New Financial Inclusion Project at CHAI

CHAI has been commissioned by Trading Standards Scotland to deliver a new ‘Financial Inclusion & Capability Service’ (FICS), aimed at promoting improved financial capacity for those who may be at particular risk of having to turn to illegal money-lenders.

The new Project works with the four Recovery Hubs in Edinburgh, focusing on income maximisation, debt management and financial education.

Our bi-monthly newsletters produced can be downloaded here:

FICS Newsletter Issue 1 July 2017.

FICS Newsletter Issue 2 – September 2017

FICS Newsletter Issue 3 – November 2017

These newsletters cover money advice issues such as budgeting, access to free banking, the cost of borrowing, the dangers of illegal lending and alternative forms of affordable credit.

You can also follow FICS on twitter:  @CHAI_FICS

A beacon of successful partnership working

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SWOP (South-West Edinburgh Outreach Project) is a collaborative partnership between Prospect Community Housing, CHAI, the City of Edinburgh Council’s South-West Neighbourhood Office and local support providers.

 

SWOP delivers Advice, Information and Representation on a wide range of social security benefits, income maximization, housing and debt issues to social rented sector tenants across the South West of the City – via weekly drop in and appointment sessions at local venues:

  • Monday mornings:  Clovenstone Community Centre
  • Tuesday mornings:  WHALE
  • Wednesday mornings:  Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre
  • Thursday mornings:  alternating between Wester Hailes and Oxgangs Libraries

Prospect Community Housing led a successful bid to the programme, with CHAI as a partner, and the award allowed the employment of a dedicated Welfare Rights Worker by CHAI – who have been delivering the new SWOP Project since November 2013.

In that period the project has:

  • Advised 742 individual clients
  • Dealt with 1,201 issues raised by them
  • Recorded £591,137 in income gains for these clients through the claiming of new benefits or accessing charitable trust funds.  
  • Represented, or referred on for representation to EHAP colleagues, in 118 Tribunal or Sheriff Court Cases

Demonstrating a clear need for the service and its ability to deliver.

For more information read the living well wester hailes blog

Further information on SWOP  (and how to access appointments at the local venues) can be obtained from Jim Henderson or Lorena McLaughlin at CHAI Advice Service (0131 442 1009), or Caroline Richards at Prospect CH (0131 458 5480).

You can also follow the Project’s twitter account @SWOPAdvice

All the world’s a Courtroom …

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Young Solicitor makes telling legal point!

Today’s Guest Blog is from Nellie Allen-Logan, an Intern who is on placement with our Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP) Service.  Nellie is in the final year of a Law Degree at Arizona Summit University, and we asked her to reflect on her experience of the civil legal system in Scotland compared with ‘back home’ …


 

Even though it was in the middle of winter when I arrived in Scotland from sunny Arizona, my shock did not come from the weather, but from the vast differences in law. The United States (U.S.) brought their common law from England through the Magna Carta. However, Scotland does not follow English law, but Roman law. Their common law is an ancient set of rules that are not written down, but govern by word of mouth. Common law in the U.S. follows old English law (which for the U.S. is only a few hundred years old). Scottish common law goes back centuries to the time of Roman occupation and the general laws that citizens would follow. These ancient ways are still used today even though there is no binding legislation. One similarity that I have observed is the U.S. has state and federal governments, and here in Scotland, it is comparable to Scotland and the United Kingdom. Certain rights in the U.S. are divested to the states, and some to the federal government. This is similar here in Scotland, where Scotland maintains certain powers within its parliament as compared to the United Kingdom parliament.

In the U.S., every person that represents another person in a court of law, must be an attorney that has had a legal education and passed the state bar exam for the state they wish to practice in. On the other hand, Scotland allows lay representation in sheriff’s court for certain issues and amounts of money. A lay representative usually has a certain amount of experience and training so that they are competent when presenting a case in court. As a law student, I found this to be a bit of a challenge, but one I accepted with vitality. I was determined to learn Scottish laws and be able to represent persons in court as soon as I could. I was successful in my first court calling, and ensured that I was prepared for any situation that the pursuer or sheriff may present.

