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Coronavirus and its impact on benefits for people experiencing multiple disadvantages

VOICES coronavirus update
By Julie Holdcroft, Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent   The DWP has made many changes in the last 2 months to the benefit system in response to the Coronavirus. Some are short term changes and some will last up to a year.   Accessing Jobcentres Firstly, DWP have closed all Jobcentres to most people, apart from the most vulnerable (e.g. homeless people) who cannot access the DWP over the phone/internet. Those with work search and work availability requirements will have them removed, and will not be required to meet with a Work Coach for 3 months from 30/3/20 and then will be reviewed. For those making new UC claims they will not have to attend a Jobcentre to verify their claim. This will be done over the phone   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/claimants-are-asked-to-apply-online-as-jobcentres-limit-access?utm_source=0b62277d-0c8b-401d-a8cd-e22745cdbd9f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate   Self-isolating For those on ESA or UC who are self-isolating due to being high risk, having symptoms or living with someone with symptoms, the DWP will treat these people as having limited capability for work (LCW) without the requirement for any medical evidence or having to undergo a work capability assessment.   https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-03-03/24307   Disability and Sickness Assessments New reviews and reassessments (including face to face assessments) of benefits such as PIP will be suspended… Continue Reading

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and changes to the Care Act 2014 – A briefing for homelessness providers and practitioners

VOICES covid 19 care act
By Bruno Ornelas, Fiona Bateman and Michelle Cornes   Introduction This briefing highlights the changes to Care Act 2014 following the new emergency laws brought by the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is intended to support practitioners’ thinking when working with people experiencing multiple disadvantages across voluntary and community sectors, housing associations, faith based community services and other providers that come into contact with excluded groups linked to homelessness. This document therefore acts as an aid to prepare groups of workers to exercise their professional judgement in ways which incorporates relevant laws, ethics and rights based-thinking.   What is the Coronavirus Act 2020? The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed through Parliament at a fairly rapid pace coming in to force on 31st March 2020. This created temporary emergency laws which allow local authorities to suspend many of the Care Act 2014 duties (Section 15 and Schedule 12, Coronavirus Act 2020). This means that enforceable duties in the Care Act, including duty to assess and the duty to meet unmet eligible needs, are suspended during the emergency period if, locally, resources are stretched to such an extent that it is necessary to ensure safe care to as many people as possible. In other words, some duties in the… Continue Reading

Universal Credit, Specified Accommodation: Payments from Universal Credit and/or Third Party Deductions for ineligible service charge arrears

VOICES payments from UC
By Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent   The Issue Ineligible service charges are those not covered by Housing Benefit.  Previously, supported and temporary accommodation providers could apply to have these paid from a customer’s legacy benefit where a resident was at risk of arrears or, already in arrears.  This system was not perfect and was subject to delays but, it did mean that the person would not be evicted due to service charge arrears, it avoided the need for cash handling and, it allowed focus on support. Supported and Temporary Housing providers have been told by the DWP that UC regulations do not allow payments to be made from a person’s UC for these ineligible charges. “Arrears of service charges can be requested from Universal Credit via a Third Party Deduction (if customer is still living in the property). Unlike legacy benefits there is currently no way of service charges (non-arrears) being deducted from UC.“  (Local DWP Homelessness Forum update August 2019) This mistaken understanding of the legislation will undoubtedly increase the level of evictions for people who are experiencing multiple and complex needs and who are already socially marginalised.  In January 2019 the UK Government’s official statistics found that the number of… Continue Reading

In Plain Sight: Review and Photo Gallery

VOICES in plain sight
Back in February VOICES commissioned local arts-based companies, B Arts and Rideout, to coproduce a live promenade performance based on the real lived experiences of local people.  The performance, which ran for eight evenings, explored the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, rough sleeping, mental ill-health and substance misuse.  Audiences were provided with insight and understanding of the effects of long term and multiple traumas through following the journeys of two characters, Tash and Steve. We would like to give huge thanks to B Arts and Rideout and to all involved in producing and managing the performances.  This extends to the team that provided warm, fresh food for each performance and to VOICES staff and volunteers who invested additional time to co-design, deliver, and staff each evening. As a result of the show VOICES have been invited to present learning opportunities within North Staffs Combined Health Care Trust and we are making plans to deliver a learning programme within Dovegate Prison.   Claire Ritchie, a national consultant in trauma-informed care and psychologically informed environments attended one of the performances and commented, “I just couldn’t stop grinning. The trauma informed buskers! It was ingenious! Inspired! I knew I was going to enjoy the evening. If you’re… Continue Reading

COVID-19: Ending the Interim Accommodation Duty and Mental Capacity

VOICES ending iterim accommodation
Co-written by Bruno Ornelas (Head of Service and Safeguarding, VOICES) Fiona Bateman (Chair, CASCAIDr)   Does a Local Authority have the right to end the interim accommodation duty early due to the applicant’s behaviour in the face of COVID-19? And what consideration should be given to the person’s mental capacity to make cognizant and capacitous choices?   During these unprecedented times, local authorities and the wider health, care and housing workforce are confronted with difficult decisions when planning and applying responses to individual and systemic barriers that are inevitably exacerbated by COVID-19. Last week central government mandated that all local authorities accommodate all rough sleepers – a compassionate response to COVID-19 for those living on our streets. As the situation unfolds it will undeniably require difficult decisions to be made under new and exceptional conditions with limited resources, time or information. People experiencing multiple disadvantage with issues linked to housing and homelessness seldom become ‘problem free’ once their ‘rooflessness’ ends, or when the move away from the streets begins. Rather, those first few nights are the most critical in a person’s transition. As homelessness provider services and local authorities work tirelessly to ensure that ‘everybody is in’, hotels and bed and breakfasts will undoubtedly be challenged to accommodate… Continue Reading

