Claims for housing payments reveal impact of cuts in Sheffield

Steve Wilcox, debt advisor at Sheffield's Citizen Advice Bureau
Steve Wilcox, debt advisor at Sheffield's Citizen Advice Bureau
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Thousands of people across Sheffield have pleaded for help to pay rent since the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ and other benefit cuts.

Sheffield Council has received 3,276 applications for Discretionary Housing Payment and the Council Tax Hardship Scheme since the Government’s introduction of the spare room subsidy in April.

Coun Bryan Lodge,'cabinet member for finance, Sheffield Council

Coun Bryan Lodge,'cabinet member for finance, Sheffield Council

During the previous financial year, the council had just 1,110 claims for the housing payment, funded by central government and designed to provide short-term relief to residents struggling to pay rent or facing eviction from their homes, over a 12-month period.

It has also been forced to set up the Council Tax Hardship Scheme to deal with the surplus of people affected by a cut in support.

In the past three months, £410,222 from both funds has been paid out to 1,800 claimants who have suffered benefit cuts, many who lost out following the introduction of the spare room subsidy.

Steve Wilcox, debt advice consultant at Sheffield’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau, said: “So many people have had money cut that we’re seeing an incredible number who basically don’t have enough money to live.

“The council is having to bridge the gap while people look for smaller homes, but that’s a temporary solution.”

The council assesses each application for Discretionary Housing Payment using a ‘hardship criteria’.

And with Sheffield’s budget for next year’s allocation still unknown, campaigners fear for the future.

Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “Our grant has increased substantially this year to take account of the impact of welfare reform and the anticipated increase in demand for assistance.

“But the total grant is still insufficient to match the total housing benefit cut as a result of welfare reform.

“We have also seen a £4.5-million cut in council tax support from central government this year and, unlike last year, central government will now not allow Discretionary Housing Payments to help with council tax.

“We have established our own hardship scheme to help those in severe difficulties.

“Payments are not intended to be relied on in the longer term and some claimants may receive a lower level of help in future, or none at all.”

n A disabled Worksop man is among a group whose legal challenge over the ‘tax’ failed.

Richard Rourke fears eviction over rent arrears after his housing benefit was cut by 25 per cent on the basis he has two spare bedrooms.

He was among a group of disabled people who mounted
a legal challenge saying the tax
 discriminates against them.

The wheelchair user, aged 46, said one room was used by his student stepdaughter, who stays there during university vacations, and the other to store his equipment.