The extent of the suffering inflicted by the “bedroom tax” can be revealed for the first time today as figures show a 338 per cent leap in the number of people applying for emergency handouts in the month since it was imposed.
In April, more than 25,000 people resorted to applying for discretionary housing payments (DHP) to help cover their rent, according to an analysis of 51 councils by The Independent. There were only 5,700 such claimants in the same month last year.
Demand on the emergency fund – which is intended to provide short-term help to housing benefit claimants who are unable to pay their rent – is now so great that people who would previously have been given help may receive reduced handouts. Some applicants have already had their claims refused altogether. Although the Government has increased its emergency housing support fund, which it divides between councils, from £60m in 2012-13 to £155m this year, local authorities say this is not nearly enough to help everyone hit by the cut to the spare room subsidy – known as the bedroom tax.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it was “monitoring” the situation and did not take concerns about the surge in claims lightly. In some areas, the influx of people seeking help has been so great councils are hiring extra staff to cope with applications and advise tenants. In Birmingham, which saw the number of DHP claimants jump from 496 in April last year to 2,601 last month, the city council reported that many of those hit by the welfare reforms were turning to “last-resort services” such as food banks.
“It’s a situation like the 1930s here in Birmingham,” said Councillor John Cotton, cabinet member for equalities. “We are a city that has a hill to climb in terms of deprivation. With the impact of changes like this, the hill just got even steeper. It’s putting more and more pressure on vulnerable communities.”
In Glasgow, which saw the highest number of claimants of any council in the country, 5,501 people sought emergency help last month in the form of a DHP payment, while neighbouring North Lanarkshire has seen the number of claimants rise from just 37 over four months last year to 1,451 this April alone.
Under the welfare reforms, around 660,000 people have had an average of £14 cut from their housing benefit. Fourteen per cent of a person’s housing benefit is removed for having one spare bedroom and 25 per cent for having two or more spare. The impact of the reform, and other reductions to people’s benefit payments introduced in April, has been felt nationwide.
18th May 2013