Isn’t this fascinating

When I first needed to claim housing benefit, the payments were delayed, leaving me in arrears. I had to involve my MP and the town clerk, but the rent arrears were already piling up. When payments are delayed, bills bounce, leaving you with hundreds of pounds in bank charges, on top of your rent arrears. When you go back to work, you need to pay for a month’s fees in advance to secure your child’s nursery place. The money allocated to benefits is for housing, food and bills. But when it is not paid in full, or not paid on time, when you have to wait 11 weeks for it due to “administrative backlog”, the money also has to pay for late payment fees, bank charges and rent arrears.

This mess is not unique to me. According to the Trussell Trust, the most cited reason for referral to food banks is delayed and missed benefit payments. Meaning, yes, Mr Gove, you were half right that food bank use is down to financial mismanagement, but it is the financial mismanagement of the Department for Work and Pensions, and the financial mismanagement of local authorities that administer housing benefit. Not quite the fault of the “feckless poor”.

A major contributor to the destitution of the poor is the incompetence of the State.

Something which is taken as being proof that the State must do more but never quite seems to imply that the State must be more efficient in what it does already.

21 comments on “Isn’t this fascinating

  1. Only claimed housing benefit twice, both times took three months to arrive in full. I daresay the only way to ensure reliable delivery is to be on it all the time…which sort of defeats the entire point 🙁

  2. If the writer was working before needing to claim benefits (or was being supported by someone working), it begs the question of why they didn’t have a couple of months spending money saved in a quick access account. Isn’t that normal, sensible financial planning?
    But then I guess that so many benefits are means tested it makes no sense to save money as you just lose out on benefits. Especially with negative real saving returns.

  3. @ Alex
    The people who end up needing to claim housing benefit are often not sufficiently well paid that they can, let alone want to, save up a couple of months’ spending money. They are more likely to be saving up for Christmas.

  4. Alex,

    As john77 suggests, many people live hand to mouth. And while the writer does not go into detail, it seems there was some difficulty with a former employer.

    While it is easy for people to pontificate on what I could have done differently (taken my former employer to a tribunal would be first on my list if I could relive the past two years)

    A former employer of mine didn’t pay us for two months – long story short, the company was technically insolvent but not declared insolvent. After two months the company was declared insolvent and we were all made redundant. Two months money saved would have covered the two months unpaid, then of course we had to wait for statutory redundancy etc to come through. Thankfully that was quicker than expected, but still a few weeks – iirc the estimate was more than eight weeks.

  5. The fact is that the tax and benefit system is a mess. The coalition has sort-of tried to sort out benefits with Universal Credit, but that has been a massive cock-up (and creates its own disincentives etc).

  6. What you’re talking about here is one of the most powerful drivers of long term unemployment. The deterrent effect of knowing; if that job prospect doesn’t work out, getting back into the benefit system can be time consuming & painful. Go through it once & it can be a long time before you can afford to risk doing it again..

  7. When did we start to believe that the government was there to resolve every single little bump and upset in our lives, anyway?

    ISTM few if any believe that – just a straw man.

    ‘We’ decided there should be a ‘safety net’. If we are to have a ‘safety net’, surely it ought to (A) be efficient and (B) not include disincentives to work.

  8. It’s not just incompetence though, often the behaviour you encounter when dealing with bureaucracy borders on malice.

    I did a bit of benefits advice work, a long time ago (getting on for 25 years) in an area of Birmingham that was mostly HMOs and large Victorian properties converted into 1 bedroom flats – pretty much all private rentals but far enough away from the 2 universities and a poly that you didn’t get a lot of students. So most of the people we saw were either claiming benefits or working low income jobs and claiming Housing Benefit under the old system in which councils were supposed to process new claims within 14 days or provide claimants with an interim payment to cover part of their rent if the claim couldn’t be processed on time.

    At that time, Birmingham City Council’s average processing time for a private sector HB claim was 12-14 weeks – this was just after the government had started to try an bear down on HB costs by requiring councils to send out a what used to be a fair rents officer to assess new claims and decide how much rent the council would cover in order to try and stop landlords milking the system by putting up the rent whenever they took on a DSS tenant – although to be fair it wasn’t always a matter of landlords milking the system as many tenants would cut deals with landlords trading off a higher rent in return for not having to put up a deposit.

    So, around 70% of our punters would arrive in the office with around 6-8 weeks rent arrears and an eviction notice and most would tell us the same story – they’d been to the main Housing Office in Birmingham City Centre after 3-4 weeks with no sign of a payment to their landlord and been told there was nothing the council could do. Some of the savvier ones had even asked about interim payments and had been told, flat out, that no such system existed even though it was part of the statutory regulations.

    The first few weeks I spent more time in that damned Housing Office reading the riot act to the Council’s semi-trained desk monkeys hiding behind bullet proof screens than doing anything else, until one of the other advisers figured out that if you went down the local neighbourhood office, where there we no security screen and only a desk standing between your client and the Council Officer, they couldn’t more helpful when you pointed out that you wanted the forms for an interim payment.

