Social landlords must adapt to benefit reforms if they are to continue to deliver effective services
When chancellor George Osborne delivered his emergency Budget on 22 June 2010, he said measures to reform the housing benefit system would save taxpayers £4 billion by 2015. The legislation which will make this aim a reality became law yesterday and, despite the best efforts of many (including this magazine) to present alternative ways of more fairly cutting the soaring £21 billion housing benefit bill, the Welfare Reform Act’s original proposals remain broadly unaltered.
As prime minister David Cameron claimed in an open letter last Thursday, the cap on housing benefit at a maximum of £400 a week, the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ on spare rooms in social homes, cutting local housing allowance for private tenants and more, will indeed save over £2 billion a year by April 2015.
But these savings come with a cost - in many cases a huge personal cost. Throughout the course of our What’s the Benefit? campaign we have highlighted examples of families and individuals whose lives will be turned upside down by the new rules.
In his letter, Mr Cameron claimed the government had built a ‘modern welfare system that protects the vulnerable’. It does not. For 32-year-old James, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and who we spoke to in July 2011, the cut in his weekly housing benefit from £103 to £60 is ‘beyond untenable’.
Riverside Housing Group is just one landlord to have calculated the impact of the plan to charge those aged under 62 an average £13 a week extra if they have a spare bedroom. It estimates it will take six years to downsize tenants to its available one-bedroom properties, while residents faced ‘crippling cuts to their income’.
As we report this week, however, social landlords are being phlegmatic in their response. If nothing else, the experience of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 has taught housing professionals that, if they are to continue to deliver effective services, they have to find new ways of marshalling their arguments. They need new allies in health, policing and education, but housing associations and ALMOs in particular need to think about a relationship much closer to home: that with local authorities. If they are successful that really could be a huge benefit.