Rough sleeping to increase dramatically in Wales. It’s systemic

The Renting Homes (Wales) Act will significantly and systemically increase rough sleeping in Wales.  This is the direct opposite of its seemingly good intentions and the current consultation on temporary exclusions reveals this Act will pave the road to hell with many more rough sleepers.

This is an extremely complex area and one which the vast majority of even my housing professional audience could have difficulty with as supported housing makes up a tiny percentage of all social housing, so I will come straight to my simple example point of it systemically increasing rough sleeping.

A hostel in Wales can immediately exclude a person for up to 48 hours and the guidance says the support provider SHOULD but not must find them somewhere else to live for this 48 hour period.  This is an immediate albeit temporary eviction and if nowhere can be found then the person has no option but to sleep rough.

Look at this in the context of the Westminster government banning housing benefit for those under 22 years of age, a central government policy which only surfaced after the Welsh Assembly passed this Act, and fundamental problems emerge.   Who will pay for these two nights of temporary housing as housing benefit will not?!  That in very crude overview is one of the great many issues with the Act and its associated statutory and non-statutory guidance.

As well as the timing of the banning of under 22s from receiving housing benefit, this also shows the futility of having the devolved Welsh Assembly having powers over housing policy while central government in Westminster retains control of housing benefit policy – thus any housing Act passed by Wales can be undermined by a change in housing benefit policy from Westminster.  The best laid plans of mice and men …

Yet this Act and current consultation is much worse than that constraint as it reduces the legal and human rights of single homeless persons and gives greater control and legal powers of some extremely contentious and extremely nuanced issues away from the courts into the hands of local authority housing personnel.

Prior to this Act and still operative across England the proverbial volatile young single hostel dweller can be immediately evicted and without the need for a prior court order and therefore the support provider who believes it is imperative to do that can go to court to get legal backing for such a decision.  It also means the summarily evicted person can go to court to have it overturned.  In short the apparent mischief behind this part of the Renting Home (Wales) Act is already enshrined in and covered by full legal redress.  Yet this Act and guidance removes the impartial and independent judicial powers and gives them to the local housing authority.  That cannot be right or just.

Supported housing is a hugely complex multi-faceted area and even the 14 or so allegedly homogeneous client groups under Supporting People go nowhere near explaining its complexities so when an Act and/or guidance on that Act attempts to more closely circumscribe its entirety, it can’t do so, and instead it creates more problems than it attempts to solve.  In short, it opens a huge can of worms, which is exactly what we find here.

In simple terms the consultation is about temporary and immediate exclusions for up to 48 hours of vulnerable people from their supported housing homes. This can apply to young single hostel dwellers or to pensioners in sheltered housing – a fact that exposes the futility of seeking to legislate and regulate these (often) very different volatile persons.  The law and its statutory and non-statutory guidance has to apply to all and not just the highly assumptive mischief behind this Act which presumes that volatile anti-social behaviours are the sole preserve of the young single hostel dweller and not the pensioner or any other supported housing resident with mental health or other vulnerabilities.

This consultation reveals the Act was mis-framed in the first place and ill-conceived as it fail to consider the many practical and typical issues that go on in all forms of supported housing with its many hugely different and non-homogeneous client groups. And as per usual it is the most vulnerable who lose out because of the lack of consideration to known and foreseeable issues of the hugely complex supported housing sector.

The Act itself stems from the very superficial premise that having just two forms of tenure, a long term tenancy modelled on a secure tenancy and a short-term one modelled on an assured shorthold tenancy makes things simple.  It doesn’t.  It only serves to reinforce why the many well considered long standing legal considerations of protected licenses, excluded licences and many others were there in the first place.

Even having a licence basis for the first six months, which can then be extended for a further three months before a short-term tenancy (called an occupation contract) has to be issued cannot ever work for the ‘client groups’ most perceived as volatile such as single homeless, ex-offenders, sex offenders, mentally disordered offenders, detox and rehab residents and many more.  It presumes that (a) support providers will and can get to know the full support issues of residents; and (b) assumes that new support needs or new traumatic events which can cause ‘kick offs’ will not occur after this maximum 9 month period.

