Monday, September 16, 2013

Under-occupancy penalties


This afternoon, Federal Conference in Glasgow passed the following:

Conference accepts there is under-occupancy of social housing, and all tenants, including pensioners, should be encouraged to live in homes that meet their housing needs.

Conference is concerned that the Government’s extension of Labour’s policy of reducing housing benefit entitlements for private rented sector tenants considered to have spare bedrooms to the social housing sector is discriminating against the most vulnerable in society.

Conference also believes that:
I. The majority of rural and urban areas outside large cities such as London have insufficiently large, diverse and dynamic social housing markets to make moving into a smaller property locally a viable option
II. There is lack of appreciation of the housing requirements of children and adults with disabilities and care needs
III. Insufficient funds are allocated to Discretionary Housing Payment Funds of Local Authorities to meet demand and there is insufficient support for tenants to apply and to challenge decisions
IV. In many areas it is more important to free up family homes with three or more bedrooms than two bedroom homes.
V. The implementation of policy paper 104, Decent Homes for All (2012), should be a priority for
Government.

Conference welcomes:
i) Scottish Liberal Democrats passing a motion against the policy.
ii) Actions taken by councils to mitigate the harmful effects of this policy on the most vulnerable, including reducing the dangers of eviction caused by arrears.
iii) The work of many, including voluntary organisations, in supporting those applying for discretionary payments and highlighting the injustices caused by this policy.
iv) The changes successfully demanded by Liberal Democrats in Government to protect some of the
most vulnerable, including exempting foster carers and families of members of the Armed Forces.
v) The increase in the Discretionary Housing Payment fund from £60m in 2012/13 to £155m in 2013/14
vi) The success of the Liberal Democrats in Government in securing an additional £35m fund to help claimants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy who need extra support - this funding consists of £5m for rural areas with very isolated communities, £10m for all local authorities and £20m as a bidding fund for local authorities who can demonstrate that they have or are developing a robust policy to distribute discretionary housing payments and who have an additional need for funding achieved by Liberal Democrats in Government.

Conference calls for further action by Government, including:
1. An immediate evaluation of the impact of the policy, establishing the extent to which larger homes are freed up, money saved, costs of implementation, the impact on vulnerable tenants, and the impact on the private rented sector.
2. A redrafting of clear housing needs guidelines in association with those representing vulnerable groups including the disabled, elderly and children that are responsive to local circumstances.
3. Acceptance that some Councils and Housing Associations have calculated rent by reference to bed spaces (not bedrooms) as some rooms can and should only house one person: this should be reflected in the DWP calculation of housing benefit.
4. A review of the amount allocated to Local Authorities for the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund and guidelines on the use of these funds and appeal processes.
5. The development of practical strategies to encourage pensioners to downsize where a single person or couple lives in a three or more bedroom home.
6. In the context of new guidelines an assessment of the current and future demand for social housing and the use of this at local level to facilitate planning to get the right homes in the right place.
7. Until any new guidelines are in place:
a) No withdrawal of housing benefit to those who are on the waiting list for social housing which fits the current guidelines within their local area.
b) No reduction in housing benefit from their projected housing need for those who, for a period of less than six months, temporarily have a smaller housing need due to a change in their circumstances, but whose need will predictably return to a higher level (e.g. whose children will pass the age limits for separate rooms within that period).


[as amended]

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