Sheriff Court

Edinburgh Sheriff Court on a typically Scottish sunny day …

One vast difference is the comparison of Sheriff’s court to Municipal court (city court) in the U.S. Even though Sheriff’s court is not as formal as high court, it still is full of tradition. Each representative or solicitor must bow to the seal upon exiting the court room. All solicitors wear robes, and the Sheriff usually wears a wig and robe. Additionally, the Sheriff is referred to as my lady or my lord. In the U.S., generally, judges (as they are referred to) are the only ones to wear robes, and they do not wear wigs. All attorneys usually wear a nice dress suit and no robes, and there is no bowing upon exiting the court.

I have noticed that Scotland is extremely generous with their welfare benefits and ensure that their citizens are well taken care of. In the U.S. welfare benefits are not as generous and generally, can be difficult to obtain. The idea of advice agencies is immensely charitable, especially when citizens of Scotland are not able to obtain the benefits they need, or are unaware of the benefits they should be receiving. In the U.S., usually, there are no agencies to give advice, but merely a place where the people can make claims. If a claim is denied, it is up to the person to figure out how to appeal the decision on their own. Here in Scotland, the government ensures that there are advice agencies to assist people with obtaining the advice they need to obtain benefits.

This has been an immensely eye opening experience for me regarding the legal field. To be able to go to another country and completely immerse myself in a new legal system has shown where the U.S. could improve, and these are ideas that I will take with me.

Nellie Allen-Logan

Unlawful letting agent fees – money for nothing?

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This month we have a special ‘Guest Blog’ from our friends at Shelter Scotland.

They are currently running a successful campaign to encourage private tenants to reclaim tenancy fees that have been unlawfully demanded by landlords and their agents.

Tom Youll, Writer for Shelter Scotland’s online housing information resources, tells us more:

“Consider this scenario, you’re looking for a flat to rent, you see an advert for one that matches your requirements, you enquire if it is still available, it is and what’s more the letting agent is happy for you to move in. So you pay the first month’s rent and deposit and move in. Yes this is an idealised story of what happens when people rent in the private rented sector and you’d be right to say that there is something missing, like all the admin fees that sometimes come with the renting process.

Whether they are called reservation fees, reference checks charges, credit checks, inventory fees or check-in fees, it seems that when you rent a property from some letting agents you have to pay all the associated fees with setting up the tenancy. And if you refuse to cough up the cash, then you run the chance of losing the property to someone who is willing to pay.

We believe that this should not be the case and Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 offers protection from having to pay fees. It states that any premium in addition to the rent and deposit cannot be charged in the granting, renewing or continuing of a tenancy. This legislation has been law for nearly 30 years, but is regularly misinterpreted or simply ignored.

Here at Shelter Scotland we recently launched the Reclaim your fees campaign to highlight this issue and our Campaigns team visited various towns and universities across the country advising people on unlawful fees and what to do if they think they’ve paid them in the past, or are being asked to pay them to take out a future tenancy.

We also have a dedicated website with a toolkit that can be used to reclaim any fees that you have paid to your letting agent. On the website you’ll find:

  • template letters
  • a step-by-step guide on how to about reclaiming your fees
  • answers to many of the questions you may receive from your letting agent once you have asked for your fees to be returned.

You can also find success stories on the website, such as Scott Kuku who got £320 returned from his letting agent after threatening to take his case to the small claims court and Tim Macdonald who received £150 after his case went to the small claims court.

So far, since the campaign was launched on 7 May 2012, 549 people have used the toolkit to start claiming back over £60k in total.

To find out more about the work of Shelter Scotland follow us on Twitter or Facebook.”

Homes at Risk

A poll commissioned by Shelter Scotland, by YouGov, has found that up to 280,000 Scots may skip their mortgage or rent payments in December in order to help pay for Christmas.

The results of the poll – reported here – make worrying reading as 1 in 12 tenants and 1 in 14 home-owners suggest that they may be prepared to go into arrears with their housing costs to meet the short term costs associated with the annual festive blow-out.

Of course, the immediate post-Christmas period, when the credit card bills and over-spending tend to catch up with us all, has traditionally been a busy one anyway for Advice Agencies.  The cold, harsh weather of January and February is often mirrored by the financial hangovers that linger long after the Christmas and New Year sore heads have eased.

