SSAC consults on regulations removing entitlement to housing benefit for EEA jobseeker's allowance claimants
On 7 April 2014 the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) issued a consultation on the Housing Benefit (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations 2014 which, from 1 April 2014, remove entitlement to housing benefit for EEA nationals claiming income-based jobseeker's allowance (click here). The topics the SSAC wish to consult on include:
- What impact will the legislation have on new EEA migrants to the UK, or for existing EEA migrants who lose their employment and who do not have the status of a retained worker?
- Is there any evidence that EEA migrants experience particular difficulties in establishing whether or not they have retained worker status for benefit purposes?
- Local authorities are statutorily obliged to make help available under the Children Act 1989 and the National Assistance Act 1948. How will the new regulations affect the extent to which local authorities are currently required to make such an intervention, and what are the associated costs of doing so?
- The Impact Assessment notes that 92 per cent of those potentially affected by the policy are renting in the private rental sector; and that a third of those potentially affected live in London. What are the potential consequences (in terms of impacts, costs and behaviours) of this from the perspectives of the individuals, local authorities and private landlords?
Responses are needed by 30 May 2014.
Work and Pensions Select Committee – on welfare reform in relation to housing costs
On 2 April 2014, the Work and Pensions Select Committee issued a report which examined the reforms that have been introduced in relation to housing costs - including the bedroom tax and household benefit cap. On the launch of the report, Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg said -
“The Government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants. They are temporary, not permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules.”
The Committee makes a series of recommendations, including that the government should -
- exempt recipients of carer's allowance from the benefit cap where the carer lives with the disabled person, for example, a parent or adult child, but is not considered part of the same household for benefit purposes;
- exempt all households in temporary accommodation from the benefit cap;
- review DHP provision when more data is available and increase funding, if necessary, to protect vulnerable people from hardship;
- issue clear guidance to local authorities that disability benefits should be disregarded in any means tests for DHPs;
- issue new guidance to local authorities making explicit that it supports long-term DHP awards for specific categories of claimants;
- announce decisions on DHP funding early so that local authorities can plan effectively;
- monitor the impact of local housing allowance (LHA) reforms on homelessness and look at further ways of supporting claimants if the reforms are found to be exacerbating it; and
- consider increasing LHA by more than 1% in more pressured areas and ensure that it can be paid at higher levels in areas where rent increases are greater than 4%.
For more information see ‘Vulnerable people suffering as a result of housing welfare reforms’ - click here.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation Reports
On 9 April 2014, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published an analysis 'Housing benefit size criteria: impacts for social sector tenants and options for reform' (click here) which considered the effects of the bedroom tax one year in. The report notes that most affected households have stayed put. Of these, around half have some rent arrears as a result of the Housing Benefit size criteria. And in the first six months, 6% of affected households moved to avoid the size criteria.
On 9 April 2014, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also published a report on: ‘The impact of welfare reform on social landlords and tenants’ (click here). The report says that welfare reform is hitting social landlords and their tenants extremely hard and that findings from the social housing sector reveal tensions between government rationale and the unintended consequences of welfare reform. The report says that three main conclusions emerge from its analysis:
- Welfare reform may end up by making tenants more, not less, dependent, and certainly more vulnerable. Cutbacks in support make people on low incomes, in work and out, more vulnerable to debt, risk of eviction and shortage of necessities, so they rely on food banks and other emergency support.
- The focus on existing property and current tenants limits housing associations’ capacity to build more.
- It is possible that welfare reform will cost the government more as reliance on private renting grows due to social housing shortages, leading to higher housing benefit costs. Costs for extra support also go up for housing associations, councils, and tenants.
Briefing from Oxfam and New Policy Institute on welfare reforms
The report ‘Multiple Cuts For The Poorest Families’ published on 22 April 2014 by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute (NPI) (click here) warns that wide-ranging cuts are changing the shape of welfare support at a time when rising prices are making it harder for families to make ends meet. As a result, job seekers, carers, single parents or those with a disability or illness who are unable to work are being pushed deeper into poverty. Some 300,000 households have seen a cut in housing benefit, 920,000 have seen a cut in council tax support and 480,000 have seen a cut in both. Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: "This is the latest evidence of a perfect storm blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty”. Oxfam urge the Government to determine an ‘absolute minimum’ level of support and argue that “it should apply regardless of local authority or tenure and it should be high enough to prevent people from having to walk the breadline”.'
See summary on oxfam.org.uk: ‘Almost 2 million of the poorest households pushed deeper into poverty by welfare cuts’ – click here.
DHP Guidance Manual
On 7 April, 2014, the DWP issued new guidance to local authorities in relation to discretionary housing payments – ‘Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual Including Local Authority Good Practice Guide’ – click here.
Figures on those affected by benefit cap
In 'Post-implementation effects of the benefit cap: headline findings' (click here) published by the DWP on 14 April 2014, a survey of 1200 people affected by the cap in October 2013 revealed that the majority (88 per cent) of those surveyed are still affected by the benefit cap, while the remaining 12 per cent said they were previously affected by the benefit cap but are no longer affected. That 80 per cent of those still affected by the cap are women and that 83 per cent of those still affected have three or more dependents in their household.
