One step closer to decent homes

This week marks an important step on the road towards a decent standard of housing for all tenants. Karen Buck MP’s crucial Private Member’s Bill – Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) – has finally gained support from government.

At Z2K we help those of our clients who are homeless and single – those without access to statutory support – to find and secure quality, safe accommodation in the Private Rented Sector (PRS). While this is a life-changing service for those we support, our limited capacity means it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the huge numbers of people who are still struggling to live without a decent home.

Although homelessness (including those in emergency and temporary accommodation as well as rough-sleeping) remains the most acute and damaging issue in the current housing crisis, there are also widespread problems for people in social or private rented housing.

Both private and social rented homes may be substandard, with hazardous conditions

Many people who manage to find somewhere to rent are still forced to put up with shockingly awful conditions, from excessive mould and damp to a complete lack of heating or ventilation. Living in such substandard properties poses a serious risk to people’s health. It can also damage children’s educational performance and wellbeing, greatly impacting on their future life chances.

What’s more, this is not an unusual situation reserved for an unlucky few. While many landlords do ensure they are providing adequate accommodation for their tenants, a significant number do not. The English Housing Survey shows that one million homes have at least one hazard which poses a serious risk to tenants’ health. Of these, 250,000 are social housing and 750,000 are privately rented – meaning one in six of all private rentals are forcing people to live in inadequate conditions.

This new Bill is an opportunity to change that. Instead of simply expecting people to put up with these unhealthy and hazardous conditions, it would require landlords to make their properties fit for human habitation. It would also give tenants the right to challenge landlords who do not deal with hazardous disrepair, by taking them to court. In short, it offers all tenants the right to something which surely everyone deserves – basic living conditions.

Karen Buck MP, whose Private Member’s Bill has received government backing

Having campaigned for greater tenant rights for years, Z2K is particularly pleased to support Karen Buck in her bid to make this Bill into law. The Bill has already received support from the Residential Landlord’s Association and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers. Now, at last, it has gained official backing from the government. This is a testament to the hard work of all the policymakers, tenants’ organisations and charities who have fought for the rights and duties it represents, and pushed this incredibly important issue onto the government’s agenda.

The Bill will have its second reading in parliament this Friday 19th January before proceeding to the committee stage, where each section and suggested amendment will be debated. Z2K will continue to monitor its progress to ensure it delivers on the legal rights Karen Buck and many others have fought for. We will also keep learning from our clients’ experiences about the ongoing issues and pitfalls of the system, and carry on challenging those in power.

This Bill may not be the only solution to the housing crisis, but it is certainly a crucial step. With a growing body of support – including now from government – helping it on its way towards becoming legislation, we hope it will continue to progress. At the same time, Z2K will continue working to help those in need access the decent home they deserve.

 

 

 

A small win for maintaining independence

Z2K Caseworker Andy McCarthy highlights the vital importance of mobility support for people with disabilities

Sarah has osteoarthritis which makes it impossible for her to walk more than 50 meters without stopping, and also has severe anxiety. She has fallen over while walking in the community many times, which has understandably made her cautious going out by herself. Apart from taking a bus for 2 stops down the road to see a friend, she would never leave the house without someone helping her. This in turn made Sarah feel extremely isolated and depressed, as she lost contact with her support network and was stuck indoors for the majority of the time.

After applying for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) Sarah was awarded enhanced mobility rate, and so was entitled to a Mobility Car through the Motability Scheme. The scheme enables disabled people to get mobile by exchanging their enhanced rate mobility allowance to lease a car. This was an “absolute God-send” for Sarah, as it gave her a new independence; her son was able to drive her to go shopping, to GP appointments, and to visit friends and family who she lost contact with since her mobility worsened.

However with DLA being phased out and gradually being replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Sarah was reassessed with troubling results. Her Daily Living component was reduced to the standard rate, while she lost her mobility rate entitlement altogether. This meant that the car she relied on for essential travel was to be taken away as she no longer qualified for the Motability scheme.