The impact of the continuing economic downturn and the ever-rising cost of basics such as food and fuel has placed even more pressure than normal on households to stretch beyond their means.

Delaying payment of mortgage or rent commitments may seem like an easy way to see us through the holiday period, when the messages of consumption and  festivity remain undiminished by the hard realities of many family budgets.  However, given the general pressures on those budgets, catching up with those missed payments may not be quite so easy – and the consequences of an uncontrolled spiral into housing debt can be traumatic.

CHAI would advise that the temptation to skip a mortgage or rent payment for the sake of that extra present is one that is best avoided.  For those – and there will be many – for whom the choices are perhaps even more stark at this time of year, it is important to remember that help is always available to deal with money and/or housing worries.

CHAI’s Advice Service can be contacted on 0131 453 6410 or through the CHAI website.

If you are worried about mortgage or rent arrears,  you can contact the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP) on 0845 302 4607 or through the EHAP website.

Have a good, safe Christmas.

Making Welfare Work

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The BBC website carried a story the other day, reporting a UK charity’s concerns over the increasing number of benefit recipients who are approaching them for emergency food parcels as a consequence of benefit delays.

This echoes CHAI’s experience.  One of the lesser publicised aspects of our services is the emergency food store that we maintain in order to provide basic food relief to people who present to us in crisis.  In the 6 months from April to September 2011 we handed out 107 food parcels to individuals and families who either presented at our ‘Drop In’ service or who were referred by Housing, Health or Social Work professionals.

As with the story covered by the BBC, it is frequently the case that the need for food aid arises because a claimant has been caught in a change of circumstances which result in breaks or delays in their receipt of benefit.  This is often an unfortunate consequence of the current move to re-assess all existing Incapacity Benefit claims – moving them, often not quite seamlessly, either onto Employment & Support Allowance or Job Seekers Allowance.  This is a process which is now well underway, with all of those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit expected to be re-assessed and re-allocated by 2014.  A recent report by Sheffield Hallam University suggests that, in the case of Edinburgh, this process will see a reduction in incapacity claimants of 8,000 – with over half of these being removed from benefits altogether.  That is a lot of people who are likely to experience some disruption in their benefit status, and who may have to seek short-term relief from the very practical human difficulty of having no money and no food.

However, increasingly we are seeing that the need for this type of short-term support isn’t just about benefit delays:  it’s becoming just as common that the reason for presentation is simple, straightforward budgeting.  With the prices of staple food items and fuel costs continuing to rise it’s becoming more and  more difficult for many people to make that benefit payment stretch from one ‘pay day’ to the next.

It is with some alarm, therefore, that welfare support agencies are viewing the UK Government’s developing proposals around the introduction of Universal Credit from 2013.  Universal Credit (UC) aims to replace a range of existing in and out of work means-tested benefits with one single payment – which will also include the housing costs element of support that is currently paid via Housing Benefit.

While much of the detail of UC remains to be worked through, what is clear is the Government’s intention to make payment of the new benefit monthly in arrears.  The idea is to mimic the ‘work experience’, where people in employment are often paid monthly and have to account for all their own living costs.  This raises two real concerns.  Firstly, if the cost of living is already putting pressure on the management of fortnightly benefit payments, then stretching the period between payments to a full month is almost certainly going to further increase pressure on the sort of emergency food aid services that are out there.  Secondly, the inclusion of housing costs directly to the claimant – while on the face of it increasing the payments received – may present a degree of temptation to those not currently used to having to ring-fence their rent payments for onward transfer to their landlord.

The Department of Work and Pensions say they are aware of these concerns and intend – at some point in the future – to bring forward proposals for how to protect vulnerable people who will be placed in defined support groups.  Those of us who work with these vulnerable groups will await these proposals with interest.

Meantime – and before any of these changes come along – we will continue to respond to the increasing presentations from those who are already struggling to live from day to day … and from hand to mouth.

Note:  CHAI’s Food Store is maintained through the generous donations of food items by local schools, churches and private sector organisations.  We are grateful for this vital assistance.

So, what exactly is it that you do?

