Partnership working battling to provide basic needs

EHAP advisers have been attending the Bethany Care Shelter on Tuesday nights where people are able to get a three course meal and somewhere warm to sleep for the night.

An EHAP adviser is available every Tuesday night for a chat and some housing advice until lights out at 10.45pm.

Bethany has seen demand for the service increase alarmingly over the last few years and the total number of individuals presenting this year for the duration of the service is on target to top nine hundred. In fact, this winter they have regularly had to turn people away having reached capacity. They offer those turned away sleeping bags, if available.

For more information and an example of a success story see the following article: http://www.ehap.org.uk/about-ehap/news/bethany-christian-trust—blog.aspx

Don’t be lonely this Christmas

 

Christmas Lunch with the Salvation Army

This festive period, The Salvation Army will be holding a Christmas lunch.

The lunch is open to all those who are lonely and would like company for Christmas. There will also be a Church service at 11.00am, open to anyone who would like to attend.

Lunch will be from 12.30pm to 3.00pm, with coffee which will be served from 12.00pm.

The lunch is free but booking is essential. Help with transportation can be arranged. Please contact Kathy Betteridge on 0131 346 2875 or 07769 224667.

Christmas at Crisis Skylight

Crisis Skylight Edinburgh support single people who are homeless or vulnerably housed.

They are holding a Christmas event at the Southside Resource Centre at 117  Nicolson Street which people can drop-in into. The event will run on:-

Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 8.00am to 8.00pm

New Year’s Day from 12 noon to 8.00pm

For more information contact the Christmas team at ccedinburgh@crisis.org.uk

The Bedroom Tax – Say No to Evictions

Housing Benefit EvictionWe’re now only a few short weeks away from the introduction of one of the more contentious elements of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform agenda.  Perhaps appropriately, All Fools Day sees the start of the Under Occupancy Charge or ‘Bedroom Tax’ – as it is increasingly known.

The Bedroom Tax is targeted on working age Social Sector tenants (those in Council and Housing Association properties) who are deemed to be under-occupying their accommodation by one or more bedrooms.  Those who are affected, and who are in receipt of Housing Benefit, will have that Benefit reduced by between £13 – £24 per week depending on their rent costs and the number of ‘extra’ bedrooms they have. Continue reading

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.

So, what exactly is it that you do?

CHAILOGOnew

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 …

Recognising Effective Practice in Tackling Poverty

EI RA Case Study Front Page

In December last year we blogged about some work that CHAI has been involved with around developing an Early Intervention approach to dealing with Rent Arrears problems in the South-West of Edinburgh.  See:(http://chaiedinburgh.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/evictions-and-how-to-prevent-them/)

We’re delighted that this work has now been recognised by the Scottish Government as demonstrating success and effective practice in tackling poverty.  The South-West Edinburgh Rent Arrears Early Intervention project has now been written up and published by the Scottish Government on its website as one of 12 ‘Good Practice’ Case Studies to be highlighted this year.

This has been a piece of genuine joint working and thanks are due to our partners in this activity:  Cyrenians HPS, City of Edinburgh Council South-West Neighbourhood Office and Prospect Community Housing Association.

The full Case Study can be seen here.

Welfare Reform: In whose interest?

bed incapacity

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 …

Housing Benefit Reform Risks Homelessness Increase

The UK Government produced a White Paper on Welfare Reform last month –  ‘Universal Credit: welfare that works’ (available here).

Among the raft of new proposals to reform the, admittedly over-complicated, welfare system lurks a worrying set of reforms to Housing Benefit, building on changes which had already been announced as part of the emergency budget earlier in the year, and as part of the more recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

Of course, for ‘reforms’ and ‘changes’, we can read ‘cuts’, and it is the extent and potential impact of these cuts that are causing significant alarm to those of us who work with people who are already financially marginalised, struggling and who will now face an increased risk that they may lose their home.

The earliest impact of the cuts will be felt by those in the private sector, where Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit for Private Sector tenants) will be subject to significant restriction from January 2012.   Figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) indicate that a change in the way that Local Housing Allowance is calculated will lead to almost 6,500 Edinburgh households losing anything from £300 to £1,400 a year.  This currently goes straight towards help with housing costs, and the loss of that level of income – for people already financially insecure – may end up pushing people into homelessness as they struggle to afford rent charges.  Housing charity, Shelter Scotland, reported earlier this month that 84% of Scottish Local Authorities will see low income households losing up to £30 per month as a direct consequence of these cuts.

To make matters worse, from April 2013, a further reform will potentially impact on Housing Benefit recipients across all tenures.  It is proposed that those in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance – who currently may get all their rent costs met by Housing Benefit – will have their Housing Benefit cut by 10% after 12 months of unemployment.   Housing campaigners estimate that this change alone could result in over 200,000 additional homelessness cases across the UK, where over 4.7m people rely on Housing Benefit to help meet rent costs.

All this comes at a time when the Scottish Government has set a target to remove priority need  assessments for homeless applicants by 2012, a move which it is accepted will already increase pressure on local authorities to meet the needs of homeless people.

With the wider economy already in the grip of a recession, and the costs of food and fuel on the rise, the worry is that we’re going to see a ‘perfect storm’, which will impact on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our communities.  We have to be ready to respond.

CHAI is lead partner in the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP), which plays a key role in providing advice, information and representation aimed at preventing homelessness across all tenure types, and across the whole of the City of Edinburgh.  We’re gearing up to respond to increased demand for housing advice.  A demand that is already evident, and one which – as we can see – is only likely to become more insistent.

EHAP can be contacted on 0845 302 4607, or through the EHAP website.