About Jamie Wallace

Jamie Wallace is the NextDoor Project's Tenancy Support Officer. Jamie helps people find accommodation all over London and helps put them back on the path to a sustainable tenancy.

NextDoor Project – Five Years On

 

Z2K’s NextDoor Project was launched in July 2012, anticipating a surge in demand for decent, affordable housing in the private rented sector, a direct consequence of the Coalition Government’s “austerity measures”.

One of the first of the cuts to be announced was a reduction in Local Housing Allowance Rates of Housing Benefit in the private rented sector.  This had the effect of greatly constricting the supply of properties that low-income renters could afford; with the result that many quickly fell into arrears and ended up being evicted. Continue reading

Humanity Homes hostel now open

A-rough-sleeper-on-the-st-007Since the age threshold for the Shared Accommodation rate was raised to thirty five our Private Rented Sector Access Scheme has struggled to house anyone under that age without an exemption. This has meant we regularly have to turn away homeless young men and women seeking our help.

We have in the past tried to place people in shared accommodation but the vulnerable nature of our clients has made this challenging. To address this challenge we have collaborated with a new charity called Humanity Homes to create a hostel where we can provide ongoing support to those we house there.  Continue reading

Substandard accommodation and minimum space standards

To-Leti460x276An important part of my role as Tenancy Support Officer at the NextDoor project is to manage the expectations of our clients regarding the type of accommodation we are able to find them.  We do not expect our clients to live in properties which we consider to be substandard but with LHA rates now based on the 30th percentile of rents in a given are finding appropriate accommodation this is no easy task. This is particularly true in an unregulated sector, where it is all too easy for landlords to exploit the intense demand for accommodation which exists in London. Continue reading

The road from rough sleeping to employment is not an easy one

imagesThe role of our Private Rented Sector Access Scheme is twofold, to assist our clients into secure, accommodation, and to provide them with on going support. A significant proportion of our clients are former rough sleepers, a group who tend to be in particular need of intensive support in adjusting to life in settled accommodation, and for whom a sense of security is paramount. Once a client has settled in, and seems to be coping well, we will still keep in touch with the occasional phone call or visit to check that everything is OK.

One such client is Dave, who we found a one bedroom flat for in November last year. He had been through a very unfortunate combination of circumstances, forced into rough sleeping for almost a year. So he was overjoyed when we found him a very nice one bedroom flat in South London. He was full of hope and plans for the future and set about almost immediately applying for jobs, volunteering and a couple of months ago he got a place on a 16 week course getting practical experience and an NVQ in Social Work. He was very optimistic that this and the experience, skills and contacts he was gaining through his voluntary work gave him a good chance of getting a good job, and capitalising on successful career he had enjoyed for many years, before a series of unfortunate events left him with no other option than to sleep rough and try to survive as best he could. Continue reading

Confusion and anxiety as the Social Fund is localised

dwpAs part of the government’s overhaul of the benefit system, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, the Social Fund has been scrapped. This is a worrying development for us here at the NextDoor Project. Most of the clients for whom we find accommodation have no savings of their own and landlords invariably require one month’s rent in advance, which we have usually be able to obtain on their behalf from the Social Fund in the form of a Crisis Loan payment.

Elements of the old social fund, such as budgeting loans, will continue to be administered by the DWP, but crisis loans are now part of a bundle of responsibilities which have been devolved to local authorities. Obtaining crisis loan money from the old Social Fund was never easy, with call centers staffed by humans delivering remarkably convincing impersonations of robots. These generally pusillanimous creatures were clearly instructed to find any reason, however spurious, to reject an application. One particularly egregious example being when a rough sleeper who I had found a studio flat  for was refused a loan on the grounds that “He has been sleeping rough for eight months, which means that he is coping very well with his situation, and is therefore not in a crisis ”. A piece of twisted logic worthy of the original Catch 22.

Accessing a Crisis Loan under the old system may have been difficult, but at least one was dealing with one centralised system and one set of rules, however obtuse. Over time I had become something of an expert at navigating my way through all obstacles and of late successful applications were becoming the norm, not the exception. Now we are dealing with up to thirty-two London Local Authority’s, each with its own set of criteria and some seemingly without any coherent policy at all.

Even where councils, such as Kennsington and Chelsea (in consort with Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham under the new  tri-borough administrative arrangements), have got a system in place it is embryonic and there are teething problems and delays. We have been successful in accessing a payment from Westminster, which is apparently the first under the new system, but because the payment mechanism is not in place yet Z2K has had to bridge the payment, in order for our client to be placed.

I have even been told by one London borough that they will not be giving cash payments at all but food vouchers, which at the very least shows a total misunderstanding of the needs of the people for whom this money is intended. Many other boroughs are insisting on a local connection before they will consider an application.

The only good thing that can be said about the new system is that when money is given it is in the form of a grant, unlike the old social fund, which was a loan, and over time it is to be hoped that councils will evolve better systems, and a greater understanding of the needs of their clients. At the moment however, like so much of the governments wholesale changes to the benefit system, these changes are creating confusion and anxiety, with many unintended consequences and an overall impression that they have not been properly thought through.