Communities and Local Government CommitteeSupplementary written submission from Wakefield District Housing

Direct Payments Case Study 1—“Mrs C”

Mrs C moved into her two bedroom WDH property in the Demonstration Project area with her young son in 2011, following a mutual exchange involving another WDH property.

There were no major issues with rent arrears and there was no suggestion that there would be any problems with arrears, so she entered the project during the first phase in July 2012 and began to receive Housing Benefit payments directly.

Payments were reverted back to WDH within eight weeks, after Mrs C had built up arrears of more than £1,000. Mrs C had established a Direct Debit to pay her rent but this was cancelled after failing on three consecutive weeks.

Contact with Mrs C included seven text messages, four letters, two appointment letters resulting in one meeting, one positive telephone contact, 12 voicemail messages left, and 12 negatives visits to the property with contact cards left.

Her arrears now total almost £3,000 and WDH has served a Notice of Seeking Possession on her.

Our work with Mrs C has identified that she suffers from low-level mental health issues, and has deliberately avoided our contact. She has reported increased stress and anxiety as a result of the current situation.

WDH’s Health Inequality Case Workers are now working with Mrs C to resolve these issues; alongside the expense WDH is incurring to remove her from her home.

Impact

This case demonstrates that whether or not someone goes into the project or not, has to be based on an individual assessment. If it falls to housing providers to undertake this, it will mean increased costs and delays.

Direct Payments Case Study 2—“Mr M”

Mr M moved into his three bedroom home in 2008 with his teenage son and daughter and had only experienced infrequent arrears when his eligibility to join the Demonstration Project was assessed.

As a result, Mr M entered the first phase of the project. He set up a fortnightly Direct Debit to pay his rent and water charges, but this failed twice since the start of the project.

Mr M now owes more than £1,000 in arrears.

WDH contact Mr M 24 times since the start of the project. This includes one text message, two letters, seven positive telephone contacts, seven voicemail messages, four visits to his home, one failed email, and two positive contacts to reset his Direct Debit.

After initially looking to take court action to recover the property, it has been identified that Mr M suffers from mental health issues and WDH’s Health Inequality Caseworkers are now in touch with him to address this.

Impact

This case illustrates the costs involved to housing providers of chasing payment from people, who have previously been good tenants with no apparent reason for a landlord’s involvement. This shows the level of unknown low level mental health problems that are being uncovered as a result of the Direct Payments Demonstration Project.

Bedroom Tax Case Study 1—“Mr S” and his father

Mr S is a working age Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) tenant, living alone in a three bedroom property. He has lived in the property for over 30 years and succeeded the tenancy of his wife who died in 1997. Their daughter, now in her twenties, lives elsewhere.

Mr S is the main carer for his elderly father, a dementia sufferer who lives in a WDH independent living scheme and does not claim Housing or Council Tax Benefit.

Mr S’s total weekly income is £103.60; made up of a Carers Allowance including a Carer Premium and Income Support.

Under the Bedroom Tax, Mr S will have to pay an additional £20.46 each week towards his rent.

To lessen the impact of this, WDH has given him additional priority so he can express an interest in available smaller properties near his current home.

Due to Mr S’s circumstances, WDH’s Financial Inclusion Team has assisted Mr S and his father to complete a Housing Benefit application form to receive an additional £64.39 each week. Mr S’s father has stated he will use this extra benefit in the short term to reduce the impact of his son’s increased living costs, due to the Bedroom Tax.

Impact

This case demonstrates the work that WDH does in ensuring that people can live with an element of financial security. It also illustrates the interdependency of many of our tenants and that actions taken in one area, such as encouraging people into work, will have consequences in other areas such as the cost of providing care. In addition, it shows how the costs for one purpose are being diverted to be used for another.

Bedroom Tax Case Study 2—“Mrs J”

Mrs J is 59 and lives alone in the three bedroom Wakefield and District (WDH) Housing property, she raised her three children in, having lived in the same house for over 25 years. She suffers Reynaud’s Disease which means that she needs to be kept warm at all times so her condition is not aggravated.

Mrs J received Incapacity Benefit and Income Support of £101.35 each week plus Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and full Housing Benefit of £86.21 each week.

Mrs J’s daughter has learning difficulties and resided in supported living. The support plan encourages variety in her daughter’s life by staying with Mrs J regularly overnight, requiring a spare bedroom for this to occur.

From April 2013 under the Bedroom Tax rule, Mrs J will have to pay an additional £21.55 each week in rent as she is deemed to be under occupying two bedrooms; this will apply until January 2016, when Mrs J reaches pension age. At present she feels that she will have to cut back on fuel and heating costs, with subsequent impact on her health.

WDH has awarded her additional rehousing priority to enable her to move to a smaller two bedroom property. WDH’s Financial Inclusion Team has contacted her to establish whether she is entitled to other benefits which will help her heat her home.

Impact

This case illustrates the lack of flexibility within the new benefit rules. If Mrs J moves to a one bedroom property to minimise the financial effect, this will have a detrimental impact on the quality of life of her daughter. If she moves to a two bedroom property she will get caught by the Bedroom Tax for one under occupied bedroom.

March 2013

Prepared 28th March 2013