I AM a firm believer in, if it works, leave it alone, but I suppose change is inevitable.
Change scares everyone and none more so than the Universal Credit and rent reforms coming in. Those on benefits will now get a lump sum at the start of each month and not weekly payments.
For many, this is very threatening to them as they rely on weekly payments to help them manage their money better. Included in this lump sum will be their housing benefit. At present the housing benefit goes straight to the landlord in most cases but now it is going to make a slight detour via the recipient on the way.
I have huge concerns that for many the temptation may prove too great and people will fall into rent arrears. For some it may mean that they are unable to cope with this kind of budgeting. In other areas where this has been introduced, there has been a surge in rent arrears and food parcels. When we have a system that has always hand-held the claimants, has enough work been done to prepare them for this change?
The housing sector is facing a dilemma with no support from the government that has forced this situation. At present housing benefit has always been paid in arrears, but under these new changes rent will now need to be four weeks in advance, to bring it in line with the private sector.
This simply means that tenants have to find £400+ rent money themselves out of their already stretched budgets, and for some this is going to prove horrendous. The first response will be to bury their heads and hope this doesn’t hit Somerset for a long time, but it is coming, with a likely date of autumn next year.
Yarlington Housing Group held its first interactive strategic focus group on Thursday, inviting council officials, CAB, staff and residents and utilising their unique social media forum on Facebook, Yarlington Chat, as a means to reach the residents and engage them. The aim being to find a way through this together, as opposed to implementing a procedure that could prove unworkable for many.
The topics being discussed were put into the forum and very valuable feedback was received from those who would be affected by it. Some Housing associations gave their tenants a few weeks’ notice. More companies should brace themselves for these changes, as it will affect many. If you know anyone on benefits just check they know what is coming, as for many they are still unaware.
Help is out there. CAB, SSDC and Yarlington are all prepared to advise and assist anyone who asks for help. The biggest message is NOT to panic. As long as people communicate with their housing provider and work with them, there is no chance of losing your home. Start saving a few quid a week now in preparation and do not allow yourself to become a homeless statistic.