Hostels can be extremely volatile and dangerous places to live in and to manage and so can smaller group homes for those with a wide range of ALD and MH issues (often called supported living) and so can sheltered housing ‘projects’ and domestic violence refuges and other politically sensitive services.

This Act could allow a DV refuge to temporarily evict a single childless woman for up to 48 hours and make her a rough sleeper thus placing an already vulnerable and traumatised women further at risk by making her a rough sleeper.  Given that around one-third of refuge residents are childless single women this fact was never properly considered in either the original Act or in this post facto can of worms called guidance of the current consultation.  The bigger goal and purpose of the Act just having two forms of tenure and this being the superficially noble aim of simplicity ignores such issues, which while not common do undoubtedly happen and exist.

Not only does this Act see a systemic increase in rough sleeping in Wales, it also incentivises and means it is highly probable that Wales will export rough sleeping to England.  Whether it is from a single homeless hostel or a refuge the proverbial ‘bad uns‘ are unlikely to return to the place where they are temporarily excluded nor will they be moved between hostel and refuge in some form of reciprocal arrangement – for which any good hostel or refuge service already has informal arrangements for  – they will simply disappear from the hostel or refuge and become another councils problem and put these already vulnerable people at much greater risk.

The Act and its guidance ridiculously assume that those who have been excluded, rightly or wrongly and all will be angry and aggrieved, will make rational decisions and not have their heads up their arse which they will, and make bad decisions! That is naivety writ large.

Having worked in and managed and advised many hostels, refuge and supported living services for all client groups, you simply cannot legislate or regulate exclusion whether temporary or permanent and anyone who tries to do so is naive to think they can.  The Renting Home (Wales) Act is naive and has attempted this by a secondary or even tertiary means by seeking to move to the simpler and primary consideration of having only two forms of tenure.

Whether accidental or from a lack of consideration these regulations and guidance and proposed prescribed forms all create a significant additional administrative burden too, which by consequence means less time is given over to the principal role of supported housing, that is support. If this Act and guidance sees just one single childless woman who has already gone through the trauma of fleeing domestic abuse to become a rough sleeper then it is one too many.  The same goes for any vulnerable person whether they are perceived as deserving or non deserving, whether they are young or old.

I was only alerted to this consultation which ends in a few days time and to the temporary exclusion clauses of the Rented Home (Wales) Act late last night and I say it as a caveat to all of the above.  I did read perhaps 5 years or more ago of the Welsh Assembly intention to move to the simple long term and short-term only forms of tenure and had sight of very early legal drafts that made no mention of temporary exclusions and how they apply to supported housing.  Yet this is a pig’s ear by consequence and the can of worms has been opened and while any justifiable intentions have clearly been negated by for example the banning of housing benefit to under 22s and imposed upon the Welsh Assembly by Westminster, this still only provides explanation and not excuse.

Instead of consulting (which has no legal meaning anyway) on HOW to implement this temporary exclusion clause, the clause itself should be deferred or repealed or amended in light of the banning on those under 22 from receiving housing benefit and until the homelessness consequences such as the impact of temporary exclusion notices on intentionality are fully considered that they clearly have not been – something that for example could not apply in Scotland with its removal of intentionality for homeless decisions.

If I can see the dangers this temporary exclusion clause gives in a few hours today – and there are many many more I haven’t discussed – then the clause itself requires a full reconsideration as to how it affects all vulnerable people in supported housing in Wales whether they be deserving pensioners, deserving refuge cases, deserving supported living cases or the perceived non-deserving cases such as rough sleepers and hostel dwellers.

A fundamental rethink is needed

The failure to sell ‘social housing’ is social housing’s biggest failing

Just like 99% of the people who work within it I am passionate about the social housing model.

The social housing model is the best product and the best service all at the best price yet it has an image and reputation problem and is often called the housing of last choice despite being the best product, service and price.  How the hell has that happened? In what other industry or sector would that be allowed to happen – and I stress allowed for it undoubtedly has.

