Sunday, 24 May 2015

Benefit reforms threaten Westminster families

The majority of families on housing benefit in Westminster will lose their homes under proposed welfare reforms, councillors have warned.

Changes to the local housing allowance for families in the private rented sector, announced in last week’s Budget, include limits of between £280 and £400 a week, depending on house size.

The changes are part of cuts aimed at reducing the soaring housing benefit bill by £1.8 billion a year by 2014/15, but opposition councillors in Westminster have calculated that 84 per cent of the 5,430 housing benefit claims in the borough would breach these limits.

Of the 59 families renting five-bedroom properties, only two would be making benefits claims under the new limits. For those in one-bedroom flats, 2,227 claims would be over the limits.

The councillors are warning that the cuts could force families to leave Westminster, and could even leave some people homeless.

Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group at Westminster, said: ‘These figures show that over 4,590 Westminster families face a real crisis as the government takes away part of their housing benefit. This could lead to homelessness on a massive scale, causing families on to the streets or pushing them further into poverty.

‘We are calling on the council to make urgent representations to their friends in the government to think again on this housing benefit cut which could lead to huge social damage to long-standing Westminster families on low incomes.

‘In addition to being bad news for thousands of poorer families, this housing benefit cut will be expensive for the council generally as the cost of housing more homeless families in temporary accommodation out of Westminster will be enormously expensive.’

Philippa Roe, Westminster council’s cabinet member for housing, said the council welcomed the government’s cap on housing benefit.

‘When this new lower rate is in place we believe that rents will automatically fall as landlords will not be able to charge such high sums,’ she said.

‘Moreover, the new changes will not take hold until April 2011 and we have time to plan and forecast what the housing needs of Westminster will be.

‘For our part, we are doing all we can to increase the supply of affordable housing. But large families do have to be realistic about living in the heart of the capital and may need to be housed outside of the borough.’

Impact of local housing allowance limits in Westminster

Number of BedroomsNew LimitTotal ClaimsClaims Over LimitClaims Under Limit

1 Bed

£250

2801

2227

574
2 Bed£29016791458221
3 Bed£34069065634
4 Bed£40020018416
5 Bed£40069672
Total 54394592 (84%)847

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