Sadly, Sarah’s experience of transferring over to PIP is extremely common. A recent Freedom of Information Request by Disability Rights UK1 revealed that 50% of DLA recipients who were receiving enhanced rate mobility lost this entitlement when reassessed for PIP. The irony of calling a disability benefit ‘Personal Independence Payment’ while simultaneously taking away people’s means to remaining independent is astounding.

With help from Z2K Sarah was able to lodge an appeal for her PIP entitlement. She was extremely worried about attending, especially as her Mobility car was due to be taken away 2 days later. Fortunately, Sarah was awarded higher rates for both Daily Living and Mobility components. She was able to keep her mobility car and the independence it allowed her.

But the fact remains that thousands of disabled people have had their enhanced mobility component downgraded or removed upon reassessment for PIP (130,400 people as of 2016)1, which has had untold impact for these people’s ability to manage.

 

 

1 https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2017/july/half-dla-claimants-lose-their-higher-mobility-rate-support-moving-pip

Key Dates for January 2018

Disability benefits, housing standards and homelessness (not to mention Universal Credit): 2018 is set to be a big year in the world of welfare reform. As there’s so much going on, we’ve broken it down into monthly bitesize pieces. So here are some of the key developments to look out for this January.

Karen Buck MP’s Homes for Human Habitation Bill

Do you like the sound of living in a home that is fit for human habitation, one which doesn’t damage your health and wellbeing through substandard conditions? And don’t you think all tenants – whether in social or privately-rented accommodation – should be entitled to that basic standard of living? So do we. But unfortunately, that’s not currently the reality. Many tenants suffer in terrible, dangerous conditions and have no legal right to demand improvements – as shown so tragically in the disaster at Grenfell Tower.

One MP is trying to change this. On 19th January, Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill will have its second reading in parliament. If it passes, the Bill would demand that all rented accommodation – both private and social – be made ‘fit for human habitation.’ It would also enable renters to take legal action against landlords who don’t maintain the property in a decent condition.

However, the Bill does not have government backing. This means that in order to pass, it needs at least 100 MPs to attend parliament and vote for it on January 19th.

So please take a minute to email your MP and ask them to support it here: http://act.generationrent.org/lobby/fitforhumanhabitation

 

Select Committee’s Recommendations for Disability Benefits

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has now completed its inquiry into the assessment processes for the major disability benefits – Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – and will be making their recommendations to government later this month. These are likely to include suggestions around the audio recording of assessments, taking evidence from claimants’ companions and assessors’ treatment of mental health issues.

We are hoping the Committee will also take into account the unjust and flawed design of the assessment process, and be bold in their statements on how the system must be improved.

Read our submission to the inquiry here.

 

Local Council Tax Support Schemes in Hackney and Lambeth

We have been campaigning against London Borough of Hackney’s plans to cut council tax support for its poorest residents by increasing their minimum payment from 15% to 20%. This would be a significant increase for those already struggling on low incomes. Along with CPAG, we met the Mayor before Christmas to set out our concerns.  We hope he has taken those on board, but will keep campaigning against any increase in charges and the use of bailiffs right up until the final decision at the Full Council meeting later this month.

Read our submission on the proposals here.

Unfortunately, Lambeth Council have confirmed they intend to raise the minimum payment demanded of their poorest residents from 15% to 20%. Their final decision will be announced after their Full Council meeting on 24th January. Again, we will work to ensure that their £400,000 hardship fund is used fully and effectively to support those in need.

Read our report on localised council tax support schemes here.

 

Evidence sessions on Tenant Fees Bill and Private Rented Sector

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee continues its inquiries into standards in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) and the draft Tenant Fees Bill. While the latter focuses on rights between landlords, tenants and letting agents, the former looks at the role of local authorities in providing and regulating accommodation in the PRS. Both inquiries will hold their first oral evidence session on 8th January, and will continue throughout the month.

Read our submission to the PRS inquiry here.