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If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question about CHAI over the years … well, I’d have several more pounds than I do at the moment.  It’s commonly asked by a wide range of people who may have had a specific reason for initial contact with us, but who then quickly grasp that there’s more going on than they may have at first thought.

The basics:  CHAI – the Community Help & Advice Initiative – is a ‘third sector’ organisation with charitable status, operating as a Limited Company.  In very broad terms we are a social welfare agency, delivering a range of services which are intended to improve the conditions of life of vulnerable people living in our communities.

So, what do we do?

We’ve just started a new operating year (2011/12) so, in a summarised answer to that question, here’s a quick tour round what CHAI will be doing in the months ahead.  These are in no particular order:  they’re all equally important.

Advice Services

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One of the cornerstones of our service delivery is ensuring that the people we work with have access to quality advice, information and representation about income, debt, housing and the myriad of other issues which affect daily life.  Our National Standards Accredited Advice Service operates from full-time offices in Wester Hailes and Liberton/Gilmerton – as well as providing home visits and outreach surgeries as required.  We alsEHAPo provide specific support to NHS Lothian’s Vocational Rehabilitation Service – ‘Working Health Services Lothian’, and CHAI is the lead contractor for the City wide homelessness prevention advice service – the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP).   During 2011/12 our Advice Service will continue to deliver Advice Services in line with City strategies on Advice and Health Inequalities.  Changes to Housing Benefit, and to the assessment conditions around Incapacity Benefits are likely to feature significantly in workloads this year.

Addictions Support

CHAI is commissioned by the Edinburgh Alcohol & Drug Partnership (EADP) to provide drug andEADP Logo alcohol support services across the South-West of the City, operating from office bases in Wester Hailes and Oxgangs.  The focus of these services is on individuals and families where substance misuse is an issue, with specialist staff working towards harm reduction, child protection and recovery outcomes through a mix of practical, social and clinical interventions.  Close links are maintained with the NHS Lothian Community Drug Problem Service and with a range of other referring medical professionals.  Joint working on delivery is carried out locally with the Wester Hailes Health Agency.  This will be an important year for the Service, with the recently launched EADP Strategy:  ‘A Framework for Partnership Action 2011 – 2014’ providing a template for service delivery.

Housing Support

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Maintaining vulnerable people in their homes, and assisting them to live as independently as possible is a key component of CHAI’s service mix.  Our Housing Support Service works across the City, supporting individuals who require help with independent living skills such as budgeting, dealing with official correspondence, managing appointments and relationships with third parties and generally managing their tenancy or home.  Although Service Users can be anything from 16 years to over 100 years old, most of the people supported by CHAI’s Housing Support Services are over 50, with over a quarter in the 65+ age range.  Our Housing Support Service is regulated and inspected by the new body, Social Care & Social Work Improvement Scotland (formerly the Care Commission).

Employability Support

CHAI contributes to the City’s ‘Joined up for Jobs Strategy’ JobCentre Plusthrough our South West Neighbourhood focused Employability & Support project.  This service is specifically aimed at people who are most marginalised from the job market; those currently at Stages 1 & 2 on the ‘Employability Pipeline’ – and categorised as ‘Not Job Ready’.  The focus of our engagement is on removing those obstacles and barriers that prevent our target client group from moving on through the ‘Employability Pipeline’ and on into work, training or education opportunities; barriers such as debt, addictions, housing crisis, income, health and low confidence.  The key to this work is engaging with service users in their neighbourhoods, and at the point in their lives where they are ready to receive that support.  It’s about planting seeds and helping people move forward at the pace that is most appropriate to their needs.

Early Intervention Family Support

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This service, focused on the Pentlands area of the City, is aimed at working with families where there are early indications of support needs, and providing interventions designed to address these at an early enough stage that they don’t go on to become more problematic later.  The activity supports the strategic objectives in the City Integrated Children’s and Young Peoples’ Plan.

Furniture Recycling Service

Furniture leafletOur Furniture project collects donations of re-useable furniture and household items and recycles these back out to the community.  Last year we diverted over 100 tonnes of furniture that may otherwise have ended up in landfill, carrying out 0ver 200 deliveries of basic start up and replacement furniture items to new and established tenants on low incomes.  If you have furniture items you no longer need, and are in good condition … give us a call!

