'Welfare reform will change social housing forever'
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government
The government's welfare reforms will change the social housing landscape forever, delegates at the Chartered Institute of Housing's (CIH) Scotland conference have been told.
Graeme Russell, housing services director at Dunedin Canmore Housing Association, said: “Welfare reform will fundamentally change how we work as organisations and interact with clients. Things are never ever going to be the same again. Housing providers are going to have to adopt a far more commercial and hard-nosed approach.”
Dunedin is conducting the only direct payment demonstration project that the Department for Work and Pensions is running in Scotland.
Mr Russell revealed that rent arrears levels from the project were 6.2 percent, compared with the association’s usual level of 3.2 percent.
Describing a BBC report that the country-wide demonstration projects had seen arrears rise by 30 percent as “absolute tosh”, Mr Russell said that of more than 1,000 tenants taking part in the scheme, only 112 had so far switched back to having their rent paid direct to their landlord.
“What we have found is that while some payments might be delayed or paid in part the vast majority of tenants are paying their rent," Mr Russell explained.
He said that social landlords must work hard to collect as much information as they can on their tenants if they are to make direct payments work.
"If you take one thing from this session it should be that communication with tenants has to be targeted and specific to each household. During this project I have learned more about our organisation and our tenants than I have in 30 years."
Following yesterday’s announcement of concessions on the bedroom tax, City of Edinburgh Council welfare manager Alan Sinclair said: “The under-occupancy rules keep on changing at the 11th hour – you couldn’t make it up.
"One of the ways the UK government has said we can get around the bedroom tax is by using discretionary housing payments (DHP) but that will not work. Our DHP budget is £1.35m and we estimate that the benefit reduction in Edinburgh as a result of the bedroom tax will be about £4.2m.”