Housing association Riverside is urging MPs to ensure there is a rigorous evaluation of the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Riverside has written to all MPs in constituencies where it has over 50 homes, including John Stevenson MP in Carlisle, where it is estimated that 17% of Riverside’s 5255 tenants will be affected by the under occupancy penalty. The average weekly reduction in housing benefit in Carlisle is expected to be £12.95 and the total annual housing benefit reduction for all tenants in the area is expected to be £587,055.19.
They have also written to Rory Stewart MP for Eden where Riverside manages nearly 600 homes. Here it is estimated a further 13% of tenants will be affected by the under occupancy penalty, the total annual housing benefit reduction for these tenants is estimated to be £52,642.99.
Hugh Owen, Director of Policy and Communications at Riverside, said: “We are very concerned about the impact of benefit cuts on our tenants and the business, having campaigned against a number of aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill as it went through Parliament.
“While the Welfare Reform Act is now on the statute book, there are still changes the government can introduce to help mitigate the impact including undertaking a comprehensive review of the policy. We are asking MPs for their support in ensuring that any evaluation is undertaken quickly, independently and thoroughly. It also needs to be sufficiently broadly scoped to consider the financial impact of the policy, its impact on individuals and the wider neighbourhood impact.”
He added: “We are also calling for the government to ensure guidance is such that the penalty is not imposed unfairly. Within the bedroom tax, there is a lack of distinction between a bedroom being occupied by one person or two people. This means that people in certain property types are particularly vulnerable to having benefits reduced, even when they don’t physically under-occupy their home, because of the technical definition of under-occupation. We are asking the government for sufficient flexibility in the guidance to take a sensible line and not apply the bedroom tax where there is clearly no physical under-occupation.”
Even though there are limited opportunities for tenants to avoid many of the changes that are being introduced, Riverside is trying to mitigate the impact under its B!G Changes campaign.
Riverside is targeting those at risk to explain their options, including seeking to downsize, take in a lodger and ‘stay and pay’.
Riverside also has an 11-strong Money Advice Team who provide telephone and face-to-face advice to tenants, helping them maximise their income, reduce their outgoings and deal with debt. Between April and December 2012 the service secured over £1m in unclaimed benefits and reduced rent arrears by more than £130,000.
For more information visit: www.riverside.org.uk/national/the_big_changes.aspx
The Welfare Reform Bill could affect tenants if they:
- are 16 to 61 years old
- get housing benefit for part or all of their rent
- are sick or disabled
Tenants won’t be affected if they:
- live in a one bedroom flat or bedsit
- they or their partner are old enough to receive pension credits (in April 2013 the pension credit age will be around 61 years and 6 months)
The new rules mean that tenants will be allocated one bedroom for
- each adult couple
- any person aged 16 or over
- two children of the same sex under the age of 16
- two children under the age of 10 regardless of sex
- any other child
- a carer ( who does not normally live with you) if you or your partner need overnight care.
For parents who share custody and access arrangements, only the main guardian will be able to claim housing benefit for a bedroom for the child.
Tenants who have one extra bedroom will see their housing benefit cut by 14% every week. If they have two or more spare bedrooms they will lose 25%.
Riverside estimates that nearly 7000 of its tenants will be affected by the bedroom tax, losing £5 million per year in housing benefit.