Cuts, caps and goalposts

Originally posted on July 22 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

Looking to gauge the effects of the latest benefit cuts on housing? The official impact assessments are at best a starting point.

Documents published for the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Monday evening (available here) do give the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) view on what to expect, but there are several reasons why it is a severely blinkered one.

First, they only cover what is actually in the Bill and many of the main housing benefit changes in the Budget do not require primary legislation.

So there is an impact assessment of the five-year freeze on most working age benefits but it does not include the freeze of the local housing allowance. Similarly, we do not get the DWP view on ending automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds because that will be done by regulation rather than primary legislation.

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Overpaid and overclaimed

Too expensive to repeal the bedroom tax? Look what’s happened to housing benefit overpayments.

A damning report published on Tuesday by the Commons public accounts committee reveals that overpayments cost £1.4 billion in 2013/14, the first year of the under-occupation penalty. That is an increase of £420 million since 2010/11.

Of that £1.4 billion, the DWP estimates that £900 million was claimant error, £340 million claimant fraud and £150 million official error. Overpayments since 2000/01 now total a staggering £12.6 billion – and there seem to be no figures on how much of the money that is overpaid is ever recovered.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Iain Duncan Smith’s cat

In the wake of yet more delays and questions about value for money, I wonder what Erwin Schrödinger would have made of universal credit.

In the Austrian physicist’s famous thought experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed box with a flask of poison and a radioactive substance. The decay of a single atom of the substance during the test will trigger a hammer that breaks the flask and kills the cat. The point is that an external observer cannot know whether or not the atom has decayed, the poison has been released and the cat is dead unless they open the box. Since we cannot know, the cat is both alive and dead.

Schrödinger’s Cat was meant to illustrate a paradox in quantum theory but it could just as easily be applied to Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform. It’s not just that universal credit is meant to be simple and transparent but is actually fiendishly complicated and impossible for outsiders to understand. These have become givens over the last couple of years. IDS’s cat also exists in two states at the same time and we cannot know whether it is alive or dead until we open the box or see it in action. Read the rest of this entry »


The long goodbye to the bedroom tax

Three images spring to mind in the aftermath of Friday’s momentous vote to amend the bedroom tax.

The first is of a bunker deep in the bowels of DWP headquarters Caxton House. Iain Duncan Smith sits at a desk surrounded by a dwindling band of loyalists who still believe in the policy: his ministers Mark Harper and Lord Freud plus a loyal special adviser and perhaps a press officer.

AS IDS raves that nothing has changed (and that the universal credit is on time and on budget) I imagine the others exchanging nervous looks between themselves as they assure him that the removal of the spare room subsidy really is saving £1 million a day and making housing fairer.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


In case you missed it

Today looks like a very good day for the DWP to sneak out independent research on the impact of the bedroom tax and cuts to the local housing allowance.

While Iain Duncan Smith seems to have survived the Cabinet cull of middle aged men, the two reports offer in-depth scrutiny of two of his most controversial policies. There is as yet no DWP press release or comment but you can find the reports here and here on its website.

This blog will concentrate on the independent evaluation of what the DWP calls the removal of the spare room subsidy. The report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori analyses the effects on and the responses of tenants, landlords, local authorities, voluntary and statutory organisations and advice agencies and lenders.

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Inside the pressure cooker

So what is really happening to homelessness in the wake of the financial crisis, housing shortage and cuts in benefits?

Where the Homelessness Monitor 2013, published on Friday by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, paints a picture of a grim situation that is bad and getting worse, the DWP and DCLG seem to see only sunshine and happy smiling faces.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing