very stressful and hard to find a way to make my money stretch to cover them all," the 53-year-old told Citizens Advice.

"In August, a letter arrived from a bailiff. I had become liable for the full year bill and my council tax debt was now with them. I felt really intimidated."

Citizens Advice said that 9% of households in England fell behind on council tax payments in 2017-18, and it wants the rules changed so the full year charge and the threat of imprisonment for arrears in England are removed.

"Council tax regulations make it harder for people to pay their original debts instead of helping them to get their finances back on track," said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

Help available

However, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, urged anyone in financial trouble to get in touch with their local authority for help, saying they would be supported.

Although it pointed out that council tax was vital for services such as social care, bin collection and children's services, it said it welcomed the government review.

"Councils want it to be easier to recover money without having to go to the courts so would be in favour of a review of the regulations, including whether to remove the requirement for the entire annual sum to become payable if an instalment is missed," said Richard Watts, of the LGA.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it expected councils to be "sympathetic to those in genuine hardship and proportionate in enforcement".

Potential reforms of the system could be proposed later this year following the review, it said.

Very first posting on this thread ... 8 MONTHS ago ... vindicated , regretably.


Benefit cuts have made private renting unaffordable.

Renting privately across most of England has become unaffordable for people on benefits, housing charities have warned, with people in some areas short of at least £100 a month ... upto £ 300 not unknown.

Analysis by the BBC has shown the gap between rent and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) more than doubled across most of the country since 2016.

Shelter said people were having to "choose between food and rent".

The government said it had targeted extra funding at low-income households.

Working age benefits were frozen for four years in 2016, while rents have continued to rise.

LHA, housing benefit for people in private rented accommodation, is calculated based on rents in 152 "broad rental market areas".

It means about three in 10 properties for rent in each area should be affordable to someone on housing benefit.

However in 85 areas the gap between the cheapest third of rents and LHA was more than £50 a month for a two-bedroom home and in 32 it was more than £100.

Since 2016 the gap has at least doubled in 75 areas, while a further 29 now have a gap when they did not before.

Separate research published by the charity Crisis and the Chartered Institute of Housing suggested 97% of areas in England, 82% in Wales, and 67% in Scotland were "unaffordable to single people, couples and small families".

" We moved hundreds of miles to a house we'd never even seen."

Krystyna and Geoff Boswell receive about £93 a week to help with the cost of renting in north Cornwall. However, their rent is £160 a week and the rest of the money has to come from their disability benefits.

Mrs Boswell, aged 59, has Aspergers and dyspraxia and her husband, 61, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

They sold their home in Wolverhampton in 2012 after Mr Boswell was made redundant and rented for four years before their landlord decided to sell the flat.

Mrs Boswell said none of the letting agents they approached would consider the couple and they could not get a council house.

"We would have ended up homeless and on the street if it hadn't been for someone at the local church who had a connection in north Cornwall who knew of a house becoming ready to let in her village," she said.

The couple packed up and drove more than 200 miles.

"We didn't even see the house before we moved in," Mrs Boswell said.

"We receive the LHA for a one-bed property, which is ludicrously out of line with the true cost of private rents," she said.


What is Local Housing Allowance ?

LHA was introduced in 2008 and is used to calculate housing benefit for people in private rented accommodation.

About 860,000 households in England receive this benefit with a further 300,000 on the housing element of Universal Credit.

The rates they get vary from area to area and are compared with 30% of the local rental market.

There are different rates for shared accommodation, one-bed, two-bed, three-bed, four-bed and five-bed homes and people's entitlement is based on how many rooms they are deemed to need.

Choosing between food and rent

Shelter said any gap between LHA and the bottom third of rents made housing "unaffordable" for people on benefits.

Polly Neate, chief executive, said: "Even the cheapest rents are now beyond reach to claimants."

"We hear from people having to scrape together over £100 a month, sometimes from their disability benefits, to make up the shortfall," she said.

"For some, this means choosing between food and rent, between their children's shoes and rent. If LHA rates remain stuck where they are then people will keep being plunged into the misery of homelessness as a direct result."

She called for the government to lift the freeze on LHA rates "so they can at least cover the bottom third of the local rental market."

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, added: "More and more people are forced to make impossible choices between keeping up with the rent and paying for essentials like food and bills, all the while knowing that falling behind with payments could cost them their homes."

He said benefits needed to be brought "back in step with the true cost of renting" to prevent people becoming homeless.

John Stewart, policy manager for the Residential Landlords Association, said: "If the government wants the private rented sector to pick up social housing supply then there is a cost to that and Local Housing Allowance does not meet that cost.

