The man in his early twenties sat in the corner of the living room in his two-bedroom flat and said to me: “There is no point.” I had started to talk to him about his weekly budget and how he could save a tenner or so a week to get ready for his housing benefit being cut by 14%. His income is jobseekers’ allowance.
This is a blog post on how Bron Afon Community Housing has been telling 1,300 tenants to their face that from April 2013 they will be affected by under-occupying, nicknamed the ‘spare bedroom tax’. It has been a huge job that has involved staff from every team. Accountants, ICT officers, plumbers, directors, electricians and admin assistants have all chipped in by spending a few hours out in the community speaking to tenants.
This video from Community Housing Cymru explains the upcoming changes to housing benefit.
I’m not a money saving expert and neither were most of my workmates. But the messages were simple: Don’t put your head in the sand. The changes are coming and you have to think now about your options.
We sent a letter to all of the 1,300 tenants to say we were coming to knock their front door. The letter was also timed around the same time as delivery of our tenants’ magazine, Community News, which was all about changes to benefits.
The letter and the magazine meant there were no complete surprises among the people who invited me into their home. I was able to refer people for specialist money advice and answer some simple questions. We had expert staff back in the office ready to take phone calls from my mobile phone.
These are some of the stories from the four hours I spent talking to tenants in their homes.
A couple in their late 50s were bewildered. They have lived in their three-bedroom home for almost 30 years. Their children have grown up and moved out. One of their neighbours has lived in the street since it was built about 40 years ago. That’s nearly 30 years of this couple being part of the local community. She told me: “It’s a joke. There is no life of luxury on benefits. I’ve popped to my mum’s for food.” He is not working due to ill health but told me some amazing stories about his career on building sites all over the UK.
A man in his early 30s opened the door of his two-bedroom flat in a wooly hat and wearing a warm top. Bron Afon will be fitting double glazing in the next few weeks but at the moment heating is expensive. He was unemployed but had been working on a brilliant local community project in that area that I could tell he was proud to be part of. The funding ended and so did his job.
A young dad invited me into the kitchen of this three-bedroom home. He lives with his partner and son and daughter, both aged under ten. They will be affected from April until October when his nine-year-old son has his next birthday. In his line of work contracts start and finish and he hopes he will be working again in January. It showed the juggle of low incomes, short-term contracts and housing benefit.
All the people I met definitely appreciated talking to someone in person. No-one closed the door in my face. They all had interesting questions and I hope the visits will help them prepare for the countdown to April. We have been stressing that our staff are here to answer questions on this tough topic.
The man in his twenties at the start of this blog shocked me when he answered this question in our survey: ‘Have you borrowed money from any of these lenders?’ The long list included illegal loan sharks, friends, family and pawnbrokers. He replied: “All of them. You get debt to get out of debt. I sometimes go to my mum’s house to eat.”
I got his phone number and promised that one our money experts would give him a call to talk about his outgoings to see how he can try and save that £10 a week.
How is your organisation telling tenants about the changes to housing benefit?