SSHA is urging the Government to rethink changes to welfare benefits that could push thousands of vulnerable people into hardship.
South Staffordshire Housing Association (SSHA), which manages more than 5,800 homes across Staffordshire and Shropshire, has invited MPs across both counties to meet with groups of local tenants.
The sessions will explain first-hand how people would be affected by proposed changes to housing benefit rules, including the risks of rising debt, arrears and homelessness.
Under the welfare reform bill, which is going through Parliament, the Government is proposing to cut benefit for social housing tenants deemed to have a ‘spare bedroom’ – including foster carers who are using the spare room for fostered children.
Separately, the Government wants to scrap tenants’ right to choose to have their housing benefit paid directly to their landlord. This removes the most convenient way of tenants to pay their rent and is likely to lead to increased personal debt and rent arrears.
The policies are expected to be introduced in April 2013.
Director of customer services at SSHA, Jan Goode, explained: “We are very concerned about how these measures are going to affect our tenants. These changes will mean some of our most vulnerable people, including disabled and elderly people, face hardship and debt.
“We want MPs to reconsider these proposals and talk to our tenants, as the real people who could risk going into personal debt or losing their home.
“As well as the effect on tenants, the proposals would see additional transaction costs to the housing sector nationally of up to £100million. National rent arrears could also rise up to £320million. This would reduce housing organisations’ ability to secure private investment and build much-needed affordable homes.”
One disabled tenant says it already feels like the Government is hitting vulnerable people hard.
The 26-year-old, who wants to remain anonymous, is being forced into debt and despite a severe physical disability needs to start working, because her benefits have been cut.
She explained: “Back in March my incapacity allowance was stopped and I was living on £20 a week Disability Living Allowance.
“I was told to go for a medical assessment so I could claim Employment and Support Allowance but I wasn’t awarded any points. I am currently appealing and until my appeal goes through they are giving me a national average for the Employment and Support Allowance of £67.50 a week instead of the £110 I was receiving before.
“I’m in total debt. I haven’t got any choice but to take up a part time job but some days I can’t get out of bed. It feels like the Government is not supporting the most vulnerable people who have genuine disabilities and needs.”
This action is part of Welfare Action Week, starting on October 10. The week is being held nationally by the National Housing Federation, the trade body for housing associations, to raise awareness of the harsh reality of the Government’s proposed welfare changes.