"If a landlord can rent a property at the full market rate they will be more likely to choose the tenant who is not on benefits.

"The government needs to look at the freeze again. Restoring the housing element of benefits to 30% of market rents would be a clear step in the right direction."

A government spokeswoman said: "Since 2010 we have delivered more than 400,000 affordable properties, we spend around £23bn a year on Housing Benefit and have provided local authorities with £1bn to support vulnerable claimants.

"We have increased more than 360 LHA rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households, and the government has no intention of extending the current benefit freeze."

Supreme court rules in favour of single mother declared " Intentionally homeless. "

Finding against Birmingham council sets precedent in cases of people unable to afford rent.
The supreme court has ordered a council to reconsider its decision to declare a single mother of four to be “intentionally homeless” because she was unable to afford the rent.

The unanimous ruling by five justices sets a significant precedent that will expand the housing responsibilities of underfunded local authorities.

The case of Terryann Samuels, whose children are all under the age of 16, also highlights the way in which the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) repeatedly refused to support her appeal even though she was in immediate danger of being turned out on to the street.

Ministers have consistently said that legal aid remains available to those in danger of losing their homes ever since the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act introduced swingeing cuts to funding.

The supreme court judges specifically criticised the “very substantial delay in bringing the case to court” caused by the LAA’s refusal and belated change of mind.

Samuels applied to Birmingham city council as homeless after she had been evicted from her previous, private accommodation because of rent arrears. There was a shortfall in her housing benefit of around £150 a month and she could not afford to bridge the gap by using her other benefits payments.

Delivering judgment, Lord Carnwath said the council officer who reviewed her case had not considered her needs other than housing. “He asked whether there was sufficient ‘flexibility’ to enable her to cope with the shortfall of £151.49 between her rent and her housing benefit,” he said.

“However, the question was not whether, faced with that shortfall, she could somehow manage her finances to bridge the gap; but what were her reasonable living expenses [other than rent], that being determined having regard to both her needs and those of the children, including the promotion of their welfare.”

Her other expenses could not be regarded “as other than reasonable”, he said, given that benefit levels “are not generally designed to provide a surplus above subsistence needs for a family”.

Samuels, who was provided with temporary accommodation pending the outcome of the proceedings, said: “I am delighted with the decision of the court. I have been fighting for so long for this, and have been suffering from the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to me and the children.”

Mike McIlvaney, her solicitor at the Community Law Partnership in Birmingham, said: “This important case would never have reached the supreme court if the Legal Aid Agency had had its way. Decisions such as these are churned out across the country on a daily basis, finding individuals to be intentionally homeless in circumstances where they can’t meet the rent.”

The chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “We’re very pleased to see the court recognise that it’s not lawful to expect families to rely on money they need for their basic living expenses to pay their rent when their housing benefit can’t cover it. This is an important judgment for the future of the welfare system.

“When someone is forced to choose between rent and keeping their children fed, they cannot be viewed as ‘intentionally’ homeless when they choose the latter. Housing benefit cuts mean it has not kept pace with rents for years – it now doesn’t cover a modest rent in a shocking 97% of the country – and cases like this are the result.

“We are hearing from more and more families who are choosing between rent and absolute necessities like heating and food. We urge the government to lift the freeze and make sure benefits cover at least the lowest third of the rental market.”

Let councils charge higher taxes to pay for austerity, says LGA chair.

James Jamieson urges ministers to inject billions into adult social care.

Local authorities should be given the freedom to impose higher council taxes to help cope with the unprecedented funding crisis facing social care services after a near decade of austerity, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association has said.

James Jamieson urged ministers to inject billions of pounds into adult social care and give councils more control of local health services to protect elderly and disabled people and give them the support they needed. “It is a measure of a good society how well it treats it most vulnerable,” said the councillor.

Reflecting increasing concern over the impact of the reductions, he called for major extra investment in children’s social care, a reversal of cuts to Sure Start-style early-years family support services and a review of special educational needs services funding.

His comments reflect a growing cross-party consensus at local level that national government has little grasp how continuing austerity cuts are hurting local communities and putting people at risk. Last month, Jamieson’s Tory predecessor, Lord Porter, warned that vulnerable people would die because of social care cuts.

There is little confidence that the government will be in a position to deliver its promised three-year spending review this autumn, effectively imposing a further year of austerity on town halls and forcing them to plan for service cuts and staff redundancies they had hoped would be unnecessary.

The LGA warned earlier on Tuesday that the deteriorating outlook for council finances would see a fifth of authorities forced to impose drastic controls on spending this year to avoid insolvency, while a third of councils would struggle to deliver statutory services within three years.

