Warwick District Citizens Advice Bureau (WDCAB) has provided evidence to show how social welfare reforms are affecting people in the area.
The report has been published to coincide with the branch’s annual meeting which took place in Kenilworth this week.
It shows general trends and provides statistics which highlight the main concerns for the clients it has helped over the past few years.
A common issue raised by clients, since it was introduced in April 2013, is the under-occupation charge, known to many as the ‘bedroom tax’. The report says: “Between October 2013 and October 2014, the bureau dealt with 85 enquiries relating to the under-occupation charge. It is worth noting that 47 of these enquiries were also relating to possession action or eviction due to rent arrears.”
Discretionary housing payments, claimed when tenants are unable to meet the shortfall between their housing benefit and their rent, were an issue that The WDCAB advised on in 29 cases over the last year.
In 2011-12, rent arrears owed to Warwick District Council was the eighth most common issue for WDCAB clients seeking debt advice, representing only four per cent of debt issues.
In 2012-13, this was the seventh most common debt issue, representing five per cent of debt issues raised. In 2013-15, it was the fifth most common debt issue, cropping up more often than overdraft and water debts, representing seven per cent of debt issues raised. The report says: “This year, council tax arrears are the second most common debt issue presented by WDCAB clients, representing 11 per cent of debt issues. It has now overtaken credit, store and charge card debts in terms of how often it crops up for our clients, suggesting that WDCAB clients are having greater difficulty paying their council tax than previously.
“Many WDCAB clients have reported to us that having to pay some of their council tax bill has led to hardship and huge difficulty making ends meet.”
Over the last two full calendar years, employment and support allowance (ESA) has been the main benefits enquiry issue, and in 2013-14 it was the most common of all CAB advice issues across all enquiry areas, being raised 940 times.
Over the past 12 months, 36 clients have been issued with food vouchers due to a problem with their benefit claim, such as a delay, sanction or administrative problem.
In many cases they gave out a food voucher where a client would have previously been eligible for support from the Social Fund.
At WDCAB, tax credit issues - arising from changes and reductions since 2011 including a further reduction of £5,000 to the ‘earnings disregard’ in 2013 and increases in the hours couples had to work to make a claim - continue to be in the top three benefits advice issues for clients - representing around 12 per cent of all issues, or about 575 cases a year. The report says: “The majority of our clients who claim tax credits will have experienced a loss of tax credits income or will no longer be eligible, leading to a tighter squeeze on their household budgets.”
*** The following is a case study from CAB debt caseworker Jenny Dabbs: “I’ve just taken on another client who is being affected by the bedroom tax and cap on Council Tax Reduction. She’s a lone parent on income support and she has rent arrears of £304.59 due to the bedroom tax (no possession proceedings at the moment as it’s low, but she can’t afford to make payments towards the arrears). She’s currently receiving discretionary housing payment but only until next month so she will have to try to find an additional £20 per week. She’s got to pay £3.47 per week towards the council tax and as a result of these extra expenses she has got behind with her water bill. The client’s food budget is just £54 per week which is quite low for one adult and a three-year-old child. There’s no leeway for contingencies like washing machine breakdown etc. She has no way out of this unless she is able to transfer to a property with one less bedroom, which she is willing to do but has been told that is no suitable property available.”