Tagged: Council Tax Benefit

Delusional David Cameron Insists Tories ‘Protected The Poorest’

Delusional David Cameron has insisted the Tory-led coalition government “protected the poorest” in society, in an interview with the Independent newspaper.

“I haven’t changed. I am a compassionate Conservative”, he told the journalist, whilst travelling from Belfast to Cardiff during a four-nations tour to promote his support for the union.

“We had to make difficult decisions”, he says. “I would argue that this has been done in a compassionate way. We protected the poorest, the pensioners, the NHS. We had a balanced plan.”

When pushed to explain why a “compassionate Conservative” would push for a further £12bn in welfare cuts after May’s general election, he replied: “There is nothing compassionate about leaving people to live on welfare when they could have the dignity and security of work”.

He claims that the coalitions welfare reforms have led to 900,000 fewer people claiming working-age benefits.

> I wonder how that figure would look once you’d deducted those sanctioned…and those who have died.

“That is a deeply compassionate thing. That is very much the impetus of our welfare reform”, he said.

“It is not just about saving money. It is about trying to save lives and change people’s lives. Can we save about half of what we saved in the last parliament through a process of reform? Yes, we can.”

David Cameron’s comments will undoubtedly infuriate thousands of families who have been forced to turn to food banks, in the wake of some of the most callous and vicious cuts to welfare and social security in living memory.

More than 900,000 jobseekers were subjected to benefit sanctions in one year alone (April 2013 to March 2014), often for unfair or spurious reasons. This has resulted in a call from the Work and Pensions Committee for an independent review into the punitive system.

> Sometime in the next few years. Maybe.

Disabled people have been targeted with cuts to vital disability benefits and other forms of support, such as the abolition of the Independent Living Fund.

Low-income working families have seen their employment rights reduced and tax credits cut.

The hated bedroom tax has pushed some of the poorest and most vulnerable people into poverty and others out of their family home.

Abolition of Council Tax Benefit has resulted in a more than *25% increase in the number of households summoned to court over unpaid Council Tax bills.

*Read more: Half a million more people summoned to court over unpaid council tax, after benefits scrapped.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on how David Cameron’s government inflicted pain and misery on Britain’s poorest.

If this is what David Cameron calls being a “compassionate Conservative”, I hope we never get to see the real Tories. Some may argue we already have.

You can read David Cameron’s interview with the Independent here.

Source – Welfare Weekly, 07 Apr 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/delusional-david-cameron-insists-tories-protected-the-poorest/

Huge Surge In Poorest Families Summoned To Court Over Unpaid Council Tax

There has been a huge surge in the number of low-income families summoned to court over unpaid council tax, new research shows.

New research published by False Economy shows an increase of more than 500,000 court summons in England, as the poorest households are hit by a £490 million cut in council tax support.

And the problem is set to get even worse, as one in seven local authorities plan further cuts in the support available to families struggling to pay council tax bills.

The TUC believes this will result in the poorest families facing even higher council tax demands and lead to a rise in the number summoned to court.

Figures show that more than 3 million people in England were taken to court by local authorities in 2013/14 over unpaid council tax. This represents a 25% rise on the previous year.

Council Tax Benefit was scrapped by the government and replaced by the Council Tax Support Scheme (CTS) in 2013/14. The change meant that councils in England were allowed to develop their own support schemes, but were also forced to accept a 10% in funding from central government for those schemes.

Only a small number of councils chose to keep full council tax support for low-income families. Vulnerable pensioners were unaffected by the changes and are still entitled to have their council tax bills fully paid.

According to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), around 2.5 million low-income families were affected by a reduction in council tax support in the first year of the scheme.

Where councils introduced minimum council tax payments for the poorest households, court summons increased by 30%. Only 9% of local authorities continue to offer full council tax relief.

The research by False Economy also found that households who qualified for CTS, and who were subject to minimum council tax payment requirements, accounted for 58% of the rise in court summonses.

