Affordability vs vulnerability – the social impact of policy reforms….

Rachel Roberts the ‘Your Money, Your Home’ Financial Inclusion Officer for Anglesey has contacted me, to tell me about a tenant she has recently worked with……

“I initially contacted the tenant as he is on the Council’s safeguarding list, which means the housing element of his benefits are paid direct to the landlord. At our first meeting in the J E O’Toole Centre in Holyhead, it was soon apparent that he had acute mental health problems; he told me that he suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), self-harming, cirrhosis of the liver and joint problems, which affected his mobility.

He lives in a mid-terrace house situated next door to his elderly parents, who he relies on for general support.  His housing benefit does not cover all of his rent so he has to pay the shortfall. His father deals with his finances, ensuring that his rent shortfall, along with other essential bills, gets paid before handing the tenant a weekly allowance.

After spending time talking to the tenant, I suspected that he was not getting all the benefits he may have been entitled to.  He told me that he’d applied for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with help from his dad, but it had been refused.  As the tenant had problems concentrating, and staying seated for a long period of time, I was unable to complete an income and expenditure form with him.  After speaking with his father, he confirmed that the tenant’s income was made up of his Housing Benefit and Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The rent shortfall being paid to the landlord was £60 every two weeks. I checked with the Housing Benefits department to see if this amount was correct, they confirmed that the rent shortfall was actually £35.38 every two weeks. The tenant’s father told me that he was told by the landlord that there was an outstanding amount for rent arrears, although he believed that this was paid off several years ago when the tenant was in prison.  With the father’s consent I contacted the landlord and asked him for a rent statement showing the outstanding arrears, explaining that the tenant was unsure what he owed.

I explained that I was working with the tenant to help him with his budgeting and that once we had proof of the arrears, we would look to set up a repayment plan.

A week had passed and I did not hear from the landlord, so I called him again; he told me that he didn’t have a rent statement.  Following this I referred the tenant to the local Citizens Advice Bureau, who wrote to the landlord confirming that they had advised the tenant to only pay the actual shortfall –   this saved the tenant £12.31 a week.

I arranged for the tenant and his father to meet with an advisor at the J E O’Toole Centre, who would assist them in appealing the declined PIP application,  and check to see if they were receiving the correct benefits such as Carers Allowance. I also applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment, to help in the short term with the rent shortfall. Concerned not only about the tenant, but for his ageing parents, I contacted the Council’s Supporting People team and additional support has been put in place.

This story raises a dilemma. The tenant lives in a two bedroom property, next to his parents who are his main support/carers.  But the property is, in Housing Benefit terms, ‘unaffordable’ because the tenant is only entitled to benefits for a one bedroom property. As the tenant has no intention of moving to cheaper accommodation, it is uncertain if he will be awarded DHP.

But moving the tenant to ‘affordable’ accommodation, away from his parents, could have a detrimental impact on his health. This could also impact on his parent’s health if they had to travel daily to see him. Also, all of this would require more intense publicly funded support to be put in place.”

Unfortunately, this predicament isn’t uncommon, as many of the tenants we work with have complex situations. But what it does highlight is the need to treat people as individuals, and to take their wider circumstances into consideration. Don’t just look at the immediate and short term outcomes, as often these can be more costly in the long term.  Your Money, Your Home, funded by Comic Relief, is working across Anglesey, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Newport. If you think you know somebody who could benefit from our support, please get in touch with us by emailing Claire.smith@wales.coop.

 

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