We consider you housed, because you have a grotty caravan to live in. This is austerity.

This one goes out to all those politicians who seem only newly acquainted with the notion that austerity is rotten and ridiculous, and that people are very sick of public sector cuts:

I’m posting here yet another story from a frontline homelessness office which will tell you something about hopelessly stretched housing resources in austerity. It will also tell you something about the farcical conversations that homeless people and housing officers must have during austerity – ie, at a time when all sense of proportion has left the building.

In the discussion reported below, a housing officer at First Choice Homes in Oldham (First Choice provides the homelessness service for Oldham Council) told the 67-year-old man called Paul who I was with that Paul was considered adequately housed because he had a crappy old caravan to live in on a site in Oldham. Take that.

Image: in the caravan

This conversation took place in the last week of April. A month or two before that, Paul had been offered sheltered accommodation, I think it was, but he was too concerned about the spectre of escalating service charges in sheltered accommodation to go with that. Nothing is easy in austerity. Every option has a sting in the tail and/or one on the horizon. The idea of service charges – in sheltered accommodation, or anywhere – scares the shit out of people generally. Nobody ever knows how big service charges will get. Certainly, nobody believes the sky will be the limit when it comes to service charges going up. The mere mention of service charges is enough to put people off further dialogue.

As we talked about sheltered accommodation, the officer agreed that service charges were a thing: “we pass that [court manager] charge onto the customer, because it’s the customers that are in need of that service…maintenance charges, we charge those to all our customers…. communal areas,” etc, etc.

That being the case, the caravan was it.

“The advice that you got… is that you were able to return to your caravan, so you’re not homeless… that’s why they’re not giving you the homeless priority,” the officer said to Paul. So, there we were – an older bloke with a heart condition being told that living in a caravan was acceptable. We knew that this line was ridiculous. The officer, to her credit, knew this line was ridiculous too, but there we were all the same, going down together. Again. God knows how many similar conversations I’ve witnessed in the last few years. Austerity has redefined our notions of “acceptable,” and “logical.” You hardly know what you’ll hear next.

Here’s another picture from the caravan:

And outside:

And here’s an excerpt from the recording of the conversation we had with the officer (I’ll put the recording up as soon as I can – having some upload problems atm. UPDATE: solved my problem, so here’s the audio):

Officer: “…she [the homelessness officer] advised you to return to the caravan… are you still able to live in the caravan?…That’s why they’re not giving you the homeless priority. They’re not deeming you as homeless.”

Me: “So, he’d have to leave the caravan [to get help]… so really, it’s not very good, is it.”

Officer: “Even if he left the caravan, they’d say he’d made himself intentionally homeless by leaving. I know, I know…”

Me: “So, he’s not homeless because he’s got the caravan, but if he leaves the caravan, he’s intentionally homeless.”

This is why I know there isn’t a god.

There are a couple of points to make here.

The first is that the caravan was no place to live. It was tiny, filthy and just about too small to lie down in. Taking a shower, or even a visit to the latrine involved a small hike in all weathers to a shared ablutions block. Great.

The second point is that just up the road, by comparison, there are people who live very well. Central Manchester was and is bursting with flashy, new-build apartments and redevelopments. There is absolutely no sense of proportion in this picture as a result. This is the concept I want to try and get across to our Tory austerity newbies. You can stand in a housing office with an elderly bloke who has a heart condition and listen as he is told that living in a caravan is fine, and that others in similar circumstances are told the same thing. Then, on your way home across the city, you can meander past costly high-rise apartments and building developments. This is inequality, you know. Inequality is austerity’s real achievement. You can, if you want, actually watch it unfold before your eyes over a tram ride from Oldham to Manchester. I know this, because I regularly make this journey from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Back to the ridiculous. You’ll note from the recording above that the officer implied if Paul couldn’t, or didn’t, live in the caravan, he would be entitled to more help. However, if he stopped living in the caravan without good reason – if he just left the caravan, because he couldn’t stand it any more – he would make himself intentionally homeless. If that happened, he would not be entitled to any homelessness help at all.

“Even if he left the caravan, they would say that he had made himself intentionally homeless by leaving. I know, I know…”

“So, he’s not homeless, because he’s got the caravan, but if he leaves the caravan, then he’ll be intentionally homeless,” I said.

