Around 1300 South Ayrshire Council tenants could see a reduction in the amount of Housing Benefit they receive next year as a result of new regulations being introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
From 1 April 2013, the amount of Housing Benefit paid to working-age (born after 5 October 1951) tenants renting property from the Council, housing associations or registered social landlords, will be based on the number of bedrooms required by the household as defined by the DWP. Households identified as having ‘extra’ bedrooms for Housing Benefit purposes – for example where one adult couple lives in a two-bedroom property – will see their Housing Benefit go down.
The amount of Housing Benefit allowed for rent and any service charges will be reduced by 14% for one extra bedroom and by 25% for two or more extra bedrooms, which will have a significant impact on the households affected.
South Ayrshire Council says it is working with the housing associations and registered social landlords to contact all the affected tenants who will be identified as ‘under-occupying’ their property under the new regulations.
Tenants will be asked to check the details currently held and advise of any changes.
SNP group leader Douglas Campbell says low income families will be hit hard by the changes.
Mr Campbell says that council officers have calculated that some £700,000 of rental income is at risk each year because individuals and families will need to find a part of their rent from their wages or benefit if they have too many bedrooms.
Mr Campbell said: “On an individual basis, after you take the 5.2% rent increase into account that will be imposed from April next year, a couple in a three bedroom flat will have to find at least £33.96 each fortnight from their income to cover the 25% cut in their Housing Benefit.
“A single person in a two bedroom flat will need to find £18.27 a fortnight.
“Housing Associations and those in private rented accommodation will also be affected.
“Indeed those who are aged between 26 and 35 and who are in private rented accommodation will suddenly find that they are entitled only to benefit that will cover a single room. At a time where there are more than 4000 people already waiting on a house in South Ayrshire we are going to add up to another 1300 who need a smaller home.
“Here we are with individuals and families being told overnight that their home is too big and they either have to move or find more than £400 a year make up the shortfall in their rent.
“And yet Labour sit at the meeting and don’t even ask some simple questions about whether the council will evict families who can’t pay the shortfall but do want a smaller house, about whether the modernisation programme is at risk, about how the council will react to increases in homeless applications and the availability of suitable accommodation.
“How does the council address the mismatch between the sizes of homes that we need and what we have.
“I’m sure people used to think that the Labour was on the side of tenants but now they don’t want to rock the boat with their Tory partners and condemn these atrocious attacks on the living standards of the lowest income groups in our communities.”
Councillor Philip Saxton, South Ayrshire Council’s Portfolio Holder for Housing, said: “Big changes are coming for tenants across South Ayrshire and we need to ensure we hold the right information to make sure they continue to receive all the benefits they are entitled to
“So, if you receive a letter or a call asking to check your household details, it’s really important that you do this as soon as possible and let us – or your relevant landlord – know if anything has changed. We’re all here for you but we need the correct information from you to help us help you.
“If you’re concerned about how the forthcoming benefit changes may affect you, contact our benefit services team on 0300 123 0900. Or, if you need general advice on managing your money, call our consumer advice centre on 01292 616060.”
For further information on the forthcoming benefit changes, you can also visit www.dwp.gov.uk or www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/housing-benefit.