DCHA Tenancy Support Service

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Commissioned and funded by Dunedin Canmore Housing Association (DCHA), this project works exclusively with new DCHA tenants housed in the Association’s ‘South Housing Area’, with the aim of assisting in tenancy sustainment outcomes.  Over 50% of new DCHA tenancies are let to people who have come through the homelessness route, and may have experienced issues with sustaining tenancies in the past.  This project works with the tenant and DCHA staff right from the very start of the new tenancy, addressing any issues which may impact on the sustainability of the tenancy.

Youth & Community Development Work

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CHAI’s work with the Rank Foundation promotes a range of group and individual support activities aimed at developing young people and the communities in which they live.  Realising potential and developing leadership is at the heart of this work: building the social capital of the community.

As well as this mix of advice, support and development services we also offer ‘Crisis Intervention Drop In’, where people experiencing short-term crises around, for example, income loss, can access emergency food parcels.

Joining these services together in one organisation maximises their impact, enabling cross-fertilization of the skills, knowledge and experience of staff throughout the Project – for the enhanced benefit of those using the services.

So, if you were wondering what we do … now you know.

For more information, details about how to contact CHAI – and how to access our services – have a look at our website:  www.chaiedinburgh.org.uk

It’s all going on …

Celebrating Quality Advice

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On 17 March 2011, Councillor Paul Eadie, Convenor of the City of Edinburgh Council’s Housing, Health & Social Care Committee will host an Event at the City Chambers at which CHAI and Granton Information Centre (GIC) will be formally presented with National Standards Accreditation Certificates by Sheriff Principal Edward T Bowen QC – the Sheriff Principal of Lothian and Borders.

Of course, CHAI and GIC are – along with Four Square and Move On – partners in the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership, and the Event will also be an opportunity to highlight the positive contribution that EHAP has made to preventing homelessness in the City of Edinburgh.

The Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers are a Quality Assurance Framework covering 6 key areas:

1.         General Management
2.         Planning of Services
3.         Accessibility and Customer Care
4.         Providing the Service
5.         Competences for Staff and Agencies
6.         Resources

The Standards define Advice in 3 ‘Types’:

Type I – refers to Information Provision

Type II – refers to Casework

Type III – refers to advocacy, representation or mediation at Tribunal or Court Action level

CHAI underwent an external audit, conducted on behalf of the Scottish Government by Michael Bell Associates, on how well we met the National Standards on the three assessable topics of Money Advice, Welfare Benefits Advice and Housing Advice and the outcome of this was that CHAI has been Accredited to Type III on all topics.  EHAP Partner, GIC were similarly Accredited to Type III on the Combined Advice topics, making CHAI and GIC the only two organisations in Edinburgh Accredited to this high level across the Combined topics.

The Auditors reported that “From the cases reviewed it is clear the service (CHAI) is providing a high quality advice service”.

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Commenting on the Accreditation, Alex Neill MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Communities, said that he was:

acutely aware of the valuable work carried out in Third/Voluntary Sector agencies across Scotland in providing housing and money/debt/welfare benefits advice and information to clients requiring such support.  The sterling service provided by organisations such as CHAI and GIC contributes enormously to the Scottish Government’s efforts to ensure a wealthier, fairer Scotland for all our citizens.”

CHAI provides advice, information and representation to thousands of Edinburgh residents each year – advocating on their behalf to Benefit Authorities, Housing Providers, Creditors and any other body that impacts on their lives.  We also represent at hundreds of Tribunals and Sheriff Court cases, achieving high levels of income and other positive outcomes for clients.

While never being complacent about it, we’ve always felt that the service we provide has been of a consistently high quality, and we are delighted that this has now been formally recognised through our Accreditation under the National Standards.

At a time when there is ever greater pressure on public resources, and increasing demand for advice and support from a public reeling under the impact of these pressures it is important that services like ours continue to be available, accessible and delivered to a high standard.

Check out our Facebook page after 17 March for some photos and chat from the Event at the City Chambers.

Anyone who needs to contact CHAI’s National Standards Accredited Advice Service can do so by phoning the Appointment Line on 0131 453 6410, or via the CHAI website.

