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PlaceShapers submission to Department of Work & Pensions Select Committee inquiry into impact of welfare reform

PlaceShapers response warns that composite headline facts and figures may mask the reality of the diversity of communities, local economies and housing markets. It urges continuing attention to the impact at a regional level.

The response focuses on:

·         The impact of welfare reform on our communities

·         The effect of welfare reform on our tenants including experience so far

·         How housing associations are supporting people into work

·         The impact of welfare reform on housing association finances and development capacity

The concluding comments are

It is clear that housing associations have very real concerns about the negative impact of welfare reform on their communities and their own business models. Whilst the full impact of reforms is not yet clear and this is likely to vary by region, our members are making prudent adjustments to financial plans in order to mitigate the risks and to maximise the support available to affected tenants.

We would welcome any influence that the W&P Select Committee is able to have in achieving the following:

·         Recognition that the bedroom tax is already having a significant adverse impact and that this is particularly so where there is not scope for affected households to downsize. In the absence of this measure being repealed (a decision we would support), an obvious solution is for there to be discretion to waive the tax where local housing markets justify exemption, a move that would surely be consistent with the Government’s localism commitment.

·         Recognition that the Local Authority DHP scheme is not protecting the most vulnerable residents from financial hardship and cannot be relied on to do so.

·         Continued government action to ensure accelerated broadband Internet access for our communities, within which 40-60% of residents are currently digitally excluded and recognition by DWP that broadband payments do not constitute an unnecessary luxury.

·         Acknowledgment that HA revenue streams are at risk from the changes and that this is impacting negatively on financial plans and development capacity. Any influence that the Committee can have to mitigate these risks is welcomed. In particular this should be to ensure that the housing element of UC can be paid direct to landlords more quickly and in the longer term once arrears are accruing. The pilot projects show that tenants get into unmanageable amounts of debt if housing payments cannot revert to landlords until 8 weeks have elapsed. With “affordable” weekly rents in London not uncommon at £250 it seems irresponsible to wait until a tenant has accrued arrears of over £2k before agreeing that housing costs can again be paid direct to landlords.

·         An ongoing commitment to learn lessons from the reforms and for policy and practice to be subject to change in the light of experience.

To read the full response click here.

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