Homeless fears over benefit moves

FEARS have been raised some people in Fleetwood could be at risk of homelessness by sweeping new changes to benefits.

From April 2013, council tenants and housing association tenants will have their housing benefit entitlement reduced if their home is deemed too big for their needs.

Regenda, which oversees homes throughout Fleetwood, says the under-occupancy rule, or ‘bedroom tax’, will affect many people in the town. They have hit the streets to give advice on how people can cope and avoid losing their home.

The amount of rent used to calculate how much housing benefit people are entitled to will be cut by a fixed percentage – 14 per cent of the full rent amount if the claimant has one extra bedroom.

The amount will rise to 25 per cent if they have two or more extra bedrooms.

The change will not affect pensioners.

Mike Collis, a money advice officer for Regenda, told the Weekly News: “We’ve been on the West View estate, trying to spread the word about welfare reforms coming in next year.

“The changes will affect all working age benefit claimants, and anyone who has one or more bedrooms than required is likely to have a reduction in their housing benefit requirement.

“It means they may have to pay some of the rent from their own income, and that could lead to financial difficulties for low income families.

“So we’re here on the estate to help them deal with the changes.”

Caroline Gail, a tenancy sustainability officer with Regenda, added: “Obviously we don’t want any of our tenants to get into financial difficulty.

“There are some genuine fears of homelessness if they can no longer afford to live in their homes.”

However, Regenda says one solution would be for such tenants to downsize, and the officers were also speaking to tenants about how this would work.

Mr Collis added: “Help is there, and that is the message we are trying to get across.

“There will be opportunities to downsize, for example from three bedroom to two.

“This will affect a lot of people in Fleetwood.”

Shaun MacNeill, vice chairman of West View Community Association, said: “There are concerns on the estate.

“This benefit change is the big one which could affect a lot of people here.

“If there were plenty of jobs around here it would help, but there aren’t.”

Regenda officers were also on the estate with skips to allow tenants to get rid of rubbish they don’t need.

In total, 18 skips were filled by the end of the day.