Homeless Health Service: Timetable

VOICES homeless health service timetable
By Dean Spruce, Communication & Media Manager, VOICES Brighter Futures’, North Staffordshire GP Federation and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have come together to implement a mobile outreach service that takes vital medical support out into the community, providing support for both physical and mental health needs. When people experience rough sleeping, accessing healthcare via the traditional routes can be difficult, sometimes impossible even. The new service aims to negate the need to register with a GP surgery (where often an address is requested, even though NHS guidance states this is not a requirement) taking healthcare professionals (Advanced nurse practitioner and project lead Jane Morton, assistant practitioner Sue Herman and Driver Jason Lawlor) to those that need it, without the need for a referral. The outreach vehicle is fitted with wi-fi, facilities to take blood pressure, take blood, dress wounds and is able to provide food, a warm drink and new socks in a safe, private environment. The timetable below shows where Jane and the homeless health team will be and when (paying attention to the key – outreach vehicle sessions are marked in blue)   Click here to view timetable  … Continue Reading

‘A Cuckoo in the Nest’: An introduction to Cuckooing

VOICES cuckoo in the nest
By Geoff Davies, Specialist Housing Advisor, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Introduction More and more people are becoming aware of the term “county lines” where urban gangs move class A drugs and cash between inner city hubs to small provincial areas, but perhaps less is known about one side effect of that trade, the phenomenon of “cuckooing”. This article considers what we mean by the term “cuckooing”, who might typically fall victim and what are the common signs that cuckooing might be going on at a property.  It then considers some legal implications that could arise in such cases.  It then concludes by asking what the sector and individual workers can do to try and protect customers.   What is cuckooing? Cuckooing is a form of crime in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing.  These are known as traphouses and leave victims facing violence and abuse. After befriending people who are too vulnerable to realise what is going on, the gangs invade the house and begin operating from there.  The gangs sometimes promise to pay an electricity bill or buy a TV before taking over the flat. The problem also has… Continue Reading

Working with Complexity: Social Care and Housing

VOICES working with complexity
By Tom Pollard, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust   As a newly qualified Social Worker supporting adults with mental health problems, I see how often the issues that people are experiencing, often thought of as primarily about their health, are almost invariably tied up in their social situations. Many people with mental health problems also have issues with money, housing, relationships and employment, as well as challenges such as drug and alcohol misuse, and contact with the criminal justice system. These issues can be both a cause and a consequence of their mental health problems. Having a safe and secure place to live is a basic human necessity, but it can be really hard as a Social Worker to navigate the relevant systems and processes to help someone with these kinds of experiences get access to housing. This is especially true when you’re newly qualified and new to a team and an area. I was therefore excited to attend some recent training put on by Research in Practice for Adults about ‘complexity and housing’. At this training, we heard from Expert Citizens C.I.C. and VOICES about the great work they are doing to ensure that people with complex needs get the support they need… Continue Reading

Unwise choices or uninformed decisions regarding housing options? The duty to make enquires and the implied duty to support decision making before reaching conclusions

VOICES unwise decisions
By Bruno Ornelas, Head of Service, VOICES Belinda Schweh, Chief Executive, CASCAIDr and Geoff Davies, Specialist Housing Advisor, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau This article explores the depth to which professionals, who work with people that are street homeless, need to be prepared to exercise their professional judgement in ways which incorporates relevant laws, ethics and rights based-thinking. A good starting point is knowing what the legal rules are, together with clarity about the rules so that practitioners feel well-equipped to apply the scope of different (sometimes overlapping) legal frameworks to particular cases.  However, practitioners should also be mindful that reliance on the more procedural aspects of the law alone may not be enough, and should endeavour to interpret and apply the legal rules in ways that are underpinned by human rights principles and professional ethics. Awareness of how the courts and/or the Local Government Ombudsman have interpreted specific cases can give practitioners a critical understanding for what direction to pursue their advocacy. Pressures on local authority homelessness services can mean that homelessness applicants are not always interviewed at the earliest opportunity in order to determine what, if any, duties are owed by the authority.  This is particularly problematic for applicants who are… Continue Reading

In Plain Sight – The lives and hopes of invisible people

VOICES in plain sight
An interactive journey with storytelling buskers, following the lives of Tash and Steve; two individuals from Stoke-on-Trent who experienced homelessness and rough sleeping in their struggle to survive. Exposing the myths around rough sleeping we look at the real life stories of the people and professionals involved.  Asking our audience to identify ways to improve the journey from street to home. Why does Steve live in his car? How can Tash get a house?   VOICES are proud to have commissioned Stoke-on-Trent based arts organisations B-Arts and Rideout to coproduce an interactive promenade style production, based on real lived experiences, to explore and dispel the myths and fallacies often associated with homelessness and rough sleeping. As part of our work here at VOICES we seek to empower people experiencing multiple needs (combinations of homelessness, mental ill health, addiction and offending) to make changes to improve their lives, and to influence services to be the best that they can be to ensure the right support is available to everyone, if and when its needed. To enable this to happen work needs to be done to understand the drivers behind the barriers people experience. Telling the real stories of real people is central to achieving… Continue Reading

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