Reports rise in use of foodbanks
On 16 April 2014, the Trussell Trust issued a press release reporting a 163 per cent rise on numbers receiving three days' emergency food in the last 12 months. The figures include: -
- 913,138 people received three days' emergency food during 2013/14 as opposed to 346,992 in 2012/13;
- 83 per cent of foodbanks report that 'sanctioning' is causing rising numbers to turn to them; and
- half of referrals to foodbanks in 2013/14 were as a result of benefit delays or changes.
The Trussell Trust press release ‘Latest foodbank figures top 900,000: life has got worse not better for poorest in 2013/14, and this is just the tip of the iceberg’ - click here.
See also media reports:
- ‘Hunger is a 'national crisis', religious leaders tell Cameron’ - Religious leaders and faith groups ask David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to tackle the causes of food poverty’ The Guardian, 16 April 2014 – click here.
- The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame, Independent 16 April 2014 – click here.
- Charities accuse Government of breaching human right to food, Church Times 25 April 2014 – click here.
Citizens Advice sees 60 per cent increase in problems with JSA sanctions
On 15 April 2014, Citizens Advice issued a press statement (click here) which said that it has seen a 60 per cent increase in the number of problems related to JSA sanctions since the minimum sanction period was increased from one week to four in October 2012. Citizens Advice said the longer sanction period is having a counterproductive effect as claimants are distracted from job-hunting as they focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. Citizens Advice found that from October to December last year:
- 1 in 4 Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children;
- 1 in 4 identified as being disabled or suffering from a long term health condition;
- 1 in 6 also had a debt problem;
- 1 in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness.
Of the 100,000 food bank vouchers issued by Citizens Advice Bureaux last year, 16 per cent were needed because of benefit sanctions.
The Claimant Commitment scheme has now been fully rolled out across the country and all new jobseekers and those completing the Work Programme must agree and sign the Commitment in order to receive benefits: see DWP Press Release issued on 25 April 2014: ‘New contract demanding more from jobseekers in place across Britain’ click here.
Increased conditionality for JSA claimants
Under the new rules for the Help to Work scheme introduced on 28 April 2014, the long-term unemployed may be required to meet an adviser every day or do community work for up to six months for up to 30 hours a week. Some have pointed out that the maximum community service order that someone might receive if they were found guilty of drink-driving or assault is 300 hours, but claimants on sixmonth workfare schemes will have to work without pay for more than double this time. The rules will apply to anyone who has not found a job after two years on the existing Work Programme scheme. Those who fail to participate could lose their jobseeker’s allowance for 4 weeks for a first failure and 13 weeks for a second failure.
- Jobless must sign on every day: Government to dock money from long-term unemployed if they do not comply – Independent 28 April 2014 – click here.
- Help to Work: New unemployment rules in force – BBC News – click here.
- Long-term jobless to have to scrub war memorials and historic monuments - Telegraph 28 April 2014 – click here.
- Help to Work: nationwide drive to help the long-term unemployed into work – DWP presss release on Gov.uk – click here.
New regulations have also been issued that introduce increased conditionality for certain lone parent claimants - The Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2014 (SI.No.1097/2014), which came into force from 28 April 2014. See also ‘A report on the draft Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 2014’ by the Social Security Advisory Committee Department for Work and Pensions’ published 22 January 2014, (click here), in which the SSAC says that the consequences of conditionality for lone parents with very young children, and in particular the imposition of sanctions on them, was disproportionate.
A full list of increased conditionality conditions for JSA and lone parent claimants is set out below: -
Day One Conditionality: Claimants will be required to demonstrate “positive job-seeking behaviours” from day one of their claim for benefit.
Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality: Currently, lone parents who are entitled to income support must attend regular Work-focused Interviews (WFIs) once their youngest child reaches the age of one. From April 2014, the frequency and duration of WFIs for this group of claimants will be determined by Advisers -/ -Work Coaches.
Weekly Work Search Reviews: These will be phased in between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014 and apply to 50% of the live load, excluding Work Programme participants and claimants receiving support from the Help to Work Package. Claimants should be selected at the Work Coach’s ) discretion. Claimants may be moved on and off Weekly Work Search Review.
English Language Requirements: Work Coaches are to identify claimants whose English language speaking and listening skills is a barrier to work and will then refer the claimant to a a provider using the Skills Conditionality referral process.
Quarterly Work Search Interviews: Twenty minute Quarterly Work Search Interviews are being introduced to review the claimant’s jobsearch activities in the previous quarter, including updating the Claimant Commitment and widening the claimant’s jobsearch activities.
A greater number of claimants are expected to be assigned to each of the three Help to Work Package measures. Help to Work consists of three elements.
(1) Mandatory Intervention Regime: During the first 8 weeks of the Mandatory Intervention Regime, Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements.
(2) Daily Work Search Review - The claimant will be required to attend the Jobcentre daily for up to 13 weeks to review jobseeking activities of the previous day and provide a labour market declaration signature. Every 4 weeks, the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed.
(3) Community Work Placements - External provision consists of a work placement that is of benefit to the community for up to 30 hours a week and supplemented by up to 10 hours jobsearch. If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months, they will be transferred to the Mandatory Intervention Regime.