Leeds Council lobbies government over social housing reforms

The leaders of all political parties on Leeds City Council have joined forces to lobby the government on strict new criteria which could see disabled people and foster carers penalised for having extra rooms in their homes.

All parties on the council are concerned that the government’s introduction of the social housing sector size criteria will have a detrimental impact on many Leeds residents, and could force some people out of their homes.

In order to raise this issue with ministers, all party leaders have written a joint letter to ask the government to reconsider it’s decision.

From April 2013, due to the government’s welfare reforms, council or housing association tenants of working age will see their housing benefit reduced if they have a spare bedroom in their property. Tenants will face a choice of either finding the additional money themselves to enable them to stay in their own home or, if that option is unaffordable, finding smaller accommodation.

The number of bedrooms a household will be entitled to is dependent on the number people living there. The calculation is similar to that currently used by the council to allocate properties. However, in Leeds exceptions are currently made to enable certain vulnerable groups to live fulfilling and independent lives, but the government reforms will remove these exceptions. As a result, foster carers will not be entitled to additional bedrooms for children in their care, and separated parents will not receive additional room to enable their children to visit on weekends. Disabled council tenants will also not be entitled to an additional room for adaptations to their properties that would enable them to live independently.

Currently Leeds City Council also has a policy of avoiding placing families with children in multi storey tower blocks, which means these are usually occupied by single people or couples, who would, under the new reforms, be penalised for under-occupying their properties.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council said:
“Quite simply this new criteria isn’t fair. I am deeply concerned about the impact that the full range of welfare reforms is going to have on many people across the city, but this particular change is extremely worrying as it will affect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“As a responsible council and social landlord, we are doing all we can raise our concerns and try to bring about changes to protect people from possible financial hardship or being forced to downsize.

“Whilst we understand that the government has increased the amount of funding for Discretionary Housing Payments, we believe it is still insufficient to deal with shortfalls to benefit in circumstances where it is necessary to provide additional space or beyond the reasonable control of tenants to downsize.

“The council has for many years been committed to achieving better use of its stock by matching people to properties of appropriate size. We would be happy to work with the government on these ideas but believe the present national proposals are a blunt instrument which will have severe detrimental effects in Leeds.”

Another concern raised by the council is that there would be insufficient supply in the social sector to meet the demand of people who are being encouraged to downsize to one bedroom properties, and it is estimated, the reforms will leave the council with an annual £4m to collect, which will not be covered by benefit.

For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk