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Remain, remoan and rejoice

Paul Langley assesses the latest news on universal credit and the local housing allowance and argues Brexit could bring some good news. 

Last summer’s referendum result has rumbled on and on and continues to be a divisive topic for many in society, little can be agreed as whether Brexit will be a good or bad thing.

But for social housing Brexit may have thrown a lifeline to the future economic outlook of many organisations, although there will still be concerns about replacing EU funding, access to the European Investment Bank and skilled labour forces.

The UK Government’s slight majority leaves little room or time to secure the parliamentary result they require to ensure Brexit meets its April 2019 departure deadline.

With little time to debate there will be choices needed on what legislation is prioritised, April 2019 is not far away as many social landlords know, and is the scheduled date for the introduction of the local housing allowance (LHA) maxima. Will the government risk long debates over welfare issues when Brexit timescales are so short?

A recent Westminster Hall debate on the future funding of supported accommodation led by Conservative Peter Aldous resulted in unprecedented attendance from cross-party MPs and condemnation of the proposed policy. Following the inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee, and subsequent recommendations, this policy will not be an easy one for Government to railroad through parliament.

The opposition debate on pausing Universal Credit last week also produced a bloody nose for those in power with an unusual result, 299 ayes and 0 nos, and will be followed up with another on Wednesday  which opposes the changes to the funding of housing benefit in supported accommodation.

The moral victory for the opposition has helped raise the profile of the devastation of universal credit but was matched by determined resilience from the Government that it would continue.

Unlike IDS’s bizarre ‘they do very little for the tenants’ comment the debate raised the need for better communication between social landlords and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as the landlord portal was praised by both sides of the argument.

According to Neil Couling, the director general of universal credit, the portal is being used by 20% of social landlords and by Christmas this will increase to 50%. This is a massive step forward, not only for communication and data sharing, but indicates the full service can cope with multiple housing information. Dare I say no longer requiring a simplified rent calculation such as LHA?

If true we could see a change of direction, as previously indicated last year by former work and pensions secretary Damian Green when he announced no more reforms on top of those previously planned.

The government tried to deflect pressure by rightly announcing that claimants could call the universal credit helpline for free, so will another pre-emptive announcement come before the next opposition debate?

If so, it will require some small changes to the universal credit gateway and likely leave the LHA maxima for another government to consider. Landlords will need to make choices about future rent increases and affordability but the business plans could be back on track. An unintended consequence but social housing landlords and tenants may be grateful to the Brexit timetable however they voted last year.

Paul Langley is welfare reform manager at Coastal Housing

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