Welfare Reform: In whose interest?

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Last Thursday saw the publication of the UK Coalition Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, which will now begin its passage through Parliament and onto the statute book probably some time later this year.

Most of the contents of the Bill (which can be seen here) are familiar enough, having been well publicised in the White Paper which preceded last week’s First Reading in the House of Commons.  The key ‘highlights’ are:

  • the introduction, from 2013, of a new Universal Credit to replace Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Income Support, Income based JSA and Income based ESA
  • increased focus on ‘work related requirements’ and a ‘claimant commitment’ (with extended benefit sanctions for non-compliance
  • the replacement, from 2013/14, of Disability Living Allowance by a new Personal Independence Payment
  • removal of Discretionary Social Fund (Community Care Grants, Budgeting Loans, Crisis Loans) and replacement by arrangements yet to be determined by the Scottish Government.

Fortunately, one of the White Paper proposals which didn’t make it into the published Bill was the suggestion that unemployed claimants should have their housing benefit cut by 10% after 12 months if they couldn’t find a job.   The argument that this measure would simply have led to increased homelessness was so compelling that it was sensibly dropped.

While cautiously welcoming the intent to unify and simplify the current over-complex benefit system through the new Universal Credit, CHAI has some concerns over the way in which the reforms may impact in practice – particularly given the extent of cuts to the benefit system already announced in last year’s Spending Review and Budget.

At the end of this month we will see the impact of the previous Government’s policies as those still in receipt of Incapacity Benefit (IB) start to be re-assessed under the tougher Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) rules (ESA replaced IB for new claimants in 2008).  This is predicted to increase the number of claimant appeals against adverse decisions, placing even more pressure on an Independent Appeal Tribunal system which is already creaking under the pressure.  The level of ESA related appeals is already putting considerable pressure on claimants, advice agencies and the appeals system – with it currently taking anything from 6 to 9 months for appeals to be heard.

CHAI currently has 190 appeals pending (submitted on behalf of claimants, but no date yet fixed for the hearing).  Our success rate at these Independent Appeal Tribunals is running at over 75%, so it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the original decision making process.  This is a justice issue, with the length of time it takes for cases to come to appeal adding insult to the original injury.  An issue which was highlighted in the media this week, with ‘The Herald’ reporting on two cases where claimants have died while awaiting their appeals to be heard.  CHAI has also seen this happen recently in a case where, with the consent of the claimant’s family, we went on to represent at the delayed tribunal which took place after the claimant had sadly died.

The extra 2.5m people who may now be sucked into the appeals system following the rolling out of the new medical assessments of existing IB claimants will simply add to the these problems.looking for work form

The proposals around the replacement of DLA with Personal Independence Payment have caused concern among Disability organisations.  The Disability Alliance estimates that up to 750,000 disabled people may lose support under the new provisions, as the Government aims to remove £2.1Billion from the current DLA system.

CHAI is one of the organisations that will find itself at the coal face of the welfare reforms as they start to impact on individuals, families and communities.  Our Advice Service is already under significant pressure from demands for income, debt and housing advice.  Many of the clients of our Addictions and Housing Support Teams will be among the first to have their health and benefit positions re-assessed under the new ESA rules.  Work we have been doing to promote employability for those most marginal to the labour market has clearly demonstrated that there is no single straightforward path from benefit to employment that works for all people, and that we will have to ensure support is always available for those who can’t easily be catered for by mass programmes.

Ironically enough, on the day that the Welfare Bill was published at Westminster, I found myself in Glasgow at the Poverty Alliance’s ‘Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty’ listening to a range of academic speakers point out where we were failing to meet the Child Poverty targets that were established under the previous Government, and how things were heading in the wrong direction.  In fact, most child poverty now takes place within families who are in work, indicating that without a more progressive ‘joining up’ of the Tax/Benefit system the Welfare Reform Bill’s aim to move more people into employment will not, of itself, address the problems of poverty.

Even more depressingly ironic, the publication of the Welfare Reform Bill occurred at the end of the same week in which, with unfortunate timing, Barclays Bank reported paying Corporation Tax of a mere 1% on £Billion profits .  One of the academic findings reported at the ‘Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty’ was that the gap between those at the lowest end of the income scale, and those at the highest, has increased in recent years.

