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Today in politics: Enforcement action, LHA, UC and more

Today we examine a new report on enforcement levels in London – showing big inconsistencies between boroughs. We also look at questions to the government on LHA rates and homelessness, a new report on Universal Credit, government plans for a heat and building strategy and BEIS calls for ‘Dragon’s Den-style public pitching.

Half London councils did not fine any landlords over conditions last year.

A new report claims half of London’s councils did not fine any landlords for letting out unsafe homes in the past year.

Generation Rent says it has analysed the Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker established by the Greater London Authority – and claims that in the year to February 26, it recorded 292 fines issued by 17 London boroughs, totalling £1.04m. 

This is down on the previous 12 months, when landlords were fined £1.66m for 433 offences.

Generation Rent says 130,000 private rented homes in London do not have the correct licence – although it does not source that claim.

It says: “In the last year 15 councils did not record a single fine on the GLA rogue landlord database. Nine councils did not prosecute or issue a civil penalty to a single landlord in the last two years: Bexley, Bromley, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Lewisham, Merton and Sutton.”

In 130 of the 292 cases recorded in the last 12 months, the tenant would have been entitled to reclaim up to 12 months’ rent from the landlord through a Rent Repayment Order because their landlord had failed to either obtain a licence or make improvements to the property ordered by the council. 

But, according to separate data obtained by Generation Rent through Freedom of Information requests, just six councils helped renters apply for RROs in 2018-19, with a total of 20 tenants getting assistance.

Dan Wilson Craw, Generation Rent’s director, says: “Laws to keep our homes safe only mean anything if they are enforced, and if landlords understand the consequences of cutting corners. Despite squalid conditions facing many of London’s renters, councils have a very mixed record on bringing the landlords responsible to justice.

“The next Mayor of London could turn this around by making it easier for renters to use Rent Repayment Orders against criminal landlords. We want all candidates for Mayor to commit to upgrading the City Hall website to let Londoners check if their landlord has the right licence and help them take action.”

Government quizzed on PRS properties for homeless 

Bridget Phillipson MP (Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South) has received a response to her written question asking what assessment MHCLG has made of the effect of Local Housing Rates on the availability of private sector rented accommodation to homeless people.

The Minister for tackling homelessness, Luke Hall MP, responded: “We know that there are varied and complex reasons behind a person’s homelessness, including the availability of private rented sector accommodation, which this government is taking steps to address.

“Following the four-year freeze to  Local  Housing Allowance (LHA)  rates this Government  is now delivering on the manifesto commitment to  end the  benefit  freeze.   From April 2020 LHA rates will  be uprated by CPI –  an increase of 1.7% in line with wider benefit uprating.

“In addition, since 2011 we have provided over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payment funding, enabling  local  authorities to protect the most vulnerable claimants and supporting  households  to adapt to housing support  reforms.

“We recently announced an extra £40 million in Discretionary Housing Payments for 2020/21, helping to tackle  the most acute  affordability  pressures  in the private rented sector.

“The increase will  mean  the majority of  people in receipt of housing support in the Private Rented Sector will  see their housing support increase on average by around £10 per month.”

MP quizzes government on LHA rates

Helen Hayes MP (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood) has received a response to her written question asking what recent assessment the DWP has made of the adequacy of local housing allowance rates.

The Minister for housing cost support, Will Quince MP, responded by saying that LHA is designed “to ensure a fair balance between public spending and supporting vulnerable people to meet their housing costs. LHA rates are not intended to meet all rents in all areas.” 

He went on to outline the amount provided for Discretionary Housing Payments since 2011 and that LHA rates will increase in line with CPI from April. To read his full answer click here.

Government to publish heat and building strategy 

John Lamont MP (Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) has received a response to his written question asking what plans BEIS has for decarbonising heating systems in existing residential properties.

Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said: “The Department is planning to publish a Heat and Building Strategy later this year, which will set out the immediate actions we will take for reducing emissions from buildings, including existing residential properties. 

“These include the deployment of energy efficiency measures and low carbon heating as part of an ambitious programme of work required to enable key strategic decisions on how we achieve the mass transition to low-carbon heat. We are developing policies to deliver low carbon heating in the 2020s and put us on the pathway to delivering net zero by 2050.”

Select committee wants ‘Dragons Den’ style pitches from public

The Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee is inviting the public to come forward with suggestions on the issues the committee should investigate over the course of this Parliament.

A selection of the proposals will be shortlisted for an opportunity for members of the public to give a short ‘Dragons-Den’ style-pitch to the BEIS Committee in person at a public session later this year.

The Committee wants to hear ideas from stakeholders and the wider public about what areas it should look into. Proposals for inquiries should outline briefly: 

  • the nature of the issue that the Committee should explore 
  • why it deserves attention
  • how Government policy in this area could be developed or improved 
  • The BEIS Committee cannot take forward individual cases and complaints

Proposals should be submitted via this short online form. The deadline to submit inquiry ideas is Tuesday March 31, 2020.

Institute outlines Universal Credit reforms

The Institute for Government has published a report on how to improve Universal Credit. It can be accessed at:

Of note, it calls for Universal Credit to provide a two-week grant of likely benefit as a sort of ‘welcome to UC’ payment for entirely new claims and for those moving across from tax credits. It argues “this would in effect match what the other run-ons will provide from summer 2020.” 

In respect of debts, it notes: “One way or another a solution to the issue of debt needs to be found. A less radical approach would involve continuing to pursue such debt, but at a vastly slower rate of recovery. There are a number of ways that could be done. DWP already has powers to defer and prioritise debt repayments, but the maximum deduction from the standard allowance is still 30%.

“One approach, for example, would be to deduct the advances in UC first. These typically take around 8% or less of the standard allowance a month. And only then would DWP start to pursue the more historic debt, while doing so at a much slower rate – say at 10% of the standard allowance, rather than the current 30%. That would leave claimants living on less than the standard allowance for longer – much longer – but with a higher standard of living than the big reductions that debt repayment is currently inflicting on some – and will soon inflict on many more.

“A move like that would create its own issues – including more of the current stock of debt eventually being written off as unrecoverable. For the sake of UC’s effectiveness and reputation, it would be better to bite the bullet and ignore it, or at least ignore the most historic elements of this debt.”

The paper concludes that the key messages from it are: “First, that without another costly and time-consuming upheaval, there is no easy retreat from Universal Credit. The challenge is to make it work better.

“Second, that while far from perfect, UC’s performance is improving and measures have been taken that reduce, and will further reduce, some of the worst aspects of its early days.

“Third, that more needs to be done to ensure that UC gets money fast to the most vulnerable, without burdening them with significant repayments out of benefit levels that no-one would describe as generous.”

 

Channel website: https://www.rla.org.uk?ref=wg

Original article link: https://news.rla.org.uk/today-in-politics-enforcement-action-lha-uc-and-more/

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