Jamieson, in his inaugural speech at the LGA annual conference in Bournemouth, said the council tax referendum cap, introduced by the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012 and currently set at 2.99%, ought to be abolished. “Residents should be given the choice; if they want to pay more for extra services, why can’t they?”

He said that councils in England had lost 60p out of every £1 of central government funding since 2010, while the number of new child protection investigations had doubled, there had been a 56% increase in homelessness and the number of older people aged over 85 had increased by a third.

The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said in his speech to the LGA that he recognised councils’ uncertainty over future funding, adding: “It is right that we look at the challenges and opportunities you face, and the funding you are currently relying on, including for social care, when we consider what a sustainable settlement looks like for local government for the coming years.”

Meanwhile, a survey of council chiefs found nearly half expect that Brexit will damage their local economies by reducing exports and overseas investment. This would critically reduce council income from business rates at a time when they were already struggling to maintain the quality and breadth of core services.

PWC’s annual survey of council leaders, chief executives and finance directors revealed that more than half believed that some authorities would get into serious financial difficulty or fail to deliver core services at some point over the next year.

A PWC survey of 2,000 UK users of council services found that 67% were concerned about cuts on their community, up from 61% a year ago; 77% said they or their family had been impacted by cuts; and 51% opposed the need for cuts, up from 48% in 2018.

Councils must hold a referendum if they wish to raise council tax beyond the 2.99% limit. No local authority has taken up the option. In January, Northamptonshire county council was given special dispensation by ministers to raise council tax by an extra 2%, raising £6m, to aid its recovery from insolvency. Similar requests from other councils have been turned down.

Local authority directors of adult social care warned last week that the escalating financial crisis in social care had put tens of thousands of older and disabled people at risk of being denied basic support such as help with washing and dressing.


UK housing crisis deepens as benefit claimants priced out by high rents.

Benefit freeze is making London and Manchester increasingly unaffordable.

Britain’s housing crisis has hit a new low with not one of the single rooms available for private rent in large parts of London and Greater Manchester within the budget of people on housing benefit.

None of 87 rooms for rent in outer south-west London – which includes areas such as Feltham and Hanworth – were affordable for people relying on local housing allowance (LHA) and neither were any of the rooms in the southern Greater Manchester area, including Stockport and Wythenshawe, according to analysis of official 2018 data by London Councils, the local government association for the capital.

LHA is relied upon by 1.2m households to rent private accommodation but it has been frozen since 2016 and will continue to be frozen until at least 2020 as part of welfare cuts.

Council bosses have said that with private rents continuing to rise, sharp falls in affordability over the last three years are causing homelessness and child neglect as families cut back on essentials including food to make up rent shortfalls.

In Swindon and Newbury only 2% of one-bedroom flats available on the private rental market are now affordable, and in Northampton just 3%. Fewer than one in 10 three-bedroom family homes are affordable in Ipswich, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Luton and Cambridge.

In the capital, the plunge in affordability has been greatest in outer north-east London, which includes Ilford, Dagenham and Romford. In 2016, 30% of one- and two-bedroom homes were affordable, but fewer than 2% are now

Londoners on housing allowance were typically finding themselves £50 a week short and unable to pay their rent, London Councils said. Barking and Dagenham council reported a 200% rise in the number of people approaching them for help with housing over the last year.

Muhammed Butt, London Councils’ executive member for welfare, said the housing benefit freeze was “fuelling London’s skyrocketing rates of homelessness”.

“Pressures on household finances are immense and are a crucial factor in the increase in homelessness,” he said, adding that the number of homeless households in the capital was 50% higher in 2018 than at the start of the decade.

Mark Fowler, the director of community solutions at Barking and Dagenham council, said: “This is leaving people in a more precarious position. It means less money for food and clothing. You can see an increase in the neglect of children.”

The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, told parliament in March she had concerns about the impact of the housing allowance on affordability and would discuss it with the chancellor before the budget, but the freeze remains in place.

In outer east London, which includes areas such as Walthamstow and West Ham, a quarter of rents were affordable for people relying on benefit looking for a one-bed place in 2016, but that has since fallen to less than 2%.

The median cost of a two-bedroom flat in outer east London, which includes Barking, is £316 per week. The maximum amount payable by housing benefit is £244. In Bristol and Cambridge, only 5% of the two-bedroom flats were affordable, and in Stevenage and central Northamptonshire it was just 4%.

“There is a gap between LHA and the bottom third of rents in 97% of areas across the country,” said Greg Beales, the campaign director at Shelter. “When housing benefit is so low that people are having to find over £50 of week to cover even the lowest rents, they face grim decisions between food, electric bills and keeping a roof over their head.”

Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, is calling on the government to lift the freeze to stop more people falling into poverty and homelessness. It acknowledged the government had provided up to 3% extra for about 140,000 households hit hardest by the LHA rate freeze, but said this was not enough.

A government spokesperson said: “Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority. The government increased more than 360 local housing allowance rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households. We are also investing £4.8bn to build more affordable properties in London and have abolished the housing revenue account borrowing cap, giving councils across the country the tools they need to deliver a new generation of affordable housing.”
A Tory major has his say ... Andy Street is the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands :

The government is fuelling homelessness by freezing benefits as rents soar.

It’s time to address a policy putting thousands at risk of living in poor accommodation or on the streets.

I left the job I loved at John Lewis to run to be the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands because I believed I could help restore pride in the region. That meant expanding the economy, and two years later, business growth is strong.

However, alongside the cranes and new offices, rough sleepers are to be found in doorways and at mobile soup kitchens. Behind closed doors, there are thousands of people sleeping on sofas at the homes of friends or family, families in B&Bs and vulnerable people living in some of the worst-quality shared housing.

No one can take pride in that. We have made some progress in tackling homelessness, securing around £10m from the government to roll out Housing First, a model of homeless support developed in Helsinki, Finland. Some 73 homeless people have been given accommodation and support through the scheme since it was launched in the autumn. It’s a good start, but we need to go much further.

To tackle the wider issue, we need to “design out” homelessness from society, for example, through businesses willing to hire homeless people and offering employee hardship funds for when their workers go through tough times, and banks making accounts open to homeless people. It also means building thousands of high-quality, truly affordable homes and tackling the rogue landlords taking advantage of vulnerable people.

But the government also has to act to tackle welfare-related poverty. Local housing allowance is the element of universal credit paid to those who need it to rent a safe place to live. If you are looking for a one-bedroom self-contained flat in Birmingham, you are eligible for just £441.31 a month. This is the same as in 2016, yet private rents in comparable one-bedroom flats in Birmingham have gone up by 11% over the last three years.

People under 35 are only eligible for £248.47 a month because they are expected to live in a bedroom with a shared bathroom, lavatory and kitchen, even if they’re unable to find suitable shared accommodation. No wonder that many people fall behind on their payments and end up being evicted.

Losing a private tenancy as a result of getting into arrears is the most common reason for becoming homeless. The government’s freezing of the local housing allowance rate has undoubtedly contributed to an increase in homelessness in the West Midlands.

And these low local housing allowance rates have led many landlords to skimp on the upkeep of properties, leaving tenants in poor-quality housing, or to move into the supported housing sector to reap the higher rates of housing benefit available, often without providing the high-quality support services that are also needed.

There is an urgent need for the government to act, and it cannot wait until Brexit is sorted out. The new prime minister needs to increase local housing allowance to a level where 30% of rented homes in any area are affordable to everyone. We should make sure that the lower rate for shared accommodation only applies to those actually living in shared accommodation, regardless of their age.

We should also crack down on poor-quality housing and consider introducing a higher rate of local housing allowance for good landlords who treat their tenants well. The government should also allow people to opt for the allowance to be paid directly to landlords.

We have a moral duty to tackle homelessness and these changes would make an immediate and significant difference. But there is also a return to the Treasury from increasing the local housing allowance: there will be less need for costly temporary accommodation and fewer people getting into a spiral of health issues that burden the NHS and public services.

I will continue to challenge the government on the urgent need to address homelessness. On this issue I am joining Crisis and other homelessness charities to campaign for these changes. We previously called for the government to scrap its policy of stopping young people under the age of 21 from automatically getting housing benefit, and it listened. I hope that the new prime minister will listen on this issue.
INTERLOCKS WITH THE GREEN PAPER , SOCIAL CARE THREAD : https://www.carersuk.org/forum/support- ... IAL%20CARE


TAX HIKE Brits face being slapped with council tax hike of up to £87 next year to help foot a £1.5 billion increase in social care spending.

HOUSEHOLDS face being slapped with a council tax hike of up to £87 next year to help foot a £1.5 billion increase in social care spending.

Chancellor Sajid Javid announced the fresh money to plug a growing black hole in social care funding as part of his Spending Round yesterday.

But a third of the money - £500 million - will be paid for by ordinary families through a “stealth tax” hike of up to 5 per cent on their council tax bills next year.

The money comes on top of the existing £2.5 billion of social care grants.


Mr Javid has launched a consultation to decide whether to allow town halls to add an extra 2 per cent on council tax bills for 2020/21 to fund the additional £500 million social care money.

That would come on top of the 3 per cent that councils can add to bills each year without holding a referendum.

