Rising Rents: Failure of the LHA in Oxford

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates set the maximum amount of financial support people on low incomes can receive to assist with paying rent in the private rented sector.

In the 2015 Summer Budget, the Government announced a freeze Local Housing Allowances for 4 years, ending March 2020. Current guidance states LHA rates cover the cheapest 30% of rents in a broad rental market area (BRMA, or remain at the previous year’s rates if these are lower.

Recent estimations from the Valuation Office Agency (June 2019) indicate that the current Oxford LHA rates do not cover the cheapest quarter of rents in Oxford. We analysed all available rental listings on the Rightmove website for Oxford and found that the Oxford City Council LHA rates would not cover even the cheapest quarter of rents in Oxford. Taking our data to reflect the prices tenants face throughout the year, our findings show almost all available rentals in Oxford are unaffordable for someone reliant on LHA.

Read our full report here

Reform PIP: Reasons and Recommendations

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced in April 2013 for people aged 16 to 64 years, replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for adults. PIP is by far the benefit with which our clients have the most difficulties. There has been an 86% increase from last year in the number of clients coming to us with PIP related issues, with 642 clients coming in compared to 346 the year before.

Too often, the DWP are not getting the initial decision of PIP entitlement right. By the end of July 2019, over 1.36 million people had asked for Mandatory Reconsiderations (under normal rules), of which 270,000 (21%) MR decisions led to a change in award (DWP, September 2019). By the end of the last financial year, 404,960 appeals have been received by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, with 104,564 in the last financial year. Between April and June 2019, 75% of those who appealed had their decisions overturned at tribunal (Ministry of Justice, 2019). This is four percentage points higher than April to June in the previous year.

Drawing together national statistics and our work with clients in Oxford has revealed issues relating to initial decisions – specifically, inaccurate assessments submitted by private health professionals and inadequate handling of further evidence – and to the Mandatory Reconsideration and Appeals processes.

Read our full report here

Conditionality in Universal Credit
How to mitigate the adverse effects of conditionality and sanctions for Universal Credit claimants

Universal Credit (UC) is one of the biggest ever changes to the welfare system in the UK. It was introduced to simplify six existing benefits, with the aim to streamline the application process and system, and incentivise more people to start and progress in work.

However, within the implementation of UC there has been a number of administrative and IT failures, as well as harsh and punitive financial sanctions that leave people in difficulty, leading to rent arrears and increased demand for food banks.

Conditionality is an aspect of UC with adverse effects on a number of recipients. If you receive UC, you will be placed in a conditionality group based on your circumstances and work capability. Your conditionality group determines the commitments that you must fulfil in order to receive UC. Sanctions can be applied if you fail to meet the commitments in your conditionality group.

We find that the sanctions given are harsh and often unnecessary. There is insufficient evidence to substantiate the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) claim that sanctions should incentivise more people to find work (House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, 2018, p.13). More, reports have shown they cause people significant financial hardship and distress (Wright et al., 2018). In Oxford, our clients have been sanctioned, even when they demonstrate a ‘good reason’ to be exempt, as required by DWP.

Read our full report here

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Scams Awareness Month 2019

The number of scans being reported to Citizens Advice is on the rise. 19, 486 potential scams cases were reported to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service in 2018, an increase from 2017. This year Citizens Advice Oxford is asking you to Stop, Report and Talk about scams.

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Tenants' Rights Campaign

30% of Oxford residents live in privately rented accommodation, the highest proportion in the UK. Our data has shown that non-UK nationals are disproportionately affected by problems with privately rented accommodation. We are campaigning to raise awareness of tenants' rights, particularly in Portugese, Italian, Romanian, and Spanish-speaking communities.

Links to information in:

Vulnerable people in Oxford missing out on health care according to our new report

A sizable minority of people in Oxford who are vulnerable and on low incomes are struggling to get the health care they need due to poor communication or being offered inappropriate health care options.

Alarmingly 13 per cent of people we surveyed did not get the health service they needed. Language barriers or being a non-UK national was the most common indicator. Some of those who did get treatment could not understand the prescriptions of particular medications. Lack of information about opening hours of surgeries, choice of services, status of referrals for specialist and likely waiting times were all cited as issues. Booking appointments on-line tended to exclude those who had poor access to IT and low IT skills and confidence.

A number of people said that they were offered treatment options that were unrealistic due to high transport cost. One patient of pensioner age had to pay for a £300 taxi fare to get treatment.

We are now calling on Oxford health care providers to be more aware of the needs of vulnerable people and to tailor their communications and advice so that services genuinely address the concerns of this group.

Full report including executive summary available here

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Debt and high-cost credit

Citizens Advice is calling for changes to the regulation of credit card and high-cost credit markets to help stop people getting into a debt spiral.

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Universal Credit

Universal Credit is the biggest change ever made to the benefits system. We're campaigning to make sure it works for the people who need it most.

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Council tax protocol

Council tax arrears is now the largest debt issue seen by local Citizens Advice. That’s why we’re encouraging councils to sign up to the Council Tax Protocol.

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Mental Health

Citizens Advice is calling on government​ ​to fund​ ​a​ ​pilot​ ​of​ ​integrated advice in health settings to improve recovery rates and stop mental health problems from getting worse.

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Big Energy Saving Week

Get involved with Big Energy Saving Week, a campaign to help people cut their fuel bills and receive the financial support they are entitled to.

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National Consumer Week

Learn about this year's National Consumer Week campaign. We want to make sure people know what they're signing up for online and what they can do if something goes wrong.