According to the research, people who are struggling to pay council tax bills are routinely being affected by deductions in benefits and targeted by bailiffs.

A False Economy spokesperson said:

“Council tax support cuts have caused chaos for families and households, and also for councils.

“They are leaving people out of pocket and in debt, which is also bad for local businesses that depend on them as customers.

“Councils are now pursuing people through the courts for money they do not have. It is a shambles made by a cabinet of millionaires in a government that has been completely out of touch with reality.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Slashing council tax support has been one of the government’s cruellest cuts.

“It was foolish for ministers to think that families who can’t afford to heat their homes can pay new tax bills for hundreds of pounds.

“And it is heartless for them to stand by as the poorest families are hauled through the courts and harassed by bailiffs.

“If anyone is to be hit with higher taxes it should be the fat cats in the boardrooms and those corporations that are dodging paying their fair share, not the poorest working-age households in the UK.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Apr 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/huge-surge-in-poorest-families-summoned-to-court-over-unpaid-council-tax/

Council Tax Debt Problems Soar 20% In A Year

Council tax debt has overtaken credit cards as the most common form of debt requiring advice and support, says a leading charity.

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) says it expects to help more than 191,000 people struggling to pay Council Tax in 2014/15 – up 20% on the previous year.

And according to a report from the CAB, rising rents could result in up to 122,800 people requiring help with rental debts by the end of March 2015.

The Government abolished Council Tax Benefit at the end of March 2013, meaning that some of the poorest people are having to pay for the very first time.

The move has resulted in a postcode lottery, with benefit claimants and low-income households paying more in some areas than others, depending upon each local authority’s Council Tax Reduction scheme.

A growing proportion of people are approaching the CAB for help and advice on paying rent, council tax, water and fuel debts. Meanwhile, financial issues related to credit cards, mortgages and unsecured personal loans have declined.

While more households are struggling with Council Tax and housing costs, debts resulting from credit cards are expected to fall by 12% in 2014/15 – exposing the ‘changing face of household debt’.

The mainstream credit problems of the post-2008 period have turned into problems with priority debts, says the CAB.

Despite a recent fall in fuel and petrol prices, the CAB also highlights how households have had to endure a 210% rise in energy costs over the last 10 years.

The CAB highlights how the Office for Budget Responsibility expects household debt to soar to a record high of £2.43 trillion by 2019.

There has also been a significant rise in the amount of debt held by self-employed people – up 41% to £20,000. They now represent the highest percentage of people helped by the CAB at 29%.

Citizens Advice is carrying out a separate study about the challenges that self-employed people face.

Behind the self-employed come unemployed people, who have an average debt of £17,500. Pensioners come in a close third, with an average total debt of £17,200.

13% of CAB clients had ten debts or more.

Source – Welfare Weekly,  16 Feb 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/council-tax-debt-problems-soar-20-year/

Benefit cheats cost Hartlepool £400,000

Benefit fraudsters cost Hartlepool taxpayers more than £400,000 last year.

That is how much people illegally claimed from the council and the Department of Work and Pensions.

In 2013-14 the council’s Benefits Investigations Team investigated 511 cases of benefit fraud which resulted in overpayments of £418,000.

Eight people were taken to court, seven were fined and 28 offenders were cautioned.

> So lets see… 511 investgations, 8 taken to court.  Mathematics was never my strong point, but isn’t that something like only 1.6% of the investigations were actually taken to court ?

Another way to put it would be 503 people out of 511 – 98.4% – investigated were NOT taken to court.

Even if you subtract those 28 who were cautioned (what for ? Nothing they could be taken to court for, evidently)  that’s still 475 out of 511 who appear to be innocent.

It covered money that claimants were not entitled to for help with housing and council tax.

The fraudulent claims resulted from a mix of sources such as tip-offs from the public, and irregularities noticed by benefit assessment staff and in computer systems.

