“Towards Work” activities to get a DHP and stayed housed. How big is conditionality going to get?

Throwing this one out there for your inspection:

Recently, I came across strict, new-ish Derby City Council conditionality rules for people who apply for Discretionary Housing Payments, Council Tax hardship payments and Local Assistance help.

Those rules are here.

For those who don’t know the territory: Discretionary Housing Payments are short-term payments to help people cover housing-cost problems such as rent shortfalls. Local Assistance Schemes buy items like furniture and fridges when people can’t afford them. Council tax hardship payments are, obviously, for people who struggle to meet council tax bills after council tax support.

Since November 2016 in Derby, this help has come with hefty conditions for some applicants. Of course – it is not unusual for councils to ask people to engage in an activity such as debt advice in exchange for a DHP, etc. That’s happened for ages. The Derby list sets out more hoops to jump through. That’s why I’m posting it. I found it while I was searching for help generally for a single mum. Other councils may have similar. No doubt more and more will as time goes on and more funding is cut.

You’ll see from this page that people who apply for DHPs, Council Tax help and Local Welfare Assistance and fall into certain categories: “must be willing to take up and remain engaged with appropriate support recommended by the council.”

This “support” may include:

– money advice
– budgeting support
– access to banking products
– access to digital skills support
– access to job clubs
– training and housing advice

Failure to participate could mean you get and/or keep nothing:

“If you do not engage with your support programme, any award that you receive from the Single Discretionary Award Scheme may be at risk.”

“Towards work” requirements are among the conditions as you can see.


You may think this is all perfectly fair.

I do not.

This is the kind of list which gets on my nerves very badly. It smacks to me of gatekeeping and of the state’s ever-tightening grip on people who are in extreme financial hardship. Conditions for receiving benefits and hardship help become more and more invasive and exacting, as anyone who signs on for JSA or Universal Credit will tell you. Anyone who requests state help these days automatically loses all right to autonomy.

No matter that people often require extra financial help because government has imposed extra costs – the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, LHA caps and so on. None of that matters a damn. The assumption is that people can and should work their way out of holes that governments dig for them. Anyone who struggles to do that must hand themselves over to government and/or council entirely. They must give bureaucracies all details of money they spend. They must engage in often-pointless “towards work” activities for money to stay fed and housed.

You wonder how well things really turn out as a result – you know, in real life. Do these strict application conditions really help everybody to find the well-paid work that makes it possible to meet ever-escalating housing and living costs? I don’t see that too much, myself. The odds are too high for many people to beat them. The best reality for a lot of people I work with is low-paid work, an everlasting struggle to stay housed and a lot of time spent either going without, or answering to the state for measly topups. I can’t say that I’ve seen a major shift on that front.

What I can say for sure is that people find the state’s tightening grip and invasive questions and programmes upsetting. This is especially true when costs have been imposed on people and/or when there’s no obvious way to get the kind of money they need to really sort debt and income problems out.

The woman in this story, for example, was furious about the details that she was forced to give a debt adviser when she was charged the bedroom tax and in need of a DHP.

In this story, a young woman with a serious rent shortfall had to listen while the DWP pulled her up for spending a few quid on hamburgers. In this story, we have people on the street who avoid council and DWP application processes altogether, because they feel they’ll fall foul of some demand of rule somewhere. They’re probably right.

It is true that people are not always forced to engage at council level – I’ve helped people apply for DHPs that have been granted without a murmur – but the point is they can be. The literature around applications makes that clear as you can see on the Derby page. It also strongly suggests to people who are in financial hardship that they’re swinging the lead and must Learn Responsibility and never expect Something for Nothing. That implication riles people in a very big way. I see that anger all the time. People say there is one rule for them and one rule for others (I’ll post a transcript on exactly that topic later this week). Bailed-out bankers seem to feel entitled to Something For Nothing. Everyone else gets their nose rubbed into an itemised personal spending chart.

I suppose we’re in perfect storm territory, really. High rents, benefit caps, LHA caps, the bedroom tax, cuts to council tax benefit and all the rest make people’s costs harder and harder to meet. Meanwhile, councils are under major financial pressure. They must find ways to weed people out, or put people off altogether.

Derby council said as much, after a fashion. In an FOI response about the application criteria discussed in this post, the council told me that it was the council’s aim to apply conditionality to people who might find work: the council was “focusing the support on those people closest to the labour market from this DHP customer group.” The council said, “the requirement to engage in support is designed to promote financial independence to allow the council to focus funds on the most vulnerable groups moving forwards.” (I’ve posted the council’s whole response here if you want to look through it).