Austerity, my friends. It makes less of us all. So glad to know our, erm, “leadership” is finally cottoning on.

 

13 thoughts on “We consider you housed, because you have a grotty caravan to live in. This is austerity.

  1. so, a housing crisis is nothing to do with mass immigration then?

    To be a stuck record on this, the EC projection of the UK population is an increase of 16 million by the middle of this century. In the absence of replicating the infrastructure of the Netherlands or building not one but two Londons all in the space of a few decades, there is going to be a housing crisis.

  2. You can only take so many bricks out of the wall before it falls down.
    If there was any decency to this government they would increase the rate of social security payments due to rising inflation. The PM is apparently a Christian, so may I offer the following:

    Proverbs 11:2 – When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

    • if you have more people than you do dwellings, then no matter how you divide up the money, someone is going to have nowhere to live.

  3. Kate,

    I am not sure whether you want to score political points or help the homeless. If it is the political points, I am not interested, because most people – even politicians! – seem to be aware that the gap between the rich and poor should be narrowed. The question is how to do this cleverly, without ruining the economy.

    If you want to help the homeless, I am very interested. One thing I would go for, would be to start a campaign (a petition?) for changing the rules. For example, this caravan business, there is a difference between caravans. If Paul’s caravan is as uninhabitable as you suggest, the rules should allow the accommodation officer to say that it does not offer a reasonable accommodation. I would not be surprised if this was the case already and the officer overlooked this detail. If this proviso (of reasonableness) is not there it should be introduced.

    How about that?

    • The crisis in housing is political. The Tories have directly and deliberately targeted the poor and vulnerable as means to scapegoat for the both their own actions and those of the super rich and the bankers, who need to be held to account.

      You may well be correct in saying that most people are aware of the increasing gap in affluence, but I doubt if that many politicians really care about doing anything about it, which is why Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is refreshing, and why he has the support and following of vast numbers of young people.

      I’m guessing that you must be some kind of Tory given that you mention the economy in the sense that it is somehow more important than people. I’ll remind you that it is the Tories who wreck the economy by their failure to invest in people and society. It is Tory austerity that has created the absurd situation where a 67 year old man with a heart condition is regarded as adequately housed in a small, run down touring caravan when there are lots of empty flat nearby – which should in my opinion, be immediately appropriated by the state and used to provide homes for people like Paul. After all, taking these appartments into public ownership would only be like recovering stolen goods as they are largely in the possession of people who came by the wealth to buy them through the proceeds of exploitation of workers.

      Let’s not kid ourselves that homelessness and the lack of decent, genuinely affordable (i.e. that can be easily afforded by ordinary working people: no more than 15% of weekly wages, including ‘service charges’) is not a political issue, it very much is.

  4. I can understand and sympathise with Paul with his concern over service charges, they look like a great way for housing associations to increase rents by stealth.

    I once asked a friend who worked as a housing officer for a housing association about service charges and his reply was that they were a way of making extra money housing associations beyond the rent.

    I’ve noticed of recent years that not only is my rent going up at a rate way beyond that of inflation, but that service charges are also increasing apace. Earlier this year I challenged the housing association I rent from over the rent and service charge increase through my local Welsh Assembly Member (social housing is a devolved issue in Wales) and managed to get the service charge increase halved.

    The thing is, we, that is the tenants who live in this building, have challenged the service charges in the past. We do get a break down sent to us every year, but the figures contained in it are, we feel, often dubious – such as an astronomical electricity bill for the communal lighting/television booster and front door intercom system. They TV booster for the communal TV aerial is low powered, so won’t use much, likewise the intercom system, and the lighting is on timed switches, (which are antediluvian, the system needs updating so that it uses LED lighting and infra red sensors – we’ve pointed this out to the association, but they tell us there is no money!) and so is not as efficient as it could be, but nowhere near uses the amount of electricity the association maintains it does. The service charge also contains a figure for the maintenance of the communal fire alarm system, which by rights we feel should be part of the rent, (which is hefty enough in it’s own right).

