DHPs are a stopgap. They don’t fix the real housing problems. The whole system is wrecked

A few thoughts on the government’s disingenuous guidance to *help* Grenfell residents with housing costs by providing Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs):

On Friday morning on twitter, some of us were discussing this DWP memo on getting DHPs to Grenfell residents. (This was hours before the Guardian finally picked up on the memo and ran a let’s-brown-nose-the-government-by-putting-the-government-defence-up-front story on it. That story didn’t offer an interview with anyone who had actually gone through the often-invasive and thankless process of applying for a DHP. Don’t start me on that. I’m not in the mood).

Anyway.

The memo told councils to prioritise Grenfell residents who applied for Discretionary Housing Payments for help with rent in advance, deposits on new homes and rent shortfalls in new homes. This memo made me furious, for many reasons.

One is, of course, that people who survived the Grenfell fire should not have to apply for anything at all, through any of these council processes. Deposits and full rents should be paid on the homes of their choice for the rest of their lives. I genuinely think that. I can’t see why people wouldn’t think that.

Another reason for disliking this government memo “initiative” is that DHPs are only stopgap payments. They are short-term payments made by councils from a government allocation. They are used to cover housing-cost problems for people on housing benefit, or the housing component of Universal Credit – say, a rent deposit for a flat for someone on a low income, or the bedroom tax, or a shortfall between the amount of housing benefit people can get and their full rent, particularly when people must rent in the expensive private sector. (I’ve helped people apply for DHPs).

DHPs do NOT change the welfare reform policies and issues that cause the problems in the first place – the bedroom tax, local housing allowance caps, benefit caps, the fact that homeless people must be placed in the expensive private rental sector because there’s not enough social housing to go around, and the fact that everyone who rents privately is exposed to runaway private-sector rents. Those problems go on – seemingly forever, at the moment. They’re not changed by DHP allocations. The DWP memo on DHPs made clear Grenfell people remain subject to welfare reforms such as the benefit cap.

It’s the short-termism of DHP help that really gets my back up. Covering payments and problems such as deposit and rent shortfalls with DHPs is a real get-out for government and councils. It means that the government via councils can use DHPs to mask housing and rent problems caused by the high rents, the discharging of homelessness duties into the private sector and welfare reform for six months, or a year, or, to put it crassly in this case, until mainstream press attention moves away from Grenfell and people are left alone to battle council and DWP bureaucracies. DHPs don’t address reasons for a housing crisis at all.

There’s another problem, too – one that isn’t discussed as often as it should be. People (I mean a lot of the mainstream media here) seem to assume that the bureaucratic systems that people must use to apply for DHPs, housing, housing benefit and the UC housing component function reasonably well, or even at all – ie, that there’s an operational system in place for people who are homeless and/or who need housing benefit and DHPs and so on. The truth is that these systems are in absolute shambles. I realise that government says rules should be relaxed for Grenfell residents and every effort made to assist people. I’m saying that I have no confidence in this being the case in an ongoing way. That’s because wherever you go in the country, things are so often an unbelievable mess. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to housing meetings, or jobcentre meetings, or whatever, with people, and come out with nothing resolved. This needs to be addressed in councils and bureaucracies all over. These problems apply all round.

I can say this, because I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past few years trying to navigate council and DWP systems with people who must use them. “Streamlined” is not the word that comes to mind.

Council and DWP phones ring and ring or leave you on hold or go unanswered. Here’s a post about a DWP call where I was on hold for 45 minutes. If you do get through, officers can’t or won’t help you: they tell you the rules, that people must pay what they owe, or call someone else, and that’s it. Officers have little support and no leeway a lot of the time. That being the case, they simply read from the rules. Papers and documents get lost. Jobcentres make the starting of a UC housing component payment extremely difficult even when arrears and eviction are on the cards. Homelessness and housing benefit responsibilities are split between councils if people are placed out of borough by their originating council. Homelessness and council offices can be closed when you turn up during work hours (that happened to me in Salford and Birmingham). By Closed, I mean Closed. There’s no waiting room. The doors are locked and you’re out on the pavement. People have to travel to different parts of town for different housing and benefits services, because those services aren’t in the same place, or even run by the same outfit. For example, First Choice Homes in Oldham takes and processes homelessness applications for Oldham Council in one part of town, on Union Street – but you have to walk up the hill to the Oldham Civic Centre to ask about a DHP. Some First Choice officers don’t know what a DHP is when you first ask. I know this because I’ve tried it.

So.

Here are a few more of the issues and problems that came to my mind after reading that DWP memo on DHPs. These problems need to be noted and acted on, for Grenfell residents and everyone.

