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Welfare reforms costing housing association £10 million a year - report

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Welfare reforms costing housing association £10 million a year - report

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments, Central Government

Welfare reforms costing housing association 10 million a year - report Welfare reforms costing housing association 10 million a year - report

The government's welfare reforms are costing one housing association an estimated £10 million a year, according to a new report published today.

And more than 500 Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) tenants who did not have a debt before the introduction of the bedroom tax now owe rent.

The figures are revealed in WDH's report 'Life on the Edge?', the housing association's story of the first 200 days of the under-occupation penalty.

It highlights how rent arrears and the number of people facing financial hardship and potentially facing eviction have increased. Both have led to a huge swell in demand for support ranging from Discretionary Housing Payments to food parcels.

The report also includes case studies of WDH tenants whose lives had been turned upside down by the controversial welfare reform, and documents the intensive support provided by a range of WDH employees. These include health inequality caseworkers, community employment advisors, central debt team, welfare reform team, and housing officers.

Kevin Dodd (pictured), chief executive of WDH, said: "The so-called 'bedroom tax' is unfair, unjust and unworkable, and our findings over the first 200 days demonstrate the amount of unnecessary upheaval and distress caused to people within our communities.

"The only reason the situation is not worse is because of the intensive support our employees have provided to our tenants. However, many social landlords may find it difficult to provide such support over the long-term.

“The impact of welfare reform raises real questions about the role of social landlords in the future. The Government expect us to go beyond rent and repairs by improving tenants’ overall quality of life, yet threaten the income we have to do this."

Key figures from the report show:

  • The cost of welfare reform to WDH is £10 million a year - the equivalent of building one new property each week;
  • Over 500 tenants who did not have a debt when the bedroom tax was introduced now owe rent;
  • Nearly 4,000 WDH tenants are under-occupying by one bedroom.

Around 5,600 residents of the Wakefield district were affected when the bedroom tax was introduced on 1 April 2013. Almost 5,200 of these were WDH tenants.

Ahead of its introduction, WDH worked with Wakefield Council to contact all affected tenants to establish their exact circumstances, provide advice and find out how they thought they would be able to cope with this change.

Six months on, the number of households affected has reduced to 4,722. The vast majority of these (3,955) are under-occupying by one bedroom.

Rent accounts were in a worse position until August this year. This has only been lessened following focused intervention by WDH. Some households originally impacted by the change are no longer affected, for reasons including changes in family circumstances, the claimant being no longer eligible for housing benefit, or if the accommodation is now deemed to be the appropriate size. There are also a number of tenants who have moved into ‘under-occupation’. 552 tenants who did not have a debt when the bedroom tax was introduced now owe rent.

The report concludes: "Stock transfer has seen social landlords become a victim of their own success. We promise more, we deliver more, and now many people – particularly the government – expect more. Yet we’re expected to deliver with reduced resources and capacity.

"Councils, police forces and hospitals have had to bite the bullet and reduce the services they provide. So the question is: Should we go back to basics? Should we be aiming to make a positive difference to the lives of our tenants, or go back to the ‘good old days’ of rent and repairs? As social landlords, we have a duty to go the extra mile for our tenants, and we will continue to do so.

"In the meantime, we will be challenging the government to develop a fairer solution to the ‘bedroom tax’ which doesn’t penalise too harshly the many families and disabled people whose lives have been turned upside down. We believe there is a better way forward and we would be happy to share our ideas."

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