Homelessness news – Romford ‘hero’ unearths bedroom tax loophole which could see 40,000 receiving a refund

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Up to 40,000 people will receive a refund thanks to a Romford “hero” after he discovered that the government have wrongly assessed who is liable for the bedroom tax.

A conservative estimate puts the cost to the government at £26million.

Peter Barker, a freelance benefits specialist, of Hillfoot Avenue Romford, discovered the loophole in December but last week the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed his analysis.

By his estimations, up to 90 tenants in Havering could be eligible for an average refund of £770.

It has also been reported that the suicide of the woman from Solihull who, in a note, blamed her death on the financial strains aggravated by the bedroom tax would have been exempt and, if she was still alive, eligible for a refund.

Mr Barker, 53, spotted the oversight made by the DWP in legislation they drafted in 1996. Housing benefit regulations from 1996 were not updated when the coalition created the bedroom tax.

He said: “I just put my findings onto an online discussion forum. I just expected people to find it interesting but instead in went viral.

“There was such a twitter storm over this. Until December I had just one follower and that was my sister-in-law. Now I’ve got people contacting on me on there hailing me as a hero.”

He explained that the area of legislation had become far to overcomplicated and described it as “an accident waiting to happen”.

The bedroom tax sees working age council and housing association tenants with spare bedrooms lose up to 25 per cent of their housing benefits.

It affected 660,000 claimants meaning they either had to move homes, find a way to pay the deficit or downsize to a smaller property.

Peter Barker on his revelations BELOW

In December, I suggested that council and housing association tenants getting housing benefit for the same home since 1996 are exempt from the bedroom tax. Last week ministers acknowledged that my analysis is correct. Councils are now indentifying tenants eligible for refunds.

The refund is available to people whose housing benefit is reduced by the bedroom tax and who have been on housing benefit for the same home since January 1996 without a break. One break of up to four weeks is ignored and a longer break is ignored if you started work after being long term sick and then became sick again within 52 weeks.

In some cases, the exemption can be passed from one person to another.

Some councils are finding that their records as far back as 1996 are not easy to search and in some cases have been destroyed completely. So if you think you qualify for the exemption contact the council’s benefits department.

If the council does not agree that you qualify, you can appeal as long as the council receives it within 13 months of the original bedroom tax decision last year. For most people this will be around the end of March so there is still time.

Homelessness news – Government to stop funding for low-income families facing emergencies

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Department for Work and Pensions to cut £180m support; Children’s Society alarmed at ‘blow to critical safety net.

A £180m-a-year hardship fund providing emergency help for low-income families who suffer sudden financial crisis as a result of domestic violence, ill-health or natural disaster such as flooding is to be scrapped, it has emerged.

Technical documents released just before Christmas suggest the Department for Work and Pensions plans to cut its cash allocation to local authority welfare assistance schemes in 15 months’ time.

Charities warned this would lead to a postcode lottery in local welfare help and trigger a rise in the number of people becoming dependent on loan sharks or charitable support, such as food banks.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said the removal of government funding for local crisis schemes was alarming. “This is yet another blow to what was once a critical safety net for families facing such unpredictable emergencies and disasters as flooding, or simply running out of money to buy food for their children or feed the electricity meter.

“We urgently need a clear commitment from government to provide local authorities with sustainable funding to support families facing an unexpected financial crisis. Without this, many more families will be forced to turn to food banks, or to use loan sharks or high-cost money lenders.”

Local welfare assistance schemes were set up in 152 local authorities in England in April, after the old, nationally administered social fund was “localised” as part of the Welfare Reform Act.
The schemes are comprised of two elements – crisis support, which is designed to help penniless people with vital short-term expenses such as food or clothes; and community care grants, which would help people in severe crisis obtain basic living essentials such as beds and cooking equipment.

The ending of the £180m funding stream in April 2015 is likely to lead to a sporadic provision of crisis help because some councils, which have no statutory duty to provide local welfare, might decide to close their schemes altogether.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed that it would no longer fund the schemes after 2014-15, saying that future arrangements were a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Although the DWP had always made it clear there were no guarantees of funding after 2014-15, it had promised to review the progress of the schemes before taking a decision on future funding.

It confirmed to the Guardian on Friday that it would carry out the planned progress review of local schemes in the next few months, but it would be up to councils and the DCLG to act on its findings.

The DWP has always claimed the fund was ineffectively targeted, and that councils are best placed to judge how much to allocate to local crisis welfare provision.
A spokeswoman for the DCLG said that from 2015 local welfare is to be funded from local authority general funds.

Though some councils will continue to fund some kind of local crisis fund, many will decide they can no longer afford it. In November, Nottinghamshire county council proposed to scrap its £2.1m welfare scheme in April as part of a £151m cuts programme.

Local welfare schemes have proved controversial because most councils have refused to give out cash loans, which were available under the social fund, but have instead provided “in kind” support in the form of food vouchers, and referrals to food banks.

Many councils have set strict eligibility criteria – many exclude applicants who have received benefit sanctions, while others refuse to help low-paid working families – meaning that many applicants have been turned away.
A recent survey suggested the harsh criteria meant many councils had massively underspent their funds so far this year despite evidence of huge demand.