    However, the largest element of the service charge is that for communal cleaning and what is laughingly called grounds maintenance, where a couple of men with strimmers and a mower appear every fortnight or so to cut the grass, whether it needs it or not, for six months of the year. Both of these services make up the bulk of the service charge. The thing is everyone living in this building is able bodied, and some of us have said that we’e be willing to take on both the communal cleaning and grounds maintenance – but we were told that this wasn’t possible for ‘Health & Safety’ reasons. Completely bogus argument, of course, the HA just wants to protect an additional income stream, despite their reassuring us that they don’t make anything from it.* .

    Maybe one day we’ll get some politicians who will blast through all the bullshit spouted about the cost of housing, and we’ll get to a situation where the true cost is exposed, which is a lot less than those with a vested interest in the status quo would have us believe. Housing is a basic human need, and should be a human right for all. There are a variety of ways in which housing for all could be achieved, and I’d personally suggest that anarchist ideas surrounding housing be studied. Not all anarchists make a lot of sense, but there are some worth reading, the late Colin Ward being one such who wrote, and broadcast widely about housing issues – you can watch a programme made by him here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01rk56y/where-we-live-now-3-new-town-home-town

    The programme is a little dated, but fundamentally the issues are still the same.

    Colin Ward’s book, ‘Housing: An Anarchist Approach’ is also worth seeking out, but is currently out of print, but your local library may be able to source a copy.

    It’s high time we stopped believing that having a home is a privilege, and insist that it is a fundamental right, and that access to a decent place to live is something enjoyed by all.

    *In fact some years ago a couple of tenants did take on doing the communal cleaning as the service provided by the housing association was appallingly bad. But this was at a time when the housing association was tenant controlled, (which is sadly no longer the case, as the HA was taken over by another, predatory HA in the mid 90s)

  5. Padi Phillips If HA treat the service charges as an extra rent this is not reasonable and is therefore unlawful. The dispute can be taken to the Tribunal. The questions the Tribunal are likely to ask are:

    . was it, or would it be, in the circumstances, reasonable for the costs to be incurred and, if so:
    . what are the landlord’s procedures for assessing and controlling the costs, including supervision?

    The parties may present evidence on any of these matters and question the evidence given by the other party.

    The Tribunal may also determine:

    . whether the service charge is payable under the lease

    Full details of the procedures and requirements for applying to the Tribunal are set out in the leaflet Application to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

    This means that you can seek advice as to how to resolve the dispute with your HA and have tenants to carry out some maintenance themselves (maybe, after perfunctory Health and Safety training). You can seek this advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

    Also, if you are interested in investigating this avenue I am happy to continue investigating it with you.

    I repeat, I have no interest in any political discussions. I am interested in finding people, who – like me – are interested in providing effective help to people.

  6. If the problem with unreasonable service charges is widespread we can compose a petition demanding that they stop.

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  9. Been living in a caravan on site where I live next to the lorrys doing house removals working 7days a week for over a year. I’ve got no shower, no running water, no bed, don’t have a TV, no car so have to rely on the good will of my boss to borrow a van to go to the gym for a shower. The caravan is small and falling apart. I work like a beast, nobody helps me. Claim and get nothing off the government. I’m 33 and will make it out off here somehow and prove that no bad the situation is you can change your destiny. Thank you. Ive all I need and more x

    • I have been opening links on another story and have come to this one. What you are describing is modern day slavery.
      My response here is nearly a year late. I hope your situation has improved, certainly from what you describe here, which is unlawful.

      If your situation is the same, then you must summon all your courage and contact the Police. If you have read the stories on Kate’s blog here, then you will know that the system is now brutal to those of low income. Slavery though is even lower.
      You are still young, no matter what happens it cannot be worse than your bondage now.

      If you read this, I hope that you are no longer in the same situation. You CANNOT allow such control of your life like that.
      My very best wishes to you.

  10. I’m 66 and have been living in various caravans and mobile homes for 11 years since being made redundant in 2007 and not being able to pay my mortgage. At the moment its a caravan with no running water(only because I cant afford to pay someone to fix up the water system. I did go to two councils seeking help, basically if I deserted my mentally ill younger than me hubby and the dog I’d get help – they can stuff their bricks n mortar.

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