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housingbenefit

It seems the government has actually imposed a ‘welfare reform’ that could give benefit claimants an advantage (for a change)!

Joe Halewood, over on the SPeye Joe blog, reckons the move to Direct Payments for social housing tenants will give them far more power – if they are willing to grasp it.

He writes: “3.4 million or so social housing tenants have their rent paid through Housing Benefit. This goes directly to the social landlord with the HB money never passing through the tenants hands.  Landlords like this arrangement and have become accustomed to it.  Tenants like this too as they have never had to worry about paying rent if on benefit.

“To put that into context the coalition admits 1.4 million of social housing HB claimants are not affected by any welfare reform policy by being pensioners and so this DP change will affect the other 2 million social housing tenants of working-age who claim HB.  Eventually that is 2 million rent accounts each week that will be affected and 2 million rent accounts with rent payments no longer guaranteed.   Social housing has just over 4 million tenant households so DP sees a change from roughly two in every three rents being guaranteed by Housing Benefit to just 1.4 million being guaranteed out of 4 million or about one in three.

“The coalition says in its spin on DP that it wants to make tenants more responsible by paying them directly so that they can pay the landlord. This is an issue of control between tenant and social landlord with the current system seeing landlords in control of the payment of rent: Yet that changes with DP which puts the responsibility and the control of rent payment with the social tenant – and that is a monumental change as the social tenant finally becomes the customer is what DP means.

“Social landlords’ service levels vary significantly and tenants currently have little clout in forcing their landlord to undertake repairs or the like.  Yet that changes dramatically with DP as the tenant becomes in control of the payment of rent.  If and when the tenant has any form of beef with the landlord he can potentially, and will in practice, withhold rent.  It makes no difference that social tenants withholding rent while awaiting repair has a highly dubious legal basis as tenants will withhold rent for this reason in far greater numbers.”

There are problems with this – the social landlord can try legal action if there is a belief that the tenant’s complaint is unfounded – but if large numbers of tenants all acted at the same time, they would be swamped.

It is an interesting spin on the usual story fed to us by local authorities (who currently pay Housing Benefit). They say DP means tenants who are unused to paying their own rent will find it hard to keep up payments because they will be tempted to use the money on other necessities (for which they don’t have enough).

The suggestion that they will use the money as leverage to force landlords into complying with their legal responsibilities is far more empowering – and no doubt exactly what the oppressors in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition don’t want.

Read the SPeye Joe blog article here.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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