Welfare reforms hit home

HARD-HITTING welfare reforms set by the Government have now come into operation including the controversial ‘bedroom tax’.

In a bid to cut the £23billion annual housing benefits bill, the coalition Government has changed the criteria and in an attempt to free-up more living space for overcrowded families and encourage more people back to work, they have introduced the ‘under-occupancy’ rule.

Changes to the Council Tax have also been made, which has been renamed the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which renders most people eligible for some form of payment towards the tax.

It means those on benefits will be hit by the rising costs and if they have spare bedrooms at their council or housing association property, and are of workable age, their housing benefit will be reduced by 14 per cent for one-bedroom too many and 25 per cent for two too many.

In the Full Council meeting held last Thursday, the Labour Group prompted a debate on the issue asking for a letter to be sent to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to demand that the ‘bedroom tax’ is scrapped owing to the effect on vulnerable residents. It was agreed that this would be done.

Ashfield Homes, who caretakes the council housing stock in the district, has been working hard with those residents affected and work out solutions.

“A survey was sent out in January 2013,” said Kelly Scott, director of Housing Services for Ashfield Homes. “Approximately 120 out of the 200 who returned the survey has asked for a follow up visit. We wrote again to all those who had not responded or requested a visit advising them of the advice and assistance available should they require this.”

Ashfield Homes also organised a number of initiatives to tell tenants about the changes. This included roadshows across the region as well as employing temporary officers to tackle the issue.

“Ashfield Homes will continue to support our tenants in whatever way we can as we recognise that the Welfare Reform legislation will impact on a number of our vulnerable tenants and we are assessing the risks posed to those individuals.”

If anyone needs help or advice about the under occupation charge or any of the welfare reform changes please contact either the Council on 01623 457237 or your own social housing landlord directly.