The WLGA has welcomed a report by the Welsh Affairs Committee that acknowledges that changes to the UK housing benefit system will have a greater impact in Wales, and that these impacts should continue to be monitored closely.
With over 250,000 people in Wales currently receiving some form of housing benefit support, Welsh councils have long argued that the UK Government’s reform of the housing benefit system will have a disproportionate impact in Wales, while also affecting some of Wales’ most vulnerable communities.
A key area for ongoing monitoring identified in the report is the UK Government’s policy on under-occupation, or the bed-room tax. Having come into force in April 2013, the reform affects approximately 40,000 tenants in Wales, which is a higher proportion of households than in any other region of the UK.
The bedroom tax reduces the benefits of any working age tenant who is classed as having a spare bedroom, with cuts of 14% for tenants with one spare bedroom, and 25% for those with two or more. On average, tenants of working age with a spare bedroom can expect to lose up to £600 per year.
Councillor David Phillips (Swansea), WLGA Spokesperson for Welfare Reform said:
“My own Council, like many in Wales, has been overwhelmed with people seeking help and advice on the Bedroom Tax, and local councils in Wales have voiced considerable concern over the changes being made to the UK housing benefit system.
“I have met many of my local residents to talk through the challenges that these reforms are creating for them, and what is plainly obvious in most cases is that the bedroom tax reform places some of our most vulnerable residents under severe financial pressure, while offering them no viable way to change or improve their situation. There are simply not enough smaller properties for people to move to.
“While the Welsh Government and local councils continue to work together to try to increase the level of social housing that can be made available, including the allocation of £20 million into a smaller properties building programme, there remains an acute shortage of 1 and 2 bedroom homes in Wales. Even with the significant efforts that are being made to improve this situation, it will take some time before any extra social housing capacity is added to the system in Wales.
“Local government in Wales has, from the start, been heavily focused on the welfare reform agenda, with councils across Wales working with their residents and partner organisations to identify those who may be impacted and how they can best be supported. A number of local councils are also involved in pilot project activities which will hopefully help shape the direction of some of these reforms in the future, and provide valuable information on how these reforms are affecting communities in Wales.
“The WLGA provided evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s Inquiry and we are pleased that many of the issues of concern we raised have been included in the report recommendations. We hope that the UK Government will consider and learn from the findings of this report as they review the impact of their policies and implement other aspects of welfare reform.”