Imagine you are a PR expert or sales person and you have a product that is often half the cost of its only competitor, that holds far greater benefits that customers want in terms of tenure security, that you can evidence far greater service levels and instead of having to seek new customers as old business’ needs they come to you regularly and you even have millions of them waiting for a chance to purchase your product.

All of those reasons and many more besides make social housing such an easy sell  yet your only competitor in the private renting landlord has become the largest vendor and overtaken your market share. How the hell has that been allowed to happen?

The social housing sector comes up with excuse upon excuse to explain these perversities away.

It’s the lack of subsidy being a very common and pervasive excuse repeated mantra like yet as the official figures show social landlords have built 20% more with this alleged constraint in the six years since 2010 that they did in the six years before with ‘subsidy’ aplenty and the additional Decent Homes money.

I could go on with fact upon fact which reveal that the perceptions and mantras within the social housing sector are, largely, excuse upon excuse, and while this discussion is aimed at the social housing professional audience – the alleged sector which I maintain does not exist – audience is a huge problem as housing only ever talks to housing.

Audience?

Despite my sales person analogy with millions wanting and contacting providers about the best product at the best price and so on above every industry still needs to promote what it does.

In the social housing model we see a collective failure to do that as housing has never done that and has never sold the social housing model to the wider UK marketplace.  Instead the various umbrella bodies such as NHF, CIH, NHC and so on, as well as individual social landlords only talk to each other or to the government of the day.

The social housing sector has not ever sold the social housing model to the public and the fact that no one umbrella body or agency sees this as their role only accentuates that.  I was minded of this point I have made dozens of ties before in re-reading the ever excellent Colin Wiles in a January 2017 piece in Inside Housing when he said:

 Four years ago I was brave (or foolish) enough to write a blog for Inside Housing on immigration. It was the most read and commented-on blog I’ve ever published, with more than 10,000 views and 504 comments, many hostile.

Inside Housing is a trade magazine and the perception of immigrants get all the social housing is a huge issue of misperception and despite the clear fact that a lower percentage of immigrants are allocated social housing than the UK percentage of immigrants the myth pervades.  Yet ONLY attempting to argue the facts in the silo of social housing explains precisely why such myths are allowed to pervade.

More than 10,000 views over an unspecified time is a large viewing number or audience within housing: By contrast some of my blogs about housing in my SpeyeJoe alter ego have had 200,000 views in a day and many more have had well over 100,000 views and that explains my point about audience – and specifically the stupidity of the sector in not addressing that audience,  the social tenant and no social tenant, with customer-facing articles.

Why would, for example, the National Housing Federation put out a very purposeful statistic as they did recently in saying housing associations house 1 in 10 of the UK population yet fail to address this huge and latently powerful audience in any of its communications?

Note too that the 2.6 million or so housing association properties will also statistically contain about 3.6 million eligible voters who can put far more political pressure on government than they ever could or can.  Governments have to listen to voters more so than any industry lobby.

Such customer-facing omissions are unforgivable by every part of the so-called sector and hold no common or business sense at all. Housing only talking to housing is THE most stupid strategy there is yet that has been the case ever since the initial Thatcher right to buy gave the very powerful cultural and societal perception that merely renting is second if not a third class position or aspiration and something which the sector wholly failed to counteract even if they actually saw this cultural aspect of RTB.  Regrettably many did not and chose to only see RTB in its cut price sale and cheap vote buying political aspects.

I will keep this short and finish on something that jumped off the page to me in the recent housing white paper.

Figure 1: Affordability and FAB

hwp-affordability-and-fab

What jumped off the page at me was a 26 year-old memory of a sales training course I was sent on while working as a systems analyst that said Features have Advantages which give Benefits (FAB) and you always sell the Benefits.

So why has nobody ever in the social housing sector ever said social housing is cheaper (the Feature) which enables the customer to save more (the Advantage) thus giving the Benefit of social housing provision gives the tenant the greatest chance of having their own home much more quickly and readily than any other alternative?

Instead of being wholly focused on lifetime tenancies which is a landlord focus and benefit than on what the customer wants in a home of their own, the sector misses one of its many huge benefits that is could and should sell.

How many other Benefits has the sector failed to sell due to its lack of customer-facing?