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Adult services, Benefits, Housing

Government Welfare Reforms in the spotlight at council conference

PUBLIC sector professionals have come together at a major conference to discuss government Welfare Reforms that mean the average family on benefits in Lambeth is likely to be £98 a week worse off from April.

More than 150 professionals from the charitable, health, and local authority sectors gathered at Lambeth Town Hall on Tuesday 11 September to discuss a range of changes to benefits rules that include, from April 2013, a capping of benefit paid to those of working age to a maximum of £500 per week for families and £350 per week for single people.

Coupled with other benefit changes, including a reduction in council tax benefit, Lambeth Council is predicting that the benefit cap will mean some tenants will no longer be able to afford their rent and may even have to move out of Lambeth altogether to find cheaper accommodation.

The Government rationale for the reforms is to cut the cost of the benefit bill, bring fairness back to the welfare system and make work pay.

Delegates at the conference, organised by Lambeth Council, came together to discuss how various support agencies across the borough could work effectively together to prepare for the changes and support those families and individuals affected.

Speakers included Kate Bell, London Campaign Coordinator at Child Poverty Action Group, Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth Council Cabinet member for Strategic Housing, and Lucy Smith, Public Health Manager at NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group.

Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Housing, said: “When these changes were first proposed we urged the government to think again because we predicted that they would hurt vulnerable people already struggling to cope, but now they are law so we have to deal with the reality of the situation.

“It is going to be a huge challenge as we are expecting a major increase in people seeking help and support when these changes are introduced and they suddenly find their income drops. What is vital is that all agencies work together so people in need get a seamless service and don’t get pushed from pillar to post.

“I was really pleased to see so many people from so many different agencies attend.”

Lambeth Council is working with a range of other agencies to mitigate the impact of the reforms. Work already undertaken includes the setting up of Welfare Reform Strategy Group to prepare for the changes, and the establishment of a Lambeth Tenancy Rescue Service with the charity Broadway that sees staff proactively contact people deemed most at risk of homelessness due to changes in their benefits, offering them support to reschedule rental terms with landlords, maximise income in some way, or change their living arrangements. It is also planning a campaign with the Credit Union to sign up people who are at risk of being targeted by loan sharks.

Editors notes:

 The main welfare changes are as follows:

  • From April 2013, the capping of benefit paid to those of working age to a maximum of £500 per week for families and £350 per week for single people (with some exceptions). According to interim DWP data, this is expected to impact on around 700 Lambeth households, most of them families. In Lambeth, the average loss to household benefit income is an average of £98 per week with some families losing as much as £650 per week.
  • The abolition of council tax benefit to be replaced by a local system of council tax support in April 2013. The Government are giving Lambeth less money to pay for the new Local Council Tax Support Scheme than the council has paid out to residents in past years. In 2013/14 Lambeth Council will receive £2.6 million less to give out in support to claimants. This means we must save money through the new scheme and many residents will see the amount of support they receive drop.
  • The introduction of Universal Credit from October 2013 to replace numerous benefits (including housing benefit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and income-based Employment and Support Allowance) within a single benefit stream. Universal Credit will be paid via a single monthly payment, a change for most recipients who will be used to working on a basis of fortnightly payments. The bigger change is that support for housing costs – housing benefit in the current regime – will be paid directly to the claimant in most cases rather than to the landlord. This has created concerns and risks about people with limited financial capability not choosing to spend this money on their rent and arrears and homelessness rising as a result.
  • Introducing new size criteria in April 2013 for working age occupants of social housing which restricts Housing Benefit payable to those who are under occupying their accommodation
  • Replacement in April 2013 of the Discretionary Social Fund with local welfare assistance schemes designed and delivered by local authorities.
  • The replacement in April 2013 of Disability Living Allowance with a new form of Personal Independence Payment and introducing new criteria for claiming it.

 

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