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Title: Housing professionals and the implementation of the benefit cap policy in London
Author: Davies, Jellina Monrosa
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2017
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The Welfare Reform Act 2012 paved the way for wide-ranging changes to means-tested benefits in England. One of the reforms, the benefit cap policy, limits the amount of housing benefit or local housing allowance that unemployed benefit recipients can receive from the state. This has had a direct impact on tens of thousands of benefit recipients' ability to meet their housing costs and can lead to them becoming homeless. Those people affected by the benefit cap are likely to interact with local housing officials to seek solutions when housing problems arise. In light of this, the aim of this thesis was to provide a qualitative account of how and why the practices of housing professionals in London changed following the introduction of the benefit cap. One of the research methods involved negotiating access to key officials at three local authorities and interviewing them about their reflections and experiences. The findings are divided into two sets of factors. First, there was complexity of functions and boundaries between central and local government responsibilities. It is argued in this thesis that housing professionals' practices were changed in part by the poor fit between the national government's new policy and the local authorities' existing legal responsibilities towards homeless families. Consequently, tensions surrounding legislative, judicial and local interpretations of legislation emerged, which led to inconsistency between the government's intentions and the way the policy was put into practice. There was also increased divergence across the local authorities in how financial supplements to prevent homelessness were applied, leading to inequity in service provision. Second, that welfare reform has culminated in a crisis of identity for housing sector workers as they have been caught between different laws and policies. Housing professionals' roles have changed from processing housing applications to include development of creative ways of preventing homelessness, organising support packages to assist unemployed benefit recipients in complying with the benefit cap policy, applying eligibility conditions for accessing supplementary financial benefits, exercising discretion, and facing conflicting moral choices at work. Traditionally, housing professionals are meant to discharge citizenship-based rights to housing, but they are, increasingly, also performing the role of social control agents in the enforcement of welfare conditionality towards unemployed benefit recipients who seek housing assistance. An original element of this thesis was creating a sociological typology reflecting housing professionals' newly ambiguous identities - 'social worker', efficiency strategist, conflicted bureaucrat, 'firefighter', and frustrated intermediary. The findings of this study underline the critical role that local housing officials play in translating policies into practice. Critically for social policy-making, the findings show how what might seem a straightforward and clear policy at national government level can emerge as contested and ambiguous during the realities of its implementation at local level. The findings contribute to the theoretical understanding of welfare conditionality, governance and street-level bureaucracy as applied to the housing field. The findings may also be useful to practitioners in the housing sector, housing/homeless charities, and local and national government.
Supervisor: Mitton, Lavinia ; Jupp, Eleanor Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available