The poor get poorer; the rich get richer – and organisations like CHAI continue to be important in addressing and alleviating the symptoms of poverty in our communities.

CHAI can be contacted through our website at www.chaiedinburgh.org.uk.

Evictions … and how to prevent them

Shelter Scotland today published their annual update on trends in Scotland around eviction actions initiated by social landlords for rent arrears.  It makes for interesting reading, and can be viewed here.   The encouraging news is that across Scotland evictions by social landlords (local authorities and registered housing associations) are down by a third on the previous year.

Obviously, there are local variations in these figures but CHAI has, naturally enough, a particular interest in the picture in Edinburgh.

Since April 2009 CHAI, along with partners Granton Information Centre, Four Square and Move On, has been operating a City wide Housing Advice Service – commissioned by the City of Edinburgh Council and focused on preventing homelessness.  As well as providing housing advice and information in a range of neighbourhood, prison and schools settings, the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership has been delivering an advice and representation service at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for tenants who are subject to legal proceedings to recover their tenancy – mainly on the grounds of rent arrears.

It is encouraging to see that the City wide trend over the period that EHAP has been operating has seen reductions across a series of key indicators around eviction cases. However, we have been keen not just to focus on representing the rights of tenants at the legal sharp end of the evictions process,  but also to promote earlier interventions aimed at resolving difficulties before they become so entrenched that Court action – and potential eviction – follows.

To that end, since last summer, EHAP has been working with key partners, the City of Edinburgh Council, Prospect Community Housing Association, Dunedin Canmore Housing Association and the Cyrenians Homelessness Prevention Service to promote an Early Intervention Rent Arrears pilot project in the South-West area of the City.  What we’ve collectively been trying to do is to reach out to those tenants who, for one reason or another, tend not to respond to landlords’ traditional attempts to contact them when they start to show early signs of rent arrears.  These are often the cases that landlords end up having to take to Court because of that lack of earlier engagement.

We produced a postcard that landlords distributed to their non-responsive tenants, offering independent advice and support from EHAP and the Cyrenians HPS – and gradually we started to see contact from tenants at an earlier stage in the arrears recovery process than had typically been the case.

This new approach was underpinned by genuine collaborative working between the organisations involved; promoting real culture change.

The effectiveness of this early intervention approach can be seen in the results.  The table below, relating to City of Edinburgh Council tenancies, shows a generally positive trend in key eviction indicators across the City comparing the year 2009/10 with the previous year.  However, that positive trend becomes even more marked when the figures are broken down into the South-West Neighbourhood, where the Early Intervention pilot has been operating.

Area 2008-09 2009-10 Difference

Notices of Proceedings Issued

City 1159 944 -19%
South West 407 253 -38%

Cases Lodged in Court

City 1273 753 -41%
South West 443 216 -51%

Decree for Eviction Granted

City 681 492 -28%
South West 277 168 -39%

Evictions Carried Out

City 263 175 -33%
South West 98 55 -44%

This encouraging trend has continued into the current year, with the first 6 months (April to September 2010) showing that across the City, the Council had commenced 54% less legal actions for eviction than in the corresponding period the previous year (2009/10). The reduction in commencement of proceedings has, again, been even more pronounced in South-West – with a reduction of 78% in eviction actions started.  At the same time, the Council report that the levels of rent arrears has also fallen – by £500,000.  This is real win, win territory.

And it’s not just Council tenancies.  One of the Registered Social Landlord partners involved in the South-West Early Intervention pilot,  Prospect Community Housing Association, reports a 25% reduction in their legal actions since the start of the project – and that their Housing Officers and tenants are now much more routinely engaging with Advice and Support agencies prior to Court Action becoming necessary.

Win, win again because the landlords are incurring less expense and less staff time chasing rent arrears and the increased engagement of tenants with EHAP and the Cyrenians HPS leads to their receiving advice and support which maximise their income and reduce the risk of homelessness.

Shelter’s Report highlights that the national trend reflects real changes in policy and practice by many social landlords. CHAI’s experience locally shows that joint working and culture change can produce real and tangible benefits for everyone involved.

Win, win …