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Fire safety, Brexit and benefits: your political update

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

In today’s politics update we look at the latest from MHCLG on fire safety, Lords’ backing for an amendment to provide EU citizens with settled status with a physical document to prove it, latest on the shared accommodation rate and the findings of a new report on Universal Credit. 

MHCLG fire safety consultations

MHCLG announced a package of new measures to improve building safety in residential blocks yesterday, which you can read more about here.

In addition, it has how also published:

Lords agree amendment allowing EU citizens to get physical proof of residence  

Peers yesterday agreed to an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill on the rights of residence for EU citizens. It included a provision that such citizens should be provided with a physical document providing proof of residence.

The amendment was proposed by Lord Oates (Liberal Democrat – Former Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister), Lord McNicol (Labour – Former General Secretary of the Labour Party), Lord Kerslake (Crossbencher – Former Head of the Civil Service) and Lord Warner (Crossbencher – Former Labour Health Minister).

Lord Oates raised concerns about the use of a digital only platform for EU citizens under the Settlement Scheme to prove their right to rent and work. 

He said: “Interactions with landlords, airline staff or other officials obliged to check immigration ​status will become fraught with anxiety for them, dependent on the frailty of an internet connection and the resilience of a government IT system.” 

He added: “This is not a debate about technicalities, constitutional principles or partisan differences; it is a debate about people’s lives, about the deep and genuine concerns of EU citizens about the scheme as it currently operates, about their confidence that they will be able to travel to and from the country that they have made their home without let or hindrance, and about whether their interactions with landlords, airline staff and others who are required to comply with the immigration system become fraught with difficulty and whether they will face discrimination as a consequence of being treated differently from other permanent residents in this country.

“It is also about whether the rights of the most vulnerable of those EU citizens remain protected after June 2021.”

Lord McNicol spoke of “warnings from private landlords that the new system could introduce the risk of discrimination.”

Viscount Ridley (Conservative) however argued: “It seems to me that if landlords or other authorities are already beginning to ask for proof of settled status, this would get worse if there were known to be a system where they could produce a card. It would then de facto become a card that they had to produce.”

The full transcript can be accessed here.

The House of Commons will vote to agree, or not, with the amendment when the Bill goes back to MPs once the House of Lords has completed its scrutiny of the legislation.

Last week the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, suggested that the government was going to look at the potential of providing ‘some sort of physical document’ for EU citizens to prove their right to reside and work in the UK.

In response however, the Home Office said that “there is no change to our digital approach”. 

It said that applicants to the settlement scheme have always had the option of printing out emails or online application updates – but that this does not represent any official proof of status.

It went on to say: “The EU Settlement Scheme grants people with a secure, digital status which future-proofs their rights. Physical documents can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with.”

Under 25s will not be included in exemption

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed it will NOT extend the shared accommodation rate exemption for homeless people to the under 25s.

Currently here is an exemption from the shared accommodation rate for those aged 25-34 who have previously spent three months (which doesn’t have to be continuous) in a homeless hostel or hostels specialising in rehabilitation and resettlement.

In a written question Dr Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) asked if the DWP would bring forward legislative proposals to extend this to under 25s.

Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince MP replied: “There are no current plans to make legislative changes to extend this exemption to those under the age of 25.

“For individuals who may require more support and whose circumstances may make it difficult for them to share accommodation, Discretionary Housing Payments are available.”

Universal Credit wait leaving tenants stressed

The Resolution Foundation has published a report on the introduction and impact of Universal Credit (UC) in Liverpool City Region (LCR) and the UK. 

The report, which was commissioned by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority found: 

  • UC is a bigger deal in some parts of the country than others. In all 31% of working-age families in LCR – a total of 205,000 are expected to receive UC once it is fully rolled out. In the whole of the north west 775,000 working-age families will be claiming UC, slightly higher than the national figure of 24%, equating to a total of 6.2 million. 
  • When comparing UC to the former benefits system more families lose from the switch to UC – and fewer gain – in LCR than the UK as a whole. In all 52% of benefit-recipient families in LCR lose out from the switch to UC, while only 32% gain. The respective figures for the UK as a whole are 46% and 39%.
  • While those with IT skills valued UC’s digital focus, many said that the five-week wait for the first payment put them under significant financial and mental stress. Some reported that the wait had forced them to use food banks and worsened existing mental health issues.

The interviews revealed a variable understanding among recipients of exactly how taking on more work would affect their incomes.

Most understood they would be better off in work, but many felt that the system’s responsiveness to their earnings meant that taking on more hours wasn’t worth their while financially.

This, says the Foundation, risks weakening one of the central claims of UC that it will ‘make work pay’. 

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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