One week in Parliament, three big announcements
The new session might have only started last Monday, but as is customary after a Parliamentary break, we have already identified several announcements that could impact on people who are homeless and the agencies that work with them.
Longer to wait before first payments of JSA or ESA
The idea of extending “Waiting Days” for new claims for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from 3 to 7 days was announced by George Osborne last year. The go ahead was confirmed last week.
A report submitted to Iain Duncan Smith just before recess, from the independent Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), had suggested a number of recommendations. These included: undertaking a “robust cost/benefit analysis” of the policy, removing ESA claimants from the new rules and exempting other vulnerable people.
We had raised these suggestions ourselves in our submissions to the SSAC earlier this year. Unfortunately, although the Government has accepted “that the loss of four days benefit may cause financial difficulties for some people” they consider this to be the case “for only a small minority”.
When the new rules come into effect from October this year, they will go ahead with no exceptions for sick or vulnerable people.
You'll find more details here.
Compulsory new pilots for JSA claimants to include 35 hours per week supervised job searching
Also starting next month, a pilot scheme will launch in the Black Country, Mercia, Surrey, Sussex and West Yorkshire, with some JSA claimants required to receive supervised, external support for up to 35 hours a week for three months. The aim is to help people search and apply for jobs.
Any individual who is selected must participate and follow instructions or risk being sanctioned. Job Coaches at Jobcentre Plus will have a crucial role in deciding who is recommended for this pilot, so if it is not appropriate for a person who is homeless, this must be communicated to Jobcentre Plus staff prior to their referral into the scheme.
Our sanctions research last year highlighted major problems caused by a lack of understanding among Jobcentre Plus around what is realistic for vulnerable people to undertake when looking for work. Since then, DWP have worked closely with us and our partners on the issue. We hope that this new pilot will take that learning into account and that appropriate participants will be identified.
Confirmation of geographical areas for landlords to check immigration status
2014 has seen an unprecedented level of legislative changes aimed at restricting “pull factors” for migrants to come to the UK.
The biggest single piece of legislation within all this has been the Immigration Act.
One of its provisions is to require private sector and housing association landlords to take “reasonable” steps to ensure any prospective tenant is a “lawful resident of the UK.” Letting a property to a migrant who does not fit this description can lead to fines of up to £3000.
While we are pleased that the new law does not apply to hostels, we remain unconvinced that it will not impede the process of securing stable accommodation for people who are homeless. Since the legislation was first drafted we have been worried that it may create problems for people without identification and may tempt some landlords to begin “profiling” potential tenants to avoid accidentally falling foul of the law.
The Home Office announced that the new scheme will be trialled in the West Midlands from the beginning of December. We will stay in touch with member agencies in the area to see how it works in practice.
And more to come
So one week into this Parliamentary session and three big announcements.
But watch this space. With a General Election round the corner they may not be the last.
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