You’ll see that I asked the council if the engagement conditions applied to people who were struggling to meet costs, because of rent changes imposed on them by welfare reform. You’ll see that the council gave that line: “We are currently focusing the support on those people closest to the labour market from this DHP customer group.”

I took that as a Yes.

There really are no winners here.

16 thoughts on ““Towards Work” activities to get a DHP and stayed housed. How big is conditionality going to get?

  1. What economically vulnerable people really require is bargaining power, and services that meet their real requirements rather than some cost-cutter’s agenda.

    “Those who give the order seldom see the mess it makes,” and “before passing judgement/conditionality on another person, walk a mile in their moccasins.”

  2. Very right on that one.

    I think that with workfare especially – ie that MPs etc who think that working for nothing is a great idea should try it.

    • Perhaps a fundamental question for those MPs and Derby City Council folk involved here, there should be a fundamental question for self-examination:
      Do I want to assist economically vulnerable people in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world, to develop their capabilities? or
      Do I want to control them and make themselves subject to my every whim?

      • I think the latter applies in this case Dude.
        A politician that isn’t in one form or another a control freak is impossible.
        They draw great pleasure treating us like cattle in a pen
        while they expect the best simply cause they are in charge.
        Of course work releases us from MP’s pens,
        but we are still under their control in terms of low wages high rents etc.
        We can’t win in a situation like this.

  3. If a person is ‘able to work’ and there exists jobs which he/she is qualified to do and the pay is sufficient to enable the person to meet their basic needs and responsibilities, then that person should put themselves forward for that job.
    But if a person is impaired mentally or physically (or both) to the extent where they need assistance from another person to do what most people are able to do by themselves,
    then why on earth should that person be expected to “jump through hoops” in order to qualify for DHP?
    I of course assume that those who unable to help themselves will be exempt?
    But judging by what I have been hearing and reading about recent reforms and cuts,
    it wouldn’t surprise me if the DWP expects such vulnerable people to do something which is pointless just to justify getting extra financial assistance.
    And this despite the fact that a certain newspaper has today reported that certain ‘wealthy’ members of the house of lords regularly claim an allowance of around £300 per day
    and do little or nothing to justify it.
    And yet unemployed people are treated like sheep in a pen and put under increasing pressure every-time they put in a claim for benefit.
    There is something very unfair about that.

    • Fine, as far as it goes, but surely a job should pay enough for someone to have a life, not just cover their ‘basic needs and responsibilities’.

      Employers are allowed to plead poverty, and then be effectively subsidised by the taxpayer in the form of tax credits, soon to be UC. And yet many of those poverty stricken employers go on to announce ever increasing levels of profit.

      I think it’s worth thinking about the future of work, and considering it’s nature. Why is it that nearly 150 years on from the fight for an 8 hour day that this is still the standard measure of a working day, and that 40 hours are still more or less regarded as full time employment? Surely we as people deserve better than this? We also have to think about the way in which the world of work is going to change pretty rapidly over the next couple of decades, where increasingly work becomes automated. People still have to live, and will face all the costs they currently do, but unless things change an increasing number of us will be less and less able to afford to pay the excessive rents and levels of local taxation, and find ourselves thrust upon a system that will enslave us even more than it does at present.

      We need to start seriously demanding an unconditional citizens income, which would at least cover the basic living costs and responsibilities you mention – though I think that there would have to be a radical rethink over things like the way people are housed. That is an area ripe for fundamental reform, not least the complete undermining of the property market, thus restoring a true cost relationship to the provision of homes.

      Of course, it’s much more complex than I’ve just outlined, but there does need to be change, but people are going to have to come together and demand it in a way that makes politicians scared of what will happen if they don’t deliver. Basically politicians of all stripes need to be disabused of any notion that they have a ‘safe’ seat. That would be difficult, and any campaign would have to be pretty broad based, and would have to fend of attempts by extremists to hijack any such movement. Any such movement would also have to start from where people are at, say over concerns about the status of the NHS, which is an area where there is a huge level of agreement at a grass roots level, and then introduce other issues that people may have been negatively propagandised about, such as unemployment or about disability or social housing.

      We tend to forget that politicians still rely on our votes, and therefore we tend to get the politicians and governments we deserve. I’m not someone believes the system works well at all, as I tend to be more on the anarchist spectrum, but I still excercise my right to vote in elections, even if I do wonder afterwards why I even bother. At the very least it silences the kind of critic who chimes in with bollocks about those not voting having no voice etc. Voting in elections has always been a pretty awful way of controlling government, as there is a tendency for those governments to then go away with the impression that they have a free hand for five years once voted into power. That ain’t democracy, but unfortunately, as the events of 23rd June 2016 have shown, too many people think voting equals democracy. I won’t go into the train crash that Brexit means for the poorer and poorest citizens.

