Leeds City Council looks to work with those affected by ‘bedroom tax’
Leeds City Council is seeing the impact of welfare changes with over 6400 tenants already affected by under occupation since April 2013.
The council made sure that in the months leading up to the introduction of welfare reform changes, all affected tenants were contacted by letter in the first instance, and then followed up with face to face visits. This ran alongside a period of training for front line staff to ensure they are equipped to explain the changes and provide advice and guidance to affected tenants. This training has continued to ensure all staff are fully trained on all aspects of the welfare changes.
Currently the council is helping tenants who are under-occupying a property in a variety of ways. For example, it is promoting mutual exchange, whereby properties are swapped by a tenant who is overcrowded and another who is under-occupying. The council is running swap shops throughout the city to encourage affected tenants to find out more and register their interest. Already, this financial year there have been 171 swaps, 47 of which are welfare change related.
Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council said:
“We recognise the concerns raised by Hands of our Homes who made a deputation earlier this year to full council about the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’.
“We are working closely with tenants to try and help those affected by welfare changes, and more specifically the so called bedroom tax.
“The council wrote to all affected tenants last year to explain the changes and followed up with visits. The main focus of these visits was to ensure tenants understood how the changes would affect them and received sound advice and on-going support to make decisions about their future.
“The loss of housing benefit for council tenants affected by the bedroom tax is almost £4m per year. The funding for management and maintenance of our 58,000 council homes relies solely on income from rents, therefore any reduction in rental income will have a major impact on the council’s ability to maintain and invest in its stock and build new affordable homes. As a result, it is not viable for the council to consider writing off arrears resulting from the bedroom tax.”
Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods, planning and support services said:
“We put a number of measures in place before welfare changes came into force to try and prepare the thousands of council tenants who would be affected by the bedroom tax.
“Already we have seen the impact of welfare reforms with over 3100 tenancies going into arrears since April 2013, all of which had clear accounts before this period. Alongside this we have had 1,144 applications for discretionary housing payment between April and June this year and have already committed over £285,000 to the 549 awards we have made.
“Earlier this year the council’s executive board approved changes to the rent arrears recovery procedures which gives tenants an opportunity to engage with the council at an earlier stage and take advantage of the advice and support that is on offer.
“In Leeds, as in many other cities across the UK there is a growing need for new council homes. Leeds is investing over £42million to increase the number of council homes across the city, which is the largest programme of its kind in a number of years. Phase 1 of the programme is in development which will deliver over 100 new council homes on three sites in the city with a view to start building early in 2014.”
Notes to editors:
A report will be taken to Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday 4 September in response to a deputation made from Hands off our Homes about the impact of the Social Sector Size Criteria.
For media enquiries, please contact;
Cat Milburn, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 247 4450