> 475 out of 511 innocent. How many of those tip-offs from the public were malicious ? How many of those irregularities noticed by benefit assessment staff and in computer systems were actually errors by the staff ?

But council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said the figure represents a tiny fraction of the millions paid out in benefits by the council and the authority does everything it can to reclaim the cash.

John Morton, the council’s assistant chief finance officer, added:

“The council is committed to supporting vulnerable households across welfare benefits they are entitled to receive.

“Equally, the council is committed to preventing fraudulent claims and protecting public resources.”

Coun Akers-Belcher added:

“In the grand scheme of things the council pays out around £50million in housing and council tax benefit over the year.

“As an authority we collect over 99 per cent of council tax. The overpayments are not written off.

“If an absconder leaves the system and they reappear the money they owe is written back in.

“It is never completely written off.”

From July 1, the Department Work and Pensions (DWP) will investigate housing and council tax benefit fraud through the new Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS).

The DWP has approached the council about identifying benefit investigation staff to transfer to the new national service.

But the council has refused to transfer its two investigation officers because the SFIS will not probe abuses of the Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

The scheme sees the council pays out £11.7million a year to 14,500 people to limit cuts to their council tax benefits.

Mr Morton said:

“It would create a risk of criticism to the reputation of the council and potentially lead to an increase in attempted fraud activity against the council tax support scheme.”

Coun Akers-Belcher added:

“It is really important to keep a counter fraud presence in our own establishment rather than rely on the DWP to deliver services.

“We would also be reneging on our responsibilities under the Local Government Act.”

In another DWP scheme, the council will be financially rewarded for helping to reduce housing benefit fraud as part of the Fraud and Error Reduction Incentive Scheme.

> I’m suprised they’re not offering cash incentives for tip offs from the public as well… grass up your neighbour and win money.

Several years ago I was investigated because apparently someone tipped the dole off that I was working while claiming. And to be fair I was – I was working on a New Deal scheme ! Collapse of case.

I never did find out who the malicious informer was, though.

It will be up to the council, which will receive £14,000 start-up funding, how it goes about uncovering fraud and errors by claimants.

But Fens and Rossmere Labour Councillor Alan Clark said there was a misconception among the public how much benefit fraudsters cost the country compared to big business tax evaders.

> A misconception carefully fostered by the DWP, politicians and sections of the media.

“I read that there are 400 tax inspectors going after tax evaders and 14,000 going after people committing benefit fraud,” he said.

“I think that is the wrong way around.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 02 Feb 2015

Poor Face Higher Council Tax Bills, Warns LGA

Low-income working families and people in receipt of social security benefits may have to pay higher council tax bills, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).

A shortfall in Government funding for Council Tax support has left local authorities having to divert money away from local services. This means that some councils may be forced to ask those earning the least to pay more Council Tax, says the LGA.

The Tory-led coalition Government abolished Council Tax Benefit in 2013 as part of widespread changes to the welfare system, resulting in a large number of low-income families having to pay Council Tax for the very first time.

Council Tax support helps the poorest households with a discount on their bill, but the LGA says “uncertainties” over funding from central Government leaves councils “little choice but to reduce the discount”.

Councils would need to find an additional £1 billion to keep Council Tax discounts at the same level they were before Council Tax Benefit was axed, says the LGA.

At a time when local authorities are being asked to find £2.6 billion in savings due to an 8.8% cut in overall funding, councils are now asking the least well-off in society – who would have previously been exempt – to come up with ‘minimum’ Council Tax payments.

The LGA report ‘lays bare’ the impact of axing Council Tax Benefit and a lack of funding support on some of the poorest in society.

