WELFARE reform will continue to cause difficulties in terms of providing housing in England, a conference in York was told.

One hundred and thirty delegates from across the north of England are attending the two-day Northern Housing Summit at the racecourse, which started yesterday.

They are focusing on major issues facing housing in the north including economic growth, a shortage of affordable housing and the extent to which welfare reform and cutbacks will shape the sector.

Charlotte Harrison, executive director of the Northern Housing Consortium, said welfare reform was proving a “substantial challenge”.

It has seen the introduction of a local housing allowance and a strict cap on housing benefits available to single people under 35, and there will be a so-called ‘‘bedroom tax’’ for under-occupancy of social housing.

She said: “It’s about getting the right message to people, advising not scaremongering and having the right support options.

‘‘The main thing with housing benefit is there won’t be the properties for people to move into.

“The challenges are really substantial.”

Ms Harrison told the conference: “There are heartbreaking stories about a couple denied ESA having taken to shoplifting.

‘‘We have one occasion where a person was arrested for shoplifting but the police actually took them to a local foodbank because it was more helpful.”

Graeme Cook, of the Institute for Public Policy Research, suggested likely further cuts could include ending housing benefit to under- 25s saving £1.86 billion, freezing all working age benefits saving £4billion and restricting child benefits to three children – but as this would save a relatively meagre £300 million, it would only be a “symbolic move”, he said.

Other speakers yesterday included Jack Dromey MP, the shadow housing minster, Coun Jim Battle, chief executive of Manchester City Council and Theresa Grant, the chief executive of Trafford Council.

Today’s speakers include Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who will discuss helping tenants to improve their life chances and become financially independent, and Ken Lee, HR Director of BBC North, who will talk about the BBC move to Salford and the lessons learned in making such large-scale change happen.