1) The fact that DHPs are a short-term fix is a problem. What happens when Grenfell DHPs allocated this time around for rent shortfalls in particular run out in six months’ time, or a year’s time, or whenever? Will people have to apply again. Is there any guarantee applications will succeed. There’s no such guarantee generally.

2) Is the government aware that a lot of councils won’t agree to a tenancy going ahead if they know that there’s a significant gap between the rent on a home and the amount of housing benefit a person can secure. I’ve heard that one plenty of times, all over. Here’s a Basildon council officer telling a woman I was with (she was affected by the benefit cap) that she’d need to go back to Newham council to argue the toss re: whether or not she could afford a rent.

As we speak, I’m writing a story with a young Newham woman called Chantelle Dean who is trying to find a place. She showed me this piece of paper for local LHA rates. The text at the top of the paper says (bit hard to see on the image):

“Please ensure that the rent for the property is within the LHA rates below. Newham will not allow any tenancies under the private rented sector scheme to go ahead if the rent is higher than the stated LHA rates.”

You see what I mean.

3) A lot of landlords simply won’t accept people who receiving housing benefit or UC housing costs. Chantelle told me on Friday that she’d contacted about 50 places in the past few weeks to see if she could find anyone who accepted housing benefit. She couldn’t. That is not an unusual story at all. Here’s a homelessness officer at Brent council telling the disabled man I was with to not even bother applying to high street letting agents, because they wouldn’t consider people on housing benefit: “There’s no point approaching the high street estate agents, because the majority of their clients do not consider DSS,” the officer said.

4) The DWP’s DHP memo makes clear that people from Grenfell may be housed in other boroughs (pt 8: “If the deposit or rent in advance payment is for a property outside of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea…” Leaving aside the fact that people should not have to leave the borough if they don’t want to, is the government aware that moving people to new boroughs can leave them in a nightmarish “between boroughs” No-Man’s land where people are pushed backwards and forwards between officers at their new and old councils, and where nobody takes responsibility for resolving problems? I worked with the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group with a man who the group found a flat for in Haringey to house him from an awful place in Brent (the example I gave above). Trying to work out which council to approach to sort out a DHP for a rent deposit nearly did for us all.

In the Basildon council benefit cap example I gave you above, the woman who was affected by the benefit cap was told at the Basildon meeting to direct her housing benefit questions at Basildon council and her rent and homelessness questions to Newham. Newham was responsible for her homelessness and housing. Basildon was responsible for her housing benefit. Those councils are miles away from each other.

You see my point. DHPs deal with none of this. We’re talking about a system that is massively under-resourced and over-subscribed. We’re talking about housing costs and welfare reforms which make it impossible for people to find secure housing. Let’s see the government send round a memo which addresses all of that.

14 thoughts on “DHPs are a stopgap. They don’t fix the real housing problems. The whole system is wrecked

  1. “The whole system is wrecked”

    Yep. And we all know who wrecked it, quite deliberately, the evil Tory swines, namely David Cameron, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith, & that unelected meddlesome beurocrat Lord Freud. They should swing for it. I once applied for a DHP when I was hit by the Bedroom Tax, but was turned down. At the time, half my JSA went to nPower, leaving me with £35 a week out of which I had to pay £14 Bedroom Tax, leaving me with £21 per week for Council Tax, Water, phone, food, toiletries, & cat food. I couldn’t afford to have a daily shower, just once a week, did laundry once a fortnight instead of weekly, ate some food out of a neighbour’s bin, stayed in bed to keep warm instead of putting heating on, often had No toilet roll & had to use a jaycloth. That’s why my parents & grandparents worked all their lives & paid taxes & fought in wars, so that I could end up living like that whilst Freud & chums live in swanky mansions with wine cellars & champagne. Revolution anyone?

      • I always believe that when you have wolve like people in charge of the government
        don’t be surprised when they suddenly turn on you and rip you to shreads.
        Real wolves act by instinct but when human beings savage one another in the way the establishment does to the poor and vulnerable something is very wrong.

      • When the majority decide that they are tired of wolves dressed in sheeps clothing “ruining” not running our country
        maybe just maybe things will improve.
        But given human nature and the long history of how humans have abused power and the common people
        I would hold my breath for the change that is oh so needed in our country.