Some of the key findings of the report are:

  • A total of 45 councils out of 326 continue to provide the same level of discount available under the old council tax benefit regime – 13 fewer than in 2013/14.
  • In 244 council areas, all householders have to pay at least some council tax regardless of income – 15 more than in 2013/14.
  • For 2015/16, one in seven councils (14 per cent) said they definitely plan to change their discount scheme. 83 per cent said they would not change their existing discount scheme, despite funding reductions.
  • Beyond 2015/16, only 27 per cent of councils said they would maintain their current scheme. Most were unable to say. This is likely to be due to uncertainties over future funding for local government.
  • Last year’s decline in council tax collection rates – only the second since 1993 – was bigger in areas where newly introduced minimum payments were higher.

Councils are left with a choice on whether to charge the working age poor Council Tax, or find additional savings from local services on top of the 40% already demanded by the Government.

The LGA said that while some councils have been able to cover some of the shortfall in Council Tax support by scraping automatic Council Tax discounts on second homes, it isn’t enough to completely fill the funding gap.

Other councils have introduced ‘hardship funds’ to give the worst affected households longer to catch up with missed payments.

The LGA is urging whoever is in power after the next general election to fund Council Tax support to the same level as under Council Tax Benefit.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the LGA, said:

Government reduced funding for council tax support by hundreds of millions of pounds when it handed the responsibility for administering it to councils.

“As a result, councils would need to find £1 billion by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes. At a time when local government is already tackling £20 billion worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far.

“Many councils have been put in an impossible position. This cut has taken millions of pounds out of funding for local services and increased the cost of living for some of society’s poorest.

“No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But faced with significant cuts to the money we receive to look after the elderly, protect children, repair the roads and collect the bins, many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.

“Councils know how tough things are, and are doing their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or changing the way we collect unpaid tax. But these measures can only go so far in alleviating the burden.

“To address this unfairness, government must give local areas the full amount of funding required to provide council tax support to those who need it. Otherwise, it is almost inevitable that further cuts to local government funding in the coming years will further force up bills for those who can least afford to pay.”

> Which is, of course, part of The Plan – make the poorest pay the most and at the same time they’ll get less because councils will continue to close libraries, etc.

And no doubt councils will still find the money to take non-payers to court, as they did with the Poll Tax (I know – I was one of them).

Source – Welfare Weekly, 06 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/poor-face-higher-council-tax-bills-warns-lga/

Council Tax benefit will not be cut in Hartlepool despite financial pressures

Councillors  have recommended not to increase the cut in levels of Council Tax Benefit from next year to help hard-pressed families in Hartlepool.

At the end of March 2013, the Government abolished its national Council Tax Benefits scheme and ordered councils to set up their own known as Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme.

At the same time, the Government cut the funding to administer the scheme, which equated to 13.4 per cent for Hartlepool, and further funding cuts are being made in 2015/16.

Councils were also required to fully protect low-income pensioners, which potentially pushed up the funding cut for working age households to around 20 per cent.

Although many councils immediately introduced the 20 per cent cut in April 2013, Hartlepool Council limited the cut to 8.5 per cent in 2013/14 and 12 per cent in 2014/15 to help families facing financial pressures.

Councillors are expected to maintain the cut at 12 per cent following a recent meeting of the council’s Finance & Policy Committee.

Committee chairman Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, said:

“Ever since the LCTS scheme was introduced, we have tried very hard to cushion the blow on local people by using money set aside for this purpose, including our Family Poverty Fund.

“Councillors talk to people every day and fully understand how families are being severely hit by the Government’s various welfare reform changes and as councillors we have a responsibility to ease that burden if we can.”

Neighbouring councils increased the cut by 20 per cent from April 2013.

This means that based on the LCTS scheme cuts since April 2013 and proposed schemes for 2015/16, the 5,425 Hartlepool families living in Band A properties will receive £310 more support than families in neighbouring towns.

The final decision on Hartlepool’s LCTS scheme will be agreed by the Full Council in December.

Councillors have also recently recommended that Council Tax is frozen for a fifth successive year in Hartlepool, despite the Government cutting the Council’s grant support by £8.2m in 2015/16.