      Maybe once UC starts to negatively affect those currently working and claiming housing benefit and tax credits things will start to change.

  4. It is just like in the film, The Matrix. Some people have taken the Red Pill and see the reality of how things are. Others don’t seem to realise, or even care.
    As the Brexit bulldozer impacts with the Britisth economy, we are no doubt going to see yet more austerity and repression.
    Drudgery Not Dole is the new policy, with even the most wretched insecure employment now idealised as something wonderful.

    ‘’And that, put in the Director sententiously, that is the secret of happiness and virtue , liking what you’ve got to do.  All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny’’. Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

  5. The matter also occurs to me that this new stance from Derby City Council also kow tows to the stance taken by the recent Dept of Health/Dept for Work & Pensions Green Paper. DWP presentation on ESA plans ‘confirms worst fears’ about green paper .

    What they are planning really amounts to virtual institutionalisation. Traditionally, institutionalisation has been associated with secluded physical places with abuses carried out out of the public view. A core feature about institutionalisation, however, is reduction of choices for disadvantaged people.

  6. Given how much central government policy seems to be driving Derby City Council’s ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ conditionality, maybe the Tory ideal is for local government to be more of a franchise that they regulate, than an institution governed by electoral mandates?

  7. Pingback: Conditionality and discretionary housing payments: when paying rent is more important than buying food – Politics and Insights

  8. The reasoning provided by the council regarding only supporting those “nearest the labour market” to encourage “financial independence” is at odds with the aim of ensuring support goes to “those most in need”. Surely those unable to work through illness and disability, who are furthest away from the labour market have more need, yet will be less likely to meet conditionaility requirements and so won’t receive the support that the government tells us is in place for us.

    • But if we complain they simply say “but the support framework IS in place, no fault of ours you don’t qualify”

  9. Pingback: Q: Should there be limits on the number of times people can use foodbanks, or generally get help? Answer: No. | Kate Belgrave

  10. It’s interesting because I remember a few years ago local councils replaced financial assistance with grants in-kind, e.g. if you needed a fridge they gave you a fridge rather than the money to buy one. The rationale for it was to prevent the poor frittering away their money on the wrong things. However, it turned out that in-kind support was very bad value for money because the poor, in spite of buying cigarettes, actually managed to shop around and find the cheapest products far better than the local council did! Not surprising really, when you consider they had a lifetime’s experience of it.
    I remember a couple years ago Westminster Council was talking about ending people’s Housing Benefit if they were overweight and missed a session at the gym. To me, people’s housing costs are a basic human right. They should not be fair game. I think we need to reintroduce legislative protection for basic living costs, without conditionality. We also need reintroduce the link between earnings, market rents and Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance rates. With public opinion shifting and the Prime Minister clinging on by a thread, let’s hope these to-do points will be taken up by a more caring government very soon.
    I very much agree with your point about the bankers facing no conditionality over far larger sums. They carried on paying £million bonuses, even after government bailouts. More recently, the DUP got £1 billion out of the Prime Minister, which proves the point that the Magic Money Tree is alive and well and Jeremy Corbyn CAN afford his promises after all!

  11. I’ve jumped through so many hoops for the dwp that I realise was a trained pet for their own amusement.Their conditionality and cruelty cost me my mental heath at one point which I have had to recover from.

    Every useless scheme I was sent on was primarily for sanctioning or removing me from a set of figures. Its pure cruelty thinly dressed up as “help”. Its all designed to scare people off and I hated going in there. Its a punitive culture and not one for really getting at the reasons for or solutions to unemployment. I understand why people dont bother with them and I dont feel I could ever return without an advocate/witness.

    They have just stopped my benefits and I feel strangely serene and free this week even though deep down I know the hurt is coming and only my family will save me from homelessness.

    I feel in a giant catch 22 situation with a pincer movement between council and dwp. Increasing rents and lack of the quicker job opportunities has really hurt people as the job market has polarised.

    The dwp refuse to understand even though they must know the reality of the situation. I have noticed how they will openly lie and twist the conversation. They get very nasty with it and the dwp employee was just happy that he could use some minor issue to instigate a sanction.

    The complete control they will have with universal credit means even more people will be on the streets.

    We need an unconditional citizens income so people are not demonised and alienated. Together with a fundamental change to housing policy to stop landlord greed and an unsustainable housing bubble

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