    • In fact, I’d go even further & say the whole country is wrecked. Traditonal industries have disappeared, manufacturing has largely gone to the far east, jobs are being lost to technology, and the population is growing. The Gov. paper over the cracks, lie about the unemployment figures whilst demonizing the unemployed and introducing impossibly draconian Benefit rules. There has never been a greater need for an Unconditional Citizens Basic Income, but don’t hold your breath with this lot. Tory Welfare reforms were/are nothing but a cull of the poor. I have to sign on tomorrow & as usual I’m absolutely dreading it. It’s like waiting to be shot. I feel the fear/anxiety building as the day approaches. I know that the adviser/work coach/dole clerk will not be happy No matter what I’ve done. No matter how much jobsearch I’ve done, No matter how many jobs I’ve applied for, No matter how many training courses or work experience I do, she is never satisfied and never will be until I either sign off or die. I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight because of the stress. I wish the world would end.

        • “get a job?”

          Trouble is I have a condition that means I am highly susceptible to Stress & prone to suffering from Anxiety & Depression. Based on past experiences of the world of work the thought of having a job terrifies me. I do regularly apply for jobs, because I have to as a condition of receiving JSA, but I never get any of those jobs or even an interview, thank God, & I’m not likely to as theygenerally want younger people (I’m in my 50s) who have worked more recently, & who can work faster & in some cases have their own transport to getthere. My JCP Adviser just gave me a job to apply for, part-time Receptionist at a local hotel. I have no hotel or reception experience & part-time means I’d basically be working for nothing as whatever I earn would be deducted from my Benefits. If I don’t apply though I’ll be sanctioned. It’s a nightmare. I now have to figure out a way of applying but ensuring I don’t actually get the damned job. Last time I signed on she wanted me to apply for job in a biscuit factory 15 miles away with a 7.00am start & min.wage, & you had to do 4weeks unpaid training. first, followed by one week unpaid work before they gave you an interview! Naturally I declined that offer.

          • But, for all my problems, at least I still have a roof over my head & havent lost everything & everyone in a fire. That’s something to be grateful for.

  2. By the way Kate
    I am still licking my wounds after my ESA was stopped suddenly without warning and now my housing benefit has been stopped too and I am now facing falling into arrears and being forced to use up my savings to pay them off.
    For the first time in 16 years, I feel insecure.
    It’s a horrible feeling but one that many ESA claimants will be familiar with.
    I wrote to Barry Gardiner for support but i’m still waiting for a reply.
    Basically I’m feeling very insecure right now and I wonder how long it will take before I feel reasonably secure again.

  3. Here’s what Shelter wrote on DHPs in April 2016

    http://blog.shelter.org.uk/2016/04/dhp-dysfunctional-housing-payments/

    “Our stats show that in many cases, requests for DHPs aren’t even being acknowledged. More than half of our clients facing homelessness, and who had tried to apply for a DHP through our online tool, didn’t even get sent a form by their council, or a way of applying for the fund.”

    Those who do manage to apply for a DHP are more often than not kept waiting for at least 2 weeks. This may not sound like a long time, but it’s an eternity for a family who are watching the clock tick on the roof over their heads. What’s worse is that 17% of our clients had to wait over a month.

    When people do get an answer from the council, it’s not always good news. Less than half of our clients were awarded DHP, despite facing hardship and imminent homelessness.

    And what are the consequences of this? Almost half of our clients who needed DHP said that their situation stayed the same, which meant that in many cases they continued to inch towards eviction. But 30% said that their situation had worsened. Tragically, this often meant that families had lost their home and were now homeless.

    We are particularly concerned with three specific areas of council practice:

    Firstly, many councils actively stop residents from making inquiries in person or over the phone, and instead insist on digital contact only. This makes applying for things like DHP very difficult, especially when you’re in an urgent situation.

    Secondly, DHP awards are often managed by outsourced benefits services. Communication with homelessness services often breaks down, and the council struggles to hold these external agencies to account. For families trying to apply for DHP, this can create a bewildering labyrinth of bureaucracy.

    Thirdly, our findings on DHP reinforce evidence of councils actively ‘gatekeeping’, in other words trying to reduce the numbers approaching their homelessness services by deterring people from applying”.

    • Precisely. And yet people are expected to swallow the line that DHPs will be a useful fix for Grenfell tenants and others. Do me a favour. This is about stopgapping problems while the MSM is hanging around. I personally think that anyone who survived Grenfell should be found a decent place and have the rent paid on it forever. People who need rehousing shouldn’t have to go through council housing systems at all again. Ever. LHA rates need to be dropped for everyone else and/or market rents controlled. This is ridiculous. Government can’t be allowed to forever claim that slinging a few quid at someone for a few months by way of DHP permanently addresses an LHA/ridiculous rents shortfall problem.

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