Benefit reforms see pleas for aid increase

West Suffolk House
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As April’s benefit reforms squeezed household budgets, council’s handed out more than £74,000 in discretionary housing payments.

As April’s benefit reforms squeezed household budgets council’s handed out more than £74,000 in discretionary housing payments.

In the first five months of this year St Edmundsbury, Forest Heath and Breckland Councils saw applications more than double and the figure paid out rise by almost £27,000 , compare to the sane period last year.

Jane Ballard, district manager of Suffolk West Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “The government put increased money into discretionary housing payments and done it deliberately because of bedroom tax.

“It’s never been used to this sort of extent, the concern is we do not know what’s going to happen next year we do not know if the government is going to put into it for this year only.”

Across the three councils it is believed 2207 people were hit by the government’s ‘bedroom tax’.

Between January and May this year 478 people applied for a discretionary housing payment.

Mrs Ballard said: “It’s not designed to replace the amount of housing benefit people are missing on a permanent basis.

“It was originally designed as a short term support to give people time to move, now that all works perfectly if people are able to move and there are properties available.”

The government allocates money for discretionary housing payments, once it is used no more is made available.

Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils said there is always a risk funds could be exhausted but that a proportionate amount had been used in the first quarter of the year.

The two council’s housing stock is managed by Havebury Housing Partnership.

Karen Mayhew, chief executive at Havebury Housing Partnership, said: “Whilst we have seen some increase in rent arrears, it’s too early to provide actual figures on arrears from those affected by the size criteria.

“We are helping people move through mutual exchanges and downsizing wherever possible and we are committed to building smaller properties in anticipation of increased demand.”

St Edmundsbury saw applications received between January and May this year rise from 64 to 168, compared to the same period the year before.

While Forest Heath saw applications rise from 69 to 99 and Breckland saw them increase from 105 to 211.

Kay Boycott, director of policy and communications at Shelter, said: “This increase in applications for emergency support shows how many people are caught in a desperate struggle to keep their home, thanks to deep cuts to our housing safety net.

“Worryingly, the latest series of changes to housing support means that even more families will be facing that battle in the future. As a result, it’s likely that the funding available to councils just won’t stretch far enough, leaving some people at risk of homelessness.”