Four out of five social housing tenants will struggle to pay their rent if welfare reform mitigations end in March, a new study by the Housing Executive has revealed.
This statistic was among research revealed at a Housing Executive Insight briefing on the potential impacts of the Social Sector Size Criteria (bedroom tax) for tenants and landords. The event was held on Thursday, 24th October at the Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast.
Where a household is considered to be ‘under-occupying’, the eligible rent used to calculate the Housing Benefit/housing costs element of Universal Credit will reduce by: 14% if under-occupying by 1 bedroom, and 25% if under-occupying by 2 or more bedrooms.
After Professor Peter Roberts, Interim Chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive welcomed attendees, Professor Mark Stephens of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh gave an overview of the experience so far across the UK.
He warned that the poorest people are the worst hit by welfare reform. They are not able to change their circumstances – for example get a job or work longer hours – due to health, age or caring responsibilities – and so end up losing benefits.
Karly Greene, Head of Research at the Housing Executive, outlined findings from a survey of Housing Executive tenants impacted by the SSSC but currently receiving Welfare Supplementary Payments.
- The demographic most affected (60%) is Lone Adults, while 73% of respondents said they or a household member had a health problem or disability.
- Only 7% of respondents stated that they would try to transfer or exchange to a property with fewer bedrooms even though 81% said it would be difficult for them to pay the difference between the cost of rent and the money they received for rent through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. Almost three quarters (71%) stated that they simply did not have the money to pay the difference.
- More than four fifths (83%) said there was a reason (poor health/disability 86%, caring responsibilities 8%) why they couldn’t try to earn more money.
Ruth Flood of RF Associates then outlined the results of research that she and Sarah Carter carried out, including interviews with tenants who had lost Welfare Supplementary Payments.
- There is very little understanding amongst tenants, she said, that they are protected by mitigation from the impact of the bedroom tax and how that could affect them if it ends.
- The lack of smaller housing stock in Northern Ireland makes it even more likely that tenants will ‘Stay and Pay’. They will struggle to cope with their reduced income.
- According to Housing Executive arrears data, 28% of tenants had average arrears of £82.60 at the point of loss of mitigation. This rose to 67% having average arrears of £242.81 in the most recent quarter.
- This will cause additional stress for people who are already in difficult circumstances, and have a detrimental impact on their mental health and well being.
- The resulting significant increases in rent arrears will also pose challenges for housing associations and the Housing Executive.
- There is an urgent need for clearer, more specific communication with tenants to make them aware of how the end of mitigations may affect them and support to help them manage.
NIFHA Deputy Chief Executive Patrick Thompson took part in a panel discussion at the event while NIFHA’s Research Officer Sharon Jeffers and Policy & Practice Officer Tracey Ellis also attended.
- The Potential Impacts of Bedroom Tax in Northern Ireland if Mitigations End, Karly Greene, NIHE
- Impacts of Social Sector Size Criteria (Bedroom Tax) Summary, Sarah Carter and Ruth Flood, RFA for NIHE