A new report published by the Wales Audit Office demonstrates how the UK Government’s welfare reform programme is having a significant impact on both councils and social housing tenants in Wales.
With the UK Government aiming to reduce annual spending on housing benefit by around £1billion, a raft of recent welfare changes such as the bedroom tax and a benefit cap restricting the amount people can claim have been implemented, and the report clearly identifies how these reforms are affecting a much greater proportion of social housing tenants in Wales than in either England or Scotland.
Councillor Keith Reynolds (Caerphilly), WLGA Spokesperson for Antipoverty and Welfare Reform said:
“Local government in Wales has issued repeat warnings on the challenges and additional pressures for councils and social housing tenants being created by changes to the housing benefits system in the UK. This report offers the latest insight into the disproportionate impact that these changes will have in Wales, and also the significant social and economic impacts that the UK welfare reform programme will have on some of our most vulnerable households and communities.
“Councils are making best us of Discretionary Housing Payments to support those tenants most in need and have been working with Welsh Government to develop a more consistent approach to administering such payments. Wales has already experienced an unprecedented 250% rise in the number of people applying to their local council for financial support to help them meet their housing costs, with a number of Welsh councils already dipping into their dwindling resources or applying for further funding to help meet demand in their area. This comes at a time when councils are already experiencing significant reductions to their overall budgets due to the funding decisions being made by both the UK and Welsh Governments.
“The WLGA, on behalf of Welsh local authorities, has for some time also been working jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the development of a framework for vulnerable clients which aims to provide financial and digital support for those affected by current and pending welfare reform changes, and a number of partner organisations are also working with us to ensure the needs of residents are fully met as the reforms continue to impact. Councils are also involved in a range of initiatives with DWP and Landlords that will test a more flexible way of offering services in advance of Universal Credit full roll-out, and these should help mitigate some of the longer term impacts of the reforms.
“Councils continue to work collaboratively and in partnership with social landlords to tackle the well documented shortage of smaller homes, but providing smaller housing units in such a short space of time is obviously highly challenging. While the impact of these reforms should not be underestimated, local councils are doing everything they can to reduce the impact of the welfare reform programme on communities in Wales.”