A case study in incompetence

This case study, from our caseworker Andy Jackson, reveals a shocking level of malpractice in PIP decisionmaking

Peter came to one of our drop-in sessions with a friend. He’d claimed PIP and had had his claim cancelled due to him missing a medical assessment. Peter lives in West London, and had been told to attend an assessment in Milton Keynes, over 50 miles away. Peter has severe brain damage and is not able to manage his own appointments. His friend helps him with all of his paperwork, and arranges all of his appointments for him. Peter’s friend bought them both return tickets to Milton Keynes from Euston, however the entire line was down that day and all trains were cancelled.

 

When asked for an explanation of why Peter had missed the assessment, his friend provided the DWP with a copy of his train ticket and explained about the train cancellations that day. If a claimant misses a compulsory appointment, they must show “good cause” as to why. Apparently, there being no trains to Milton Keynes from London that day did not constitute “good cause”, even though a quick Google search would have confirmed the chaos on the Milton Keynes line that day. Despite this, the DWP again refused to change the decision at Mandatory Reconsideration. We lodged an appeal on Peter’s behalf.

 

During our meeting, Peter also mentioned that he’d not been paid ESA for over 6 months. A quick phone call to the DWP revealed that his Incapacity Benefit claim had not been properly shut down, and so his ESA payments were being blocked. Because of his medical condition, Peter had no idea this had happened and did not have the means to resolve it himself. A payment covering the past 6 months of ESA was swiftly issued, and a complaint is now being pursued by our Right First Time caseworker. All in all, Peter had been without any income at all for 3 months, through absolutely no fault of his own.

 

His PIP appeal was passed to a judge, who took the highly unusual step of deciding the case without an oral hearing without informing either party. The decision made for interesting reading! Although not required to give a detailed explanation of their reasoning unless requested, the judge in Peter’s case seems to have been so incensed by the DWP’s handling of the case that he decided to do so anyway. His judgment is scathing:

 

“The Secretary of State’s decision that he did not have good cause to attend the consultation is so heavily against the weight of the evidence as to be irrational in the legal sense. In other words, no reasonable decision maker could lawfully have made the decision on the evidence”.

 

“In those circumstances, the appellant obviously had a good reason for failing to attend the consultation in Milton Keynes. How does the decision maker think he ought to have got there? Walk? Fly, perhaps?… It is particularly disappointing that the decision was confirmed on mandatory reconsideration and that the response writer did not revise it. What point is there in having mandatory reconsideration if it is merely going to rubber-stamp decisions that are clearly unsustainable?”

 

The judge went on to “strongly recommend” that Peter should draw this to the attention of his MP and should seek compensation under the DWP’s Financial Redress for Maladministration scheme. He even included a link to the website!

 

Z2K have lobbied for many years to improve the standard of decision making at the DWP. So many of the appeals that we represent in are absolute “no-brainers”, with Peter’s case being an extreme example. Regardless of the enormous and unnecessary stress and financial hardship this imposes on our clients, it is also a shocking waste of public resources for many of these cases to proceed to a full tribunal hearing. Why did it take over four months and the intervention of a District Judge for Peter’s straightforward matter to be resolved?

 

The judge in Peter’s case is clearly as exasperated as we are, and in my experience this is not uncommon amongst social security tribunal judges (see this speech to the Bar Council made by the Senior President of Tribunals Sir Ernest Ryder – https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilydugan/most-dwp-benefits-cases-which-reach-court-are-based-on-bad?utm_term=.yuddL53pN#.lkWvX9D83). Perhaps with the judiciary joining their voices to the chorus of criticism the DWP may have no choice but to seriously review their assessment and decision-making practices?

 

 

 

The essence of Z2K: a recipe for success from our CEO

Raji Hunjan, CEO, reflects on Z2K’s strengths and sets out her vision for the year ahead

Mix together passion and a commitment to supporting the people most disadvantaged by welfare reform, combine with strategic thinking and careful business planning, add a dollop of power analysis and we serve you up the very essence of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.

