THE number of York tenants seeking emergency help with their rent has more than trebled since controversial welfare reforms were introduced, new findings have revealed.
The city has also seen final demands for council tax almost double and a 56 per cent increase in summonses issued following the changes, including the introduction last April of the spare-room subsidy or so-called “bedroom tax”.
A report to be discussed by the Local Government North Yorkshire and York committee tomorrow on the impact of the reforms said most councils in the region have had more applications to their “discretionary housing payments” schemes this year, compared with 2012/13.
The system provides help for those who receive housing benefit but are struggling to pay their rent.
It said 268 applications were made to City of York Council between January 2012 and 2013, but this rose to 830 in the 12 months up to January 31 this year.
The authority expects to have a “modest underspend” of £10,000 in its 2013/14 budget for this area, but the report by Neil Irving, North Yorkshire County Council’s assistant director for policy and partnerships, said Hambleton District Council had almost spent its £85,775 budget, while Selby District Council has 15 per cent of its funds – £13,739 – left.
Although York’s overall council tax collection rate this year is broadly the same as 2012/13 and it expects to “break even”, the number of reminders issued between the start of last April and the end of January increased by 1,949 or 15 per cent.
Final notices increased by 687 – 91 per cent – and 4,016 more summonses have been sent out. Coun Dafydd Williams, the York council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “Changes which have resulted in many people on low incomes having to pay a proportion of council tax have led to an inevitable increase in reminders and summonses, which the council has a duty to issue, and these residents having to pay is the result of huge decreases in Government funding and specifically a reduction in council tax support funding.”
He said the authority had provided help through the York Financial Assistance Scheme, which will receive more funding to in 2014/15, and “tailor-made arrangements” for tenants to clear arrears.
Last week, an independent review of the benefit system in York claimed Government sanctions meant vulnerable claimants were suffering and were “debilitating” rather than “incentivising” employment.