 Source –  Hartlepool Mail, 28 Nov 2014

South Tyneside Council accused of ‘discrimation’ against unemployed over council tax charges

South Tyneside Council has been accused of ‘discriminating’ against the unemployed over its council tax charges.

The authority is one of the few councils in England to demand those receiving job seekers’ allowance (JSA) still pay 30% of their annual council tax bill.

All other North East councils request lower contributions, including Northumberland County Council which charges nothing to single unemployed people in receipt of JSA.

South Tyneside says it has been one of the hardest hit authorities nationally by reductions in Government funding, and although it has frozen council tax since 2010 it has been unable to keep bills low for all groups.

But Peter Watt lives in a one bedroom flat in Priory Road, Jarrow, and has been out of work for almost four months.

The 38-year-old’s annual band A bill of £967.53 is reduced by a 25% reduction for living alone and again by 70% for being unemployed, but still stands at £217.69, which he says is too high.

He said: “South Tyneside Council is about the only council I am aware of in the country that charges 30% to the unemployed – a group that cannot afford it. Neighbouring councils don’t do it so how can this one?

“They tell me they are trying to protect three groups of people – the disabled, OAPs and households with children under the age of five – and I have nothing against that but it does seem like they are discriminating against people without jobs.

“My JSA is £71.60 per week and it is there to help people seek jobs – not to bail out South Tyneside Council. I did have a job briefly but it was on a zero hours contract so I wasn’t entitled to working tax credit.

“I was being paid £200 a week and the council took £130 for the council tax and a furniture package I got with the house. I was left with £70 for bus fare, food and all my bills so I had to quit to survive.”

Mr Watt continues to search for security jobs, and has even applied to South Tyneside Council for a position.

He added: “I plan to appeal against the fees at a valuation tribunal.“I am so short on cash that when I am cold I use my sleeping bag rather than the heating, I do my cooking in the microwave or deep fat fryer because it uses less power, I don’t wash up with hot water until all my dishes are dirty, and I haven’t turned my electric fire on for two years.”

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Council tax contributes to the funding the Council needs to provide vital public services.

“In 2013, South Tyneside Council introduced a Local Council Tax Support scheme to replace the Council Tax Benefit scheme which was abolished as part of the Government’s Welfare Reforms.

“The changes resulted in the Council losing more than £1.7m in Government support, a shortfall the Council had to meet while still protecting the Borough’s most vulnerable residents.

“Band A residents who are not in the protected groups, but are unemployed and live alone, currently receive up to a maximum 70% discount on their Council Tax and are required to pay £4.18 per week.

“We are, of course, concerned when residents find it difficult to pay and would urge anyone in this situation to contact us as soon as possible so that we can explore flexible repayment arrangements that take their circumstances into consideration.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  06 Oct 2014

Teesside councils owed more than £27m in unpaid tax

Middlesbrough Council has the highest arrears amount – £13m – but Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland councils also saw a rise in the amount they are owed.

All three authorities say the rise in tax arrears is down to Government changes to council tax benefit in 2013 – which led to people receiving higher bills, and some paying for the first time.

Middlesbrough’s Deputy Mayor and executive member for finance and governance, Councillor Dave Budd, said: “The remaining balance will continue to be actively pursued on an ongoing basis.

“Our approach does recognise the impact on vulnerable individuals and those in real hardship.

“It should be noted that nationally, with only a few exceptions, the map of where arrears are highest mirrors the map of high deprivation, greatest cuts to councils and the hardest impact of welfare reform.”

The rising arrears emerged from figures announced from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This month, The Gazette revealed that almost £9m in council tax went unclaimed in Teesside in 2012/13 – with Middlesbrough having one of the worst collection rates in the country at 93.4%.

The total arrears amount also takes into account unpaid taxes from previous years.

Households in Middlesbrough owe £214 each on average, one of the highest per dwelling amounts in England.

