Bedroom tax driving hungry tenants to food banks
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Regulation
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Hundreds of social housing tenants on Merseyside are being driven to food banks by the impact of the controversial bedroom tax.
Introduced along with a raft of other welfare reforms exactly a year ago, the under-occupancy policy has led to rent arrears soaring by 35% in the average affected household.
A survey of 14 Merseyside housing associations revealed that average arrears have gone up from £276 last April to £374 presently – and hard-up tenants are now at least £1.4 million behind with their rent in total.
The social landlords who took part in the study have referred at least 553 tenants to food banks over the past year, but believe that the true figure is much higher.
The number of residents being fed at Knowsley food bank has risen by 93% to more than 6,000 over the last year – 44% of whom are children.
Meanwhile, North Liverpool Foodbank has seen a 67% increase in the number of people it has fed, to 7,129 over the last year, compared with 4,256 the year before.
And the housing providers surveyed claim that the overall picture for customers would be even gloomier had they not helped tenants secure at least £13m in extra income, including benefits they were entitled to but hadn’t been claiming.
At least 14,300 people have also been helped by their housing association to access benefits and financial advice.
Stephanie Harrison, executive director of customer services for the Regenda Group, said: “A year on from the introduction of the bedroom tax and other reforms, many vulnerable residents are continuing to struggle to pay the rent and even put food on the table.
“These are ordinary families – including those working on low incomes and others with disabilities and poor health. The one-size-fits-all nature of the bedroom tax is deeply unfair and Merseyside housing associations continue to urge the Government to think again.
“As responsible landlords we have been able to give good advice and offer practical help to ease the hardship for many families, but the fact remains that welfare reforms continue to hurt.”
Merseyside housing associations have helped more than 8,600 households to secure a discretionary housing payment (DHP) to help towards housing benefit cuts.
But Annmarie Flynn, director of resident services at Venture Housing Association, said: “DHPs haven’t been awarded to everybody affected by the bedroom tax and these payments are only a temporary fix. Most DHPs are also only awarded for a short period of time.
“This situation is causing huge amounts of stress and anxiety for people, including those already struggling with health problems and disabilities, and in the long-term they just don’t know how they are going to manage.
“In addition, the Government’s hope that people would move to smaller properties hasn’t materialised. While some have been able to downsize, this is impossible for the majority as there remains a severe shortage of smaller homes across Merseyside.”
They housing associations that took part in the survey are: Halton Housing Trust, First Ark (Knowsley Housing Trust), Liverpool Mutual Homes, Magenta Living, One Vision Housing, Plus Dane Group, Regenda Group, Riverside, South Liverpool Homes, Steve Biko Housing Association, Symphony Housing Group (BBCHA, Cobalt Housing, Liverpool Housing Trust) and Wirral Methodist Housing Association.