With the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic dominating the UK, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has outlined housing associations key priorities, as well as vital asks of the Government.
According to the briefing, associations are working closely with local government and other partners to support communities, including:
- Keeping residents safe by ensuring critical safety functions can continue
- Protecting residents’ income and livelihoods by halting evictions for anyone with rent arrears caused by the crisis, and putting in place extensive support for everyone affected
- Keeping vital services running, including care and support schemes to protect the most vulnerable and ease pressure on the NHS
- Supporting communities to come together to address the crisis, and helping suppliers and contractors to continue their important work
As reported by 24housing, the NHF released a statement urging the government to go further in strengthening the welfare system to ensure everyone who needs it can quickly get help if their income drops.
NHF chief executive Kate Henderson said she’s “confident” no housing association will evict a tenant because of Coronavirus.
Echoing these calls, the briefing outlines the work that housing associations are currently doing to support residents during the outbreak – including this commitment not to evict anyone for rent arrears acquired as a result of the virus.
According to the NHF, associations are also:
- Putting in place extensive support to help residents manage falls in income – for example, by quickly claiming all the benefits they’re entitled to
- Setting money aside to support residents via hardship and charitable funds
- Prioritising staff resources so that claims continue to be verified on time
- Treating people with compassion and understanding – for example, by deferring rent payments where needed, including during the five-week wait for Universal Credit (UC)
- Providing support for older or vulnerable residents – for example, by phoning every resident to assess need in the event of self-isolation, and using staff and volunteers to help by funding or linking with other local charities and coordinating volunteers
- Protecting their own employees from the impact of the crisis by providing additional sick pay, paid leave and other support, including to contractors
“People who experience a sudden fall in income will rely on the benefits system to meet their immediate living costs”, the briefing said.
“We also need to help people living alone to stay safe rather than working due to financial pressures”, it added.
The NHF have said that the government should therefore strengthen the benefit system so that people are able to stay safe and meet daily costs.
This means the DWP should:
- Launch a large-scale publicity campaign to make sure people claim what they are entitled to as soon as possible
- Offer targeted help for families by suspending the household benefit cap
- Raise to £16,000 the savings limit on Universal Credit so that more people who lose their job can claim support with living costs
- Make sure people have enough to live on week-to-week at the start of the claim by making sure people know about getting an advance
- Significantly ease the conditionality, sanctions and backdating rules for people claiming Universal Credit to ensure that everyone is able to meet their costs
- Provide significant additional funding for local authorities to offer Council Tax Support and Discretionary Housing Payments
The briefing also calls for extended UC measures to support claimants as much as possible – including giving all claimants the choice to make a direct payment from their benefit to their landlord.
“This will help people to budget month-to-month. Landlords need to be able to keep track of these payments and the DWP should press ahead with the roll-out of the new payment system for landlords”, the NHF has said.
The briefing also highlights the critical services that associations sustain – including supported and sheltered living and sheltered housing schemes, hostels and outreach programmes.
Currently associations are working towards supporting more vulnerable residents by planning for how to keep these services running, as well as working closely with national and local government to provide emergency support to rough sleepers.
However, the NHF are asking government to:
- Ensure that essential frontline staff providing care to elderly people or support services for people with complex needs in sheltered and supported housing settings are designated key workers
- Commit to helping meet the significant additional costs facing some supported housing providers as they strive to keep services running
- Grant funding to enable housing associations to buy new or existing market homes and convert them to social rent for homeless families living in temporary accommodation, sustaining demand in the housing market
“Housing associations are major social and economic anchor institutions in many communities, supporting community groups, small businesses, contractors and supply chains”, the briefing continues.
“In the short term our role will be to support local partners and communities wherever possible. Keeping development sites open at all will be a real challenge.
“But in the longer term we can work with the government to help communities and the economy recover”, it added.
As outlined by the NHF, these longer-term measures could include greater flexibility from Homes England and the GLA on starts and completions deadlines, funding to convert new market sale and shared ownership homes to rented homes, and streamlined planning rules and decision making so new developments can quickly get underway when restrictions ease.