The 5 per cent ceiling would mean the average Band D council tax payer would be slapped with an extra £87 on their bills from April next year.

Councils have been allowed to add a 2 per cent ‘precept on to bills to fund social care for the last three years but the top-up charge was due to come to an end at the end of this financial year.

Mr Javid was accused of sneaking out the tax hike in the small print of his Spending Round after he omitted the details of the tax hike from his speech in the Commons yesterday.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell blasted: “It’s a stealth tax. They should have been more straightforward in how they announced they were going to fund social care.

“I think it will go down like a lead balloon with local authorities.”


Charities and town hall chiefs gave the extra cash a cautious welcome to the social care spending boost, which was more than expected but urged ministers to lay out its full blueprint for reforming social care as soon as possible.

Caroline Abrahams, head of the Age UK charity said: “On the face of it the extra money announced for social care in 2020/21 should help to keep our current care system tottering along for another year.

“However, the care system is in such bad shape that this new money, welcome as it is, will only buy some time for the next 12 months, it will not be sufficient to address the strategic challenges care faces, including sky high turnover among staff.

“For this we will have to wait for the Government’s care reform plan which the Chancellor promised we would see “in due course” today.

“For many millions of sick and disabled adults, older people in declining health and family carers, and for our many dedicated paid care workers too, this plan cannot come too soon.”

James Jamieson, boss of the Local Government Association, said: “This is the biggest year-on-year real terms increase in spending power for local government in a decade and will allow councils to meet the rising cost and demand pressures they face in 2020/21,’ he said.

“The ability to levy an adult social care precept again next year helpfully gives them the potential to raise a further £500million to help people in our communities who need care and support.”

But the King’s fund dismissed the extra cash as like “putting a bit of extra fuel in the tank when the car urgently needs a full service”
Cut bailiff use for non-payment of council tax, say charities.

Councils are asked to consider vulnerable people as referrals increase in half of all English and Welsh local authorities.

The use of bailiffs to collect council tax is continuing to increase in about half of all local authority areas in England and Wales, despite calls by anti-poverty charities for their use to be curtailed.

There were more than 1.4m referrals to bailiffs for the collection of council tax last year, according to figures gathered by the Money Advice Trust charity (MAT), which has been pressing councils to adopt protocols aimed at protecting vulnerable people.

Across the board, the use of bailiffs to collect debts owed to local authorities in England and Wales has risen by 7% in two years, driven by a surge in the use of bailiffs to collect parking debts.

However, the collection of council tax remains a particularly sensitive area: 30% of callers to a debt advice service run by the MAT last year had council tax arrears – up from 15% in 2008 – while 83% of callers who had experienced action by bailiffs reported a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of MAT, said: “Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt – and the fact that local authorities are passing 2.6m debts a year to bailiffs should concern us all.

“Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm – and we are today renewing our call for the government to introduce independent bailiff regulation and a single complaints mechanism.

“Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place. While we have seen a modest improvement in debt collection practices – and more councils reducing their use of bailiffs to collect council tax arrears – the pace of change is too slow.”

The trust’s report – the latest in its Stop the Knock campaign, based on freedom of information responses from 367 local authorities – found there had been modest improvements in practices by local authorities.

The proportion of local authorities that had reduced their bailiff use during the last two years stood at 51%, up from 38% two years ago.

The Local Government Association said the findings showed that there had been a positive impact from the work it had been doing with Citizens Advice on a council tax arrears good practice protocol.

Sixty-four councils have signed up to the Citizens Advice/LGA council tax protocol – up from 50 two years ago. A further 23 councils are considering signing up the protocol which, for example, obliges local authorities to give careful consideration before passing debts to enforcement agencies where potentially vulnerable household are involved.

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s resources board, said: “Councils have a duty to their residents to collect taxes, which play a vital role in funding important services that people rely on.

“However, we realise that times are tough and councils do their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or taking a sympathetic and constructive approach to the way we collect unpaid tax.”


Liverpool's Labour Mayor Joe Anderson - who grew up in poverty himself - there is no subject more pressing and personal than the cuts that have ravaged his authority and left it struggling to provide the most basic of services.

He has a thing or two to say about the claims from Ms Truss that councils have been freed up to collect more cash in tax - and have not been the subject of cuts.

"Nearly 50% of our Council Tax budget is now spent on supporting the most vulnerable people in our city," he says.

"We also have around £35m in uncollected Council Tax and about £25m of that is from people who are on benefits and who are receiving support payments from us.

"How can I take someone to court for not paying Council Tax, who is actually already on benefits that we are paying to them? It is a totally perverse situation."