Cllr Budd said that benefit changes “must be taken into account” as Middlesbrough received a £2.6m reduction in Government funding last year, which saw 13,800 residents having to pay more tax – with 10,000 paying for the first time.

Council tax arrears are £5,092,000 in Stockton – a 25% increase on 2012/13 – with households owing £61 each on average across the borough.

Stockton Council’s cabinet member for corporate management and finance, Councillor David Harrington, said: “We collected more than 98% of all Council Tax in 2012/13 and in 2013/14 we collected 96.9%, which is still well above similar authorities.

“It is important to note that the sums quoted do not represent arrears accrued in a single year but those accrued over a number of years and that we continue to work hard to collect outstanding Council Tax amounts after the years in which they first fell due. These figures should also be viewed in the context of the current financial climate and the major changes the Government has made to the welfare system.”

The arrears figure in Redcar and Cleveland is just over £9m – an average of £144 per household.

Norman Pickthall, Redcar and Cleveland Council’s cabinet member for corporate resources, said that the council expected difficulties in collecting tax from those who are struggling, but still collected nearly 96% of council tax last year.

He continued: “Changes to the benefits system mean some people are paying council tax for the first time while others are struggling with dwindling household budgets.

“The council has a statutory duty to collect all debts and will take legal or recovery action as a last resort.

“However, the council will always try to help whenever possible and would urge anyone who is having problems paying their council tax to get in touch.”

Source – middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 July 2014

North East – Welfare Reform Puts Single People At Risk Of Homelessness

This article  was written by Adele Irving and Sheila Spencer, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th June 2014

 Last year’s big welfare reforms – the introduction of the bedroom tax, changes to council tax benefit and the localisation of the social fund – are causing severe hardship and putting single people at risk of becoming homeless. Housing professionals tackling homelessness among single people have told researchers at Northumbria University they are preparing themselves for a rise in the number of people losing their homes.

 Because there is no requirement to measure single homelessness in England, it is extremely hard to find direct evidence of the impact of reform. But welfare reform is leading to a rise in the number of risk factors for homelessness, and our study found these risks were escalating fast in the north east of England.

 There is a shortage of one bedroom flats in many parts of the region, with sharp competition between individuals trying to move on from supported housing, and those faced with having to downsize to avoid the bedroom tax or risk falling into arrears.

 We are also seeing a slide into food poverty. Single people without disabilities tend to have much smaller incomes at their disposal. Many are now economising on food in order to pay basic household bills. Use of food banks is growing and some local authorities and housing providers say they are becoming part of a standard response to poverty, rather than a last resort.

Tough benefit sanctions are disproportionately hitting vulnerable young and homeless people. Rent arrears have increased in the region, though some housing providers say they have now begun to stabilise. When sanctioned, claimants often do not understand the complex rules that can protect housing benefit payments and are being plunged into further debt unnecessarily. Increases in money lending are also reported.

 There is already additional pressure on advice services. The Citizens Advice Bureau says the number of people asking for help because of council rent arrears is up by more than a third and the number looking for advice about discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – used by government to offset the impact of the bedroom tax – has doubled.

Benefits is now the biggest category for services, and many advice providers are struggling to cope with demand. But, as one agency noted to researchers: “No amount of advice is going to replace the entitlement that has been lost”

 Crime levels are increasing. Two north east police forces report an increase in burglaries and shop thefts, and some homeless people are turning to crime instead of applying for hardship payments when sanctioned.

Other emerging effects of welfare reform are deteriorating physical and mental health, worsening relationships with families and increasing numbers of people who are found to have complex needs.

 Local authorities and housing providers are putting significant resources into helping affected households, particularly those struggling to pay the bedroom tax.

An Ipsos MORI survey of predicted housing association spend reported an average of £109,000 per household affected by March 2014. The irony is that this expenditure may not have been necessary. One local authority, which in July 2013 had just 54 customers affected by overcrowding (1% of the total on the housing register), commented: “We’ve spent over £4m fixing a problem that never existed.”

