Fair welfare campaign

We are working to for an effective welfare safety net that supports individuals to escape homelessness.

Photograph: Timothy Krause (Flickr)

The issue

The welfare system plays a vital role when it comes to preventing and tackling homelessness.

If you have lost your job, benefits can prevent you ending up on the streets. While you look for work, benefits provide an income to help you survive. If you are unable to work, the welfare system can help cover the basic necessities of living. Understandably, many people who have experienced homelessness do received benefits. 

Since 2012, we have seen far reaching reform of the welfare system and many of the changes have had a significant impact on homeless people and those who support them. 

The solution

We are campaigning for a welfare system which:

  • prevents homelessness
  • helps individuals to get back on their feet
  • does not disadvantage vulnerable people
  • works with homeless charities to provide the best support possible

Progress

Universal credit putting support at risk

By 2018 housing benefit will be replaced with a monthly Universal Credit payment. Under the Government’s original plans many of the costs associated with providing supported housing would no longer have been recognised. A situation that could have caused many hostels to close. 

After listening to evidence from our members, the Government committed to protect services. We worked with them to ensure that most supported accommodation services for homeless people would be exempt from reforms. 

Programme not working

Research into the experience of homeless people by Homeless Link, Crisis and St.Mungos Broadway questioned whether the Work Programme is providing effective employment support.

In response to this work, the Government agreed cross-departmental funding for a three year pilot in London on pre-employment support for homeless people to better prepare them for successful engagement in the Work Programme. 

Private housing unaffordable to under 35s on benefits

In 2010, the Government extended rules which effectively mean that housing benefit can only be used to pay for shared accommodation if your are aged under 35.

In 2013, we looked at 57,000 properties in London and found that under 6% were affordable to under 35s on housing benefit. We also looked at affordability in other areas.

The Government has since increased the ‘Shared Accommodation Rate’ in 52 areas but members still report issues with finding rented accommodation for clients.

Benefit sanctions affecting homeless hardest

In 2012 a new sanctions regime, with tougher rules for people claiming benefits was brought in. People who miss an appointment at Jobcentre Plus (JCP) or do not comply with other requirements, could have their benefits stopped or reduced for longer periods.

Our 2013 research with 50 of our members found that clients of homelessness services were up to ten times more likely to be sanctioned than benefit claimants in general and this was pushing many further into destitution. The Government subsequently launched an investigation into the issue and, in partnership with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), we have been bringing together charities and Job Centre Plus staff to help prevent sanctions happening.

In June 2014, following work with DWP, new rules came in giving an “easement” to newly homeless people from the requirement to look for work for up to 4 weeks so they can concentrate on their accommodation needs.

We contributed to a consultation on the role of sanctions in mandatory work schemes. Following the report which came out of this consultation, the Government has committed to work towards an IT solution which will mean that when people have their JSA or ESA sanctioned, this will no longer lead to their Housing Benefit being affected. This will resolve a problem which has led to rent arrears, evections and avoidable homelessness for over 20 years.    

No housing benefit for night shelters

In 2013, a legal ruling was interpreted by several councils to mean that people staying in night shelters might no longer be eligible for housing benefit. 

After helping to raise awareness of the issue, DWP clarified the legal position to say that the rules had not changed. 

Helping services and clients prepare

Research in 2013 found that councils and charities did not feel ready for Universal Credit and that many were concerned about the additional burdens welfare reform could bring. 

In response we launched 'Welfare Aware' with guidance, tools and events to help services prepare their clients for welfare reform

EEA migrants

Changes have been introduced which significantly reduce the eligibility of European migrants to benefits, including those who have been in the UK for years. We have been pressing hard for proper analysis to be undertaken by Government of the likely impact of these changes in leading to increased homelessness.

The Social Security Advisory Committee have picked up some of our thoughts on these and used them in their advice to the Secretary of State on the issue.

Where next?

We are continuing to campaign to ensure that the welfare system works with and not against those trying to leave homelessness behind. 

Talk To Us

Paul Anderson

Policy manager

Paul is our policy manager with particular responsibility for a number of areas including welfare and migration. Paul is currently on sabbatical leave.

Telephone: 020 7840 4421
Email: paul.anderson@homelesslink.org.uk
Twitter: @PA_HL_London