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Friday, 17 January 2014

Tenants housing benefit hit by double-whammy effect of sanctions

Tenants who have their unemployment benefit taken away as part of the government policy of ‘sanctioning’ are finding their housing benefit has been cut too.
The number of sanctions against claimants deemed not to be doing enough to find work increased to 860,000 in the year to June 2013, the highest for any 12-month period since statistics began to be recorded in their present form.
But, whilst believing it not to be an intentional part of government policy, charities have confirmed a significant rise in the number of sanctioned claimants reporting that their housing benefit (HB) has been cut as a result of their Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA) being sanctioned.
Housing associations are also starting to see anecdotal evidence of sanctioned tenants who may have fallen into arrears as a consequence of the knock-on effect of sanctioning.  Charities, including Homeless Link and Crisis have raised the issue with the DWP. Former Policy Exchange economist, Matthew Oakley, is carrying out an ‘independent’ review of the way sanctions are communicated, for the DWP.
Leslie Ashley, 27, (to hear the full interview with Ashley click here) lives between London and Brighton and was sanctioned shortly before Christmas 2012.  A local authority tenant, the first indication he had that his housing benefit had been stopped was when his landlord contacted him.
‘I didn’t know that my housing benefit was stopped until I got a letter stating that I owed over three hundred pounds rent,’ he said.
‘It was about two or three weeks into my sanction. The council contacted me to say I was in arrears. The housing benefit people had obviously been informed, but my landlord hadn’t. Although I got the sanction overturned, it took nearly six weeks before I got my ESA and housing benefit sorted out.’
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, said the knock-on effect of sanctioning on housing benefit was not an intended part of DWP policy, however, the problem was real and a growing one for people who find themselves sanctioned.
She said: ‘Housing benefit can be automatically stopped when someone’s JSA or ESA is sanctioned. People are not being advised that their housing benefit will be affected and that they may need to re-apply for it. Often they only realise there’s a problem when they are in arrears or facing eviction.
‘There needs to be clear communication between the different benefit departments to prevent people’s housing benefit being affected by sanctions.’
In its evidence to the Oakley review, Homeless Link called on the DWP to ensure that the potential impact of a sanction on a claimant’s housing benefit be explained when the sanction is imposed.
Richard Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, added that the charity had raised the issue with the DWP after its own research confirmed that sanctioning was causing problems for vulnerable people.
A spokesperson for Circle Housing Group confirmed they were starting to see ‘anecdotal’ of problems as a result of sanctions being robustly applied.
He said: ‘There is a continued need to communicate the changes about welfare benefit clearly to those affected to help manage the impact.’
A further housing association source confirmed that it was starting to see tenant’s housing benefit claims affected by sanctions but it could not yet assess the impact it was having on arrears.
A DWP spokesperson confirmed that sanctions should not affect claimants housing benefit, but advised that any claimant who had a problem with their HB should contact their local authority.

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