My Year as a Tenant 2015

2015 has been a rollercoaster year of highs and lows for me as a social housing tenant.

In January I entered my final semester of my master’s degree in Housing Practice at the University of Westminster.  Having been studying since my youngest was 8-months old I could finally see a life beyond motherhood, scrutiny and studies.  In early March the Homes for Britain’s Betsy-the-Bus visited Witney, West Oxfordshire.  It was exciting for my boys and me to have the relay baton visit us at our Cottsway home and attend the Homes for Britain rally in Witney – hosted by Cottsway Housing Association.   

I was also fortunate to attend the Homes for Britain Housing Rally, in London, 17th March 2015.  I felt like I was part of and witness to a significant time of change within the sector – I was a part of the ‘rally cry’ and there seemed to be a united positivity permeating the air.  It felt like I was in the middle of history being made.   

 

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Then the election happened! 

No one anticipated or imagined the outcome.  The pollster’s predictions were extraordinarily wrong and I felt as if the housing sector took a sharp intake of breath in anticipation of what was to happen next. 

Against this new political backdrop, my dissertational research began.  I wanted to research the benefits to residents from being involved with their landlord.  The Amicus Horizon DCLG report and the Tenants Leading Change report had recently been published, both of which had made a strong business case for landlords to involve residents throughout all aspects of the business to help shape and streamline services.  After my experience with Cottsway’s Resident Scrutiny Panel and the myriad of benefits I have gained through my involvement I wanted to know if other involved residents had experienced the same benefits or if I was an anomaly.  I am currently writing a 6-page brief for publication on my research findings for both TPAS & HQN, and I am looking forward to speaking on my research at the TPAS AGM in London, in December.       

Shortly before my dissertation deadline August 12th I received a letter from the Job Centre Plus (JCP) for an appointment on August 13th.   The jubilation of my MA accomplishment was quickly overshadowed by my fear of benefit sanctions if I didn’t find work right away.  I didn’t have a moment to take a breath when I was thrust into the reality of what so many others on benefits have been experiencing – ardently looking for work enveloped in the fear of the threat of benefits being sanction if unsuccessful.   The usual 6-month review had now turned into every 3 months. 

The reality of looking for work as a single mother, living in social housing and desperately wanting to come off of benefits, is hard.  

Trying to balance the desire for a career, a need to work, with the reality and demands of being a lone parent – all the while feeling the breath of the government looking over my shoulder thinking I should be doing better and the fear of being sanctioned.   Osborne’s summer budget – cutting working tax credits and the pay-to-stay penalty if I earn more than £30,000.00 per year – has made me question what have I worked this hard for? 

My life goal was not to be a single mum, living in social housing and on benefits.  However I refused to allow my new situation to be my forever reality.   

I found my passion through my RSP involvement and studying for my MA.  The quandary that I now find myself in, with the governmental legislation, is I cannot receive more than £20,000.00 in benefits per year, however; once I start work I am penalised with a reduction in working tax credits, and furthermore; if I earn more than £30,000.00, I will be penalised once again having to ‘pay-to-stay’ in my home with a market rent.   I happen to live in one of the most affluent areas outside of London and my rent would increase by several hundred pounds per month.  This begs the question why would I spend £850 plus a month on rent when I could exercise my ‘right-to-buy’ which (after some preliminary research) could potentially reduce my market-rent significantly.  This makes no sense to me!   If these measures become a reality I would have no other choice but to invoke my ‘right-to-buy’.  The government asserts it wants to encourage and reward ‘hard working’ citizens, however; its policies revealed in the budget do not align with this proclamation. 

I am grateful for my home and being provided with a safe place for me the raise my boys.  I have been working hard to better my circumstances for my children and I feel now I am ready to re-enter the work place I find myself in a catch-22 with the moving goal posts of housing policy. 

I am passionate about housing and the work we do in our sector and I want to be able to give back without being penalised for it.    

this article was first published by 24 Housing, December 2015 
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Pay-to-Stay

‘As I was watching the summer budget, I actually wept’

My thoughts on Pay-to-Stay

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It is my understanding that the government’s ethos has been focused on getting people back into work and off state benefits; through their Welfare to Work programme, by making benefit claimants more accountable to the government, by frequently reassessing eligibility with the claimant, and having to prove that you are actively looking for work.

As a lone parent of two young boys – my youngest just turned 4 in June – I have turned up every six months for my job centre interview to check in on my journey to re-enter the work place. This has been a requirement of me to receive benefits. As I have been in graduate school the last three years the story has been the same:

‘Yes! I am still at University and the day I hand in my dissertation is on August 12th 2015 and my graduation is in November’.

A few weeks before my deadline, I received an appointment letter calling me in for an interview on August 13th, the very next day after my submission. Not only did I have the stress of completing my research whilst juggling two small boys, I now had to manage the fear of my benefits being somehow sanctioned if the job centre employee, behind the desk, decided I wasn’t working hard enough to demonstrate my willingness to work. I felt the DWP’s noose tightening around my neck. Furthermore, as a lone parent – it was slap bang in the middle of the summer holidays so I had to arrange childcare. I was full of anxiety as I attended the interview. They now want to see me every three months instead of six; they are keeping the pressure on to make sure I am looking for work.

The irony is I do want to work. Since becoming a single parent I have looked at ways to maximise my employability in anticipation of my children starting full time education. I volunteered and became involved with my HA’s Resident Scrutiny Panel in 2011, when I was still pregnant with my youngest. I even took him to meetings when he was a baby.
I have just successfully passed my MA degree and was even awarded the Chartered Institute of Housing Prize for Best Dissertation. I feel I have done everything in my power to improve my employability.

As I was watching the summer budget, I actually wept. I have just spent the last three years studying in a field that the Chancellor – in one wave of his hand – just literally smashed with a giant hammer!

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Our sector is currently in crisis mode, looking for ways to absorb the one-per-cent rent reduction that has been imposed. With the inevitable cut-backs, I am fearful of benefit sanctions if I am not successful in securing employment. Conversely, when I do enter employment, I am then faced with the impact of the proposed cuts in working tax credits. It has been rumoured that single working parents will be the hardest hit by these cuts. What’s more; when I start earning above £30,000.00 per year, I will be affected by the ‘Pay-to-Stay’ scheme. However, I happen to live in one of the most expensive places outside of London and if I have to pay the market rent for my two-bed flat, it would almost certainly double my social-rent; if not more. Then the only logical choice I would have would be to invoke my ‘Right-to-Buy’.
With my discount, a mortgage could potentially be cheaper than my current social rent. Is it just me or is this madness to the nth degree? I feel tied up in knots.
I never intended to be a lone parent living in social housing and receiving benefits. My mother unexpectedly passed away almost four years ago – the plan had been for her to help out with childcare. I have worked really hard trying to better myself and the future of my children and there have been a many trade-offs in my attempt to pull myself out of my situation.
The government has now changed the goal posts. When will this lunacy end?

first published by TPAS Tenant Voices 2015