As we head towards the Christmas break, and the end of my first 10 months as Z2K’s new CEO (and only its second since it was founded by the tireless campaigner, Reverend Paul Nicholson), it seems like the right time to reflect on our uniqueness and ability to achieve change in the welfare benefits system.

Z2K’s strengths and successes in its casework and policy work most certainly come from its independence.  We currently receive no government funding, and whilst this might change to some extent in the future, we will primarily always be reliant on grants from trusts and foundations, as well as individual donations. While that presents its own challenges – including the constant issue of how to stand out in grant applications – it does mean our services and campaigns are not constrained by contractual arrangements with government. And in writing these grant applications, I have spent much of this year understanding, developing and articulating Z2K’s unique position in what can sometimes seem like a crowded sector of advice giving.  In doing this, I was very much influenced by my years of commitment to empowerment strategies, and the use of power analysis and frameworks to engage with how small charities punch above their weight to achieve change.

Below is a simple list of the six ingredients that make Zacchaeus 2000 Trust unique, and that will form the basis of our ability to exercise power and achieve change in 2018:

  1. Passionate Staff & Volunteers

We are a strong team of 13, with a diverse range of skills, from legal and advice, to support and social care, through to policy, campaigning, fundraising and operational.  In addition, we are lucky enough to attract passionate volunteers, some of whom have been with us for many years, others on shorter term placements.   All our staff and volunteers are committed to working collaboratively and contributing to all of Z2K’s work.  In 2017 a number of our long standing staff have moved on to more senior roles in other organisations, leading to a year of recruiting new staff to fill existing and new posts.  We maintain a strong relationship with all those who have left us and will continue to nurture and support those who have newly joined us.

  1. A commitment to reach those who are most hidden and dealing with multiple issues

We have made a strategic decision to take a holistic, client-centred approach to how we deliver casework.  In reality, this means we will work to address multiple issues that require advice, such as Universal Credit, housing benefit, disability benefits or council tax.  A client may present with one issue, but on deeper analysis, a more pressing matter may arise.  And by working with people who are least likely to be able to access advice, we may choose to accompany individuals to appointments and assessments.  In fairness, this is how Z2K has always worked, but we have now made it part of our strategic planning and how we will measure our outcomes and successes.

  1. Empowerment and voice work

We know we draw much of our strength from the experiences of our clients and that we are stronger if we work with those that we support.   We are deeply concerned that the voices of those on benefits are not heard in policy thinking, and we want to support people that we work with to speak out about their experiences.  We are particularly concerned about the number of people we work with who rely on food banks and emergency financial help when their benefits are delayed or unfairly stopped.  Client voice will be a consideration in all our projects.

  1. Collaborating with others in the sector

I can point to a number of existing collaborations which have helped us to achieve our goals, as well as some exciting new partnerships.  In 2017, we started a new project with South West London Law Centre and others, to provide wrap around support to people in Lambeth, Wandsworth and Westminster.  By working with people to help them avoid financial crisis, we want to build trust and longer term links that will help us to achieve our goal of empowering more people.

  1. A strategy for change with tangible outcomes

We have developed a much clearer framework of our change strategies, and this will be published in 2018 as part of our new website launch.  We are working on new methods for gathering evidence, including client questionnaires and surveys.  When we achieve change, we want to shout about it.

  1. Strong leadership

Well of course that’s partly my role, and I am lucky enough to be backed by a strong set of trustees who all understand what the charity aims to achieve, and have built strategies for development whilst managing risk.  I am also really pleased that we will be a part of the Pilotlight programme, to further develop our plans for income generation and diversification.

 

After 10 months of understanding and establishing our unique position, I am confident that 2018 is going to be a good year for Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.  And, after all those grant applications, we are very excited to start the new year with some additional new funding, including from Lloyds Foundation jointly with Big Lottery to further develop our work housing people in the private rented sector.

So watch this space, follow us on Twitter, and get in touch to share, discuss, plot, think and do more together. We look forward to seeing you in 2018.