Councillor Janine Bridges has warned that the fall-out from the government’s “bedroom tax” will be a real challenge for a host of organisations.
In April the Coalition Government brought in what has been dubbed the bedroom tax. It means anyone under pension age, on housing benefit, with one or more spare bedrooms will have their benefits cut. It’s all part of the Government’s drive to reduce the costs of welfare.
Councillor Bridges, cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and community safety, said Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the local community are being left to pick up the pieces.
“The Council cannot challenge this central government reform which is now law, but it is working hard to deal with consequences.
“The council has been busy informing council tenants about the changes and providing advice for those who face some difficult decisions and emergency aid for those who are in desperate need.
“I must stress this is a government project, but it is local councils and local communities who will have to deal with the consequences. We are very worried about the impacts on some of the most vulnerable in our community,” councillor Bridges said.
The Government has also cut council tax support for benefit claimants and this is adding extra pressures on many residents.
Councillor Bridges said the Government strategy was all about cutting budgets now.
“This is a double whammy for the community. It doesn’t take into account the long-term costs, both human and financial. Yes we want people to be more independent, but this isn’t the right way of doing it. It is hitting those least able to cope and that’s counterproductive.
“Some people are cutting back on food, heating and basic necessities to pay their rent. We are providing emergency support and advice where we can.
“If people become homeless, then the local council has a legal duty to find temporary accommodation. And that costs the tax payer far more in the long-term,” Councillor Bridges said
The government has given councils an emergency hardship fund to hand-out crisis support, but councillor Bridges said this was “just a sticking plaster on a deeper wound.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is already busy with applications for fuel payments, food and other essentials coming in by the dozen every week. And it has only just begun.
“The Government has left us with the task of deciding who is, and who isn’t, worthy of support. That’s already a tough task, especially as we have the 11th lowest council tax in the country.
“But the legacy of homelessness and dispossession will cut much deeper, with impacts for our health service, the police, schools, charities and communities,” she concluded.
The council has been working hard to give tenants as much support as possible. This work started early, well before the Welfare Reform Act came into effect in April.
The team wrote to, called or visited council residents to tell them all about the Government’s plans and its impacts. The housing team are also working with a host of partner organisations to provide the advice people need about their options.
Housing officers are on hand at local centres in the north, central and south of the city, or can arrange a home visit to talk through the changes.
Tenants can also request an appointment with a welfare reform officer who can give advice, or refer to the Moneywise project, the Citizens Advice Bureau or the council’s customer support team, who can all provide advice. They can also call the council on 01782 234234 for further contacts for support.