Thousands affected as new Welfare Reform takes grip
A significant number of Ceredigion's 75,000 population are being affected by one of the new Welfare Reforms. The "Bedroom Tax" which came into force at the beginning of last month affects recipients of housing benefit who are deemed to be occupying properties larger than they require. Tenants are losing between £11 and £24 per week.
We met with Mr Tony Hawkins, the founder of Disability Action Group Wales and a disabled wheelchair dependent tenant, living with his partner in Llandysul. He has been living in his Tai Ceredigion 2 bedroom home for the past two years and Mr Hawkins said, “I am very concerned about the new changes as I believe they are designed to dismantle the benefit system entirely and leave vulnerable people at risk.
The so called under occupancy rules or ‘bedroom tax’ is going to hit many including disabled people. My partner and I would consider moving to a one bedroom property but there are none available and if we looked to move to the private sector it is more expensive to start with. My home, like many disabled people’s, is adapted for me. If I could move, the adaptations would have to be done in the new property and this makes no economic sense.
My partner regularly sleeps in the 2nd bedroom to have a good night’s sleep as I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and have violent flashbacks. Disabled people are not exempt from the under occupancy rules as the Government have claimed they are, except families with disabled children and returning Armed Forces personnel. They must apply for Discretionary Housing Benefit through their Local Authority who does not have sufficient funds to make up the shortfall for disabled or vulnerable people. Friends, family and cohabitees are not considered carers for the purposes of Discretionary Housing Benefit.
I have been impressed with Tai Ceredigion as they have taken their duty of care to tenants very seriously. Tai Ceredigion has been very proactive by setting up a Welfare Reform Committee last year, which I am involved with, to identify all those tenants who are now being affected. Staff have then been knocking on doors and talking to tenants and helping those most affected to make claims for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).
I believe the situation is now only going to get worse with the new Universal Credit system coming into force and the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Through my work with Disability Action Group Wales I have written to the UK Government and the reply from Lord Freud Minister for Welfare reform, is for people with jobs to get more hours, people with extra bedrooms to get lodgers and disabled people to get jobs. It is therefore obvious that they would like to force people into work which is easier said than done in this economic climate and disabled people into institutions as without help many people cannot live independently.”
The Chief Executive of Tai Ceredigion Steve Jones is very worried as many tenants will see a reduction in their housing benefit and will struggle to pay their rent. He said, “If you have more bedrooms than you need for your family, your housing benefit will be reduced and as the tenant you will be liable to pay the full rent by making up the shortfall of your housing benefit. Many people in Ceredigion are on low incomes or without work so finding the extra money is going to be near on impossible.
The new reform also does not take into consideration each individual case as everyone is different but even more worrying is the fact that Ceredigion is a rural county where we live in small towns and villages where the number of one bed and two bed flats and homes are not available therefore people cannot downsize to avoid this cut.”