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Rent arrears on the increase in York
RENT arrears in York rose by almost a fifth in the five months after a raft of welfare reforms, including the controversial so-called “bedroom tax” were introduced.
A rundown of how Government changes to welfare have affected North Yorkshire has also shown homelessness prevention services run by district councils have seen a 37 per cent year-on-year increase in people needing help after the new rules were brought in, with Selby and Ryedale the worst-affected areas.
The findings, which have been discussed by the Local Government North Yorkshire and York (LGNYY) group, said City of York Council had dealt with 378 applications for “discretionary housing payments” – which provide extra support to struggling residents – between the start of April, when the reforms took effect, and the end of August.
It said 157 of these were bedroom tax-related, and while the number of York residents affected by the charge had reduced, this was mainly due to tenants moving to smaller homes through a “mutual exchange” scheme and the reduction rate had now slowed.
Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, the York council’s cabinet member for housing, said there were 146 direct property-swaps between tenants from April to August, 62 more than the same period in 2012.
She said: “In the first five months of welfare reforms coming into play, there was a 70 per cent increase in numbers exchanging, and about a third of exchanges this year were for downsizing purposes. We believe arrears on council homes in the city have increased by £55,000 as a result of the spare room subsidy reform.”
The LGNYY report said rent arrears for the York authority’s tenants at the end of August were 18 per cent higher than at the same point last year and rising arrears were “a key issue” for housing associations throughout the region, although cost of living was also a factor in this. It said: “The level of rent arrears is expected to increase again during the winter months.”
Between April and June, homelessness prevention teams in North Yorkshire tackled 852 cases, compared with 622 during the same period in 2012/13. Selby’s figure rose 76 per cent, from 37 to 65, while Ryedale saw a 55 per cent increase, from 44 to 68.
The report also said there had been a “noticeable” increase in council tax reminders issued by North Yorkshire councils, and some authorities had also seen the number of council tax summonses rise.
The “bedroom tax”, introduced in April this year, is a change to housing benefit rules which means people cannot claim housing benefit to pay all of their rent if the home has spare bedrooms. It affects council or social housing tenants who are considered to be “under occupying” their homes under the government’s size criteria.
For those considered to have one spare room the amount of the “eligible rent” which could be covered by housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent. For those deemed with two or more spare rooms, the cut will be 25 per cent, leaving the tenants to pay the balance of the rent themselves or move into a smaller home.
City of York Councils’ housing money and employment advisors can be phoned on 01904 554504.
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