    I always thought it was funny how the distinct possibility of an irate punter wigging out and dragging someone bodily over a desk tended to improve the customer service standards at many Council offices in Birmingham.

  9. JuliaM – it seems to be a common unspoken assumption amongst politicians and – more worryingly – recent university graduates. Several generations of the welfare state and the decline of state education have a lot to answer for. We now have the most pampered generation in history, with a widespread belief that government is a sort of universal service provider doling out “free” goodies.

  10. Several generations of the welfare state and the decline of state education have a lot to answer for. We now have the most pampered generation in history, with a widespread belief that government is a sort of universal service provider doling out “free” goodies.

    There’s some irony in that pensioners get the majority of welfare spending.

  11. @ ukliberty
    I do not consider my occupational pension a welfare benefit but as deferred receipt of the money I earned. Why do you consider an old age pension for which the guy has contributed for 50 years (or a lady for 45 years) to be welfare spending?
    It is true that average per head welfare spending on pensioners is higher than for younger people because more are in ill-health and so they form a majority of those in residential care or nursing homes but that is not a majority of welfare spending. Healthcare costs peak in the last year of one’s life (however old you are) and in the maternity ward, at roughly equal levels. The amount spent on educating pensioners is negligible compared to the amount spent on teenagers – and the cost per head has gone up by some 4,000% since I was at school.

  12. The bottom line is that those people who are on median household income tend to have very little in the way in of liquid savings. This IFS study finds that nearly half of households in 2005 had less than £1000 in liquid wealth.

    http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/r71.pdf

    So you can imagine that the left hand tail of the distribution has very little money. This is not because they are feckless (some may be), but because they have no money.

    A decent burst of housebuilding would help to redeem the wretched housing problem. Or alternatively we could move the legislature and executive to a suitable northern town – Newcastle, Liverpool or Leeds.

  13. @John77

    An occupational pension isn’t a welfare payment. I don’t think anyone would suggest otherwise. But the state pension is.. even though most of the recipients paid their taxes.. we all know that it’s a big ponzi scheme and all they were doing was paying towards government spending at that time.

    Pensioners relying on welfare have done pretty well over the past few years (those relying on savings or, god forbid, wanting to convert private savings into an annuity have been royally fucked) and, generally, they get a good deal from all the politicians. Some like to think it’s because the nation appreciates their lives of hard work.. but it’s really because they vote and will will use that vote to wreak vengeance on any party who tries to shift policy balances towards younger folk.

    So we can paint a picture of the feckless young being rightly told to stop expecting everything on a plate as the state, rightly, gives more of a fuck about non-feckless pensioners who’ve actually earned what they get. OR we can take a moment to remember that there are plenty of feckless pensioners draining the state of all they can whilst hard-working younger types are taxed to the hilt in a hillariously forlorn attempt to pay the bill.

    Sweeping generalisations about one generation or another don’t really help all that much.

  14. Let’s put it this way:
    If you include the DWP’s benefit expenditure and HMRC’s expenditure on tax credits and child benefit, the state pension is the majority of the spend. Next is children (child benefits and credits) and then housing (housing benefit and council tax benefits). A relatively small part of the expenditure is on people who aren’t working.

    Put pensioners aside if you like. The elephant in the room is the amount given to people in work because ‘we’ have decided their incomes are so low they need topping up. But the narrative is of course all about people who aren’t in work. The deserving and undeserving poor. ‘They don’t deserve it, we do.’

  15. The deserving poor include those who cannot get a paid job, like the guys who used to work at Remploy until mismanagement (employment services loss *improved* to 150% of revenue in 2010/1, subsidy grant from DWP around 150% of wages) forced its closure because it was so much cheaper for DWP to pay them not to work there. I’ve mentioned before the guy along the road who can’t get a paid job because he can’t walk at half my pace so he works as a volunteer in a Charity shop.
    There *are* some undeserving poor, such as the man featured by Guido Fawkes who turned down a job because he would have to get up in the morning, but it’s not as simple as paid job/no paid job.

  16. @ ukliberty
    No, I have never suggested, or meant to imply, that you have done so.
    But (a) I was focusing on the “deserving poor” and (b) I was emphasising that the minority (e.g some Daily Mail hacks) who equate “paid to work” (whether they actually do any useful work or not) with “deserving poor” and “not paid to work” (including cripples and war widows with toddlers) as “undeserving poor” are offensively wrong.

  17. I make two arguments here:

    1. There is a narrative that (a) we have a huge welfare* bill and (b) most if not all of it goes to ‘jobseekers’ or the unemployed (aka the feckless or workshy). Now (a) is a matter of opinion, degree and/or politics (what is a small amount, what is a large amount), (b) is a matter of fact, and the fact is that most of welfare doesn’t go to jobseekers.

    2. If we are to have a welfare system, surely it makes sense to have one that (a) is efficient and (b) isn’t designed such that it inclines people away from working.

    In other news, the chairman of the National Housing Federation will say later on that “Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can’t magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped. What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”

    That policy, like other welfare policies, is really designed to make the better off feel like Something Is Being Done, not for its ostensible purpose.

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