 There is also growing evidence that the welfare reforms have failed to encourage people into work. A series of reports show that homeless people and young people in the north east want to work, but face significant barriers. Increased conditionality appears to actually be discouraging engagement with government support and removing people from benefit claims altogether, rather than improving their chances of securing employment.

 Agencies across the north east have called for action to understand the cost-effectiveness of welfare reform, campaigned against the proposed loss of housing benefit for under-25s and challenged DWP to work more closely with agencies supporting vulnerable homeless people. Wouldn’t government funding be better spent supporting vulnerable people into work and investing in social housing?

Adele Irving is a research fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Northumbria University. Sheila Spencer is a housing consultant

Source –  Welfare News Service,  11 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/welfare-reform-puts-single-people-risk-homelessness/

Bedroom tax hitting North East the hardest

Benefit claimants in the North-East and North Yorkshire have been hit harder by Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ than any other region, a new study has revealed.

The report, by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute (NPI), warns that wide-ranging cuts are changing the shape of welfare support at a time when rising prices are making it harder for families to make ends meet.

The study, Multiple Cuts For The Poorest Families, found 28,000 of the poorest households in the region are being hit by the bedroom tax and are £12.80 per week worse off, with around 3,000 at least £20 a week out of pocket.

As a result, job seekers, carers, single parents or those with a disability or illness who are unable to work are being pushed deeper into poverty, it said.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones (Labour) said the record use of food banks was a clear indication that not only the unemployed, but also those in low pay, are being forced to rely on charity to survive.

He said: “In the year 2014 it is a national scandal. It is a situation where they are forcing people to move who have lived in the same homes for many years. The Government is treating people’s home as commodities rather than homes.”

But cuts to council tax benefit are more widespread in the region, where 103,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut in their cash payments.

These households now have to pay around £2.40 per week in council tax, a charge they were previously deemed too poor to pay.

The worst off are those 40,000 households who have seen both cuts in their housing benefit and their council tax benefit.

North-West Durham MP Pat Glass (Labour) said: “People who have never been in debt before are now in debt.

 “What worries me more is that people who are on the margins do not seem to be able to hold on any more are falling into all sorts of problems.”

Renters in the private sector have also seen their housing benefit slashed too, through cuts to the Local Housing Allowance.

The research estimates that this has affected 29,000 of the poorest households in the area, costing them around £7.80 per week.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam chief executive, said: “This is the latest evidence of a perfect storm blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty.”

In London, where the population is two-and-a-half to three times greater than the North-East, around 34,000 of the poorest households are being hit by the bedroom tax.

On average they are £20 per week worse off, the highest cut of any region, and around 7,000 are being hit by at least £25 per week.

But cuts to council tax benefit are much more widespread in the capital where 240,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut.

Geraldine Kay, chief executive of Derwentside Homes, the social landlord  which manages former council housing stock in the north-west of County Durham, said: “The North-East has been disproportionately adversely affected by welfare reforms compared to all other regions with the exception of London for a different reason.

“In London the issue is the extortionate cost of housing, to buy or to rent, exceeding the benefit cap.

“In the North-East it is the ‘bedroom tax’ that is causing particular hardship as our housing stock is dominated by two and three bedroom family homes with very few flats and apartments.

“There are simply not the smaller properties for people to downsize into and tenants are caught in the ‘bedroom tax’ poverty trap.”

Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton said hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting list for homes while hundreds of thousands more have properties bigger than they needs, which are paid for by the taxpayer.

He said: “The housing system this government inherited was in need of major reform and by paying for what people need, rather than over the odds, the taxpayer can get people into the right sized homes and free up properties for those in desperate need.”

> Except… that doesn’t work. Surely he’s grasped the fact by now ?

 

Source – Northern Echo   22 April 2014