Hurricane Housing Benefit - The Perfect Storm!
The Welfare Reform Act received Royal Assent in March this year. The Act introduces a new Universal Credit which will replace most existing benefits and limits the total amount of benefit a person can claim. It also introduces a new size criteria or ‘bedroom tax’ in the social rented sector, and replaces disability living allowance with a Personal Independence Payment.
Community Housing Cymru (a member of the Cuts Watch Cymru Coalition) are today launching a campaign supported by the Church in Wales and over thirty other third sector and charity organisations to raise awareness of the changes and to urge people to seek advice and support as soon as possible.
Community Housing Cymru are warning that homelessness may increase as a result of these changes and fear there will be a rise in the number of people using high interest door step lenders or loan sharks as people struggle to make ends meet.
They are also concerned about the wider economic impacts of these reforms with potential losses of £28.9m* a year for the social housing sector in Wales from the ‘bedroom tax’ alone. They are warning that any savings that are generated by the reforms will be far outweighed by the social and economic cost of homelessness.
Nick Bennett, Group Chief Executive of CHC said: "In 2009 we launched a campaign about the dangers of high interest lending because there was an estimated 150,000 people in Wales using high interest door step lenders and a further 15,000 using loan sharks - startling statistics, and this is before Hurricane Housing Benefit hits."
Peter Cahill, Chair of CHC and Chief Executive of Newport City Homes added: "The perfect storm is brewing. The ‘bedroom tax’ is only one in a long line of changes being introduced and as landlords we rely on tenants paying their rent so we can build more affordable homes which in turn creates job opportunities and makes a large contribution to the local economy."
The Right Reverend John Davies, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon will be speaking at the campaign launch: "Homelessness or the threat of homelessness will cause huge disruption for families across Wales and for society at large. Everyone deserves a roof over their head and anything that impacts on that is socially destructive. We need to do all we can to ensure people are seeking the help and support they need and as early as possible."
Housing Regeneration and Heritage Minister Huw Lewis said: "I am very pleased to support the Your Benefits Are Changing campaign which aims to inform people about the most significant changes to the welfare state since its creation in a bid to mitigate the effects of savage cuts on the most vulnerable people in our society. The Welsh Government is determined to do everything we can to help people deal with these cuts, so this campaign to raise awareness of the changes is very welcome. I urge anybody who is concerned about their benefits or who wants more information to contact their local authority, Landlord, Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter Cymru or Moneyline Cymru to ask for advice."
The communications campaign will initially focus on the ‘bedroom tax’, which means people will have their housing benefit cut if they have a ‘spare’ bedroom. But the reality is that many people will be affected by more than one change.
Andrea currently lives in a three bed property with her 19 year old son. She has several health issues that are gradually getting worse that greatly affect her movement, balance and comfort. Andrea’s son acts as his mother’s carer but is currently on Job seekers allowance, not Carer’s Allowance. If he finds a job, Andrea would be without the help she needs to cope with daily activities. Also, they would be hit by a large non-dependent deduction to go with the bedroom tax shortfall.
Andrea tells us: "Since moving in all those years ago, this really is our family home. We like the property and the area suits us well, close to both my friends and support and close to my son’s friends too."
The main issue for Andrea is the changes that have been made to the house to allow her to be able to move about safely.
"During the time we have been here, I’ve had a number of adaptations to my home including an extension to the ground floor for a wet room, a stair lift fitted, non-slip flooring throughout the house, grab rails in every room and a community alarm fitted. "
However, there are other existing features of the house that are vital for Andrea to be able to get about including no step into the house at the front or rear external door, and the driveway runs right up to front door for access to her DLA mobility car.
Andrea continues: "If we were to move due to the ’bedroom tax’, we would require a very easy-access property on the ground floor and all the adaptations mentioned before would need to be made again. The cost would be in the thousands of pounds, where we already have an adapted property perfect for our needs here."