The time for lobbying is
over, now councils must urgently turn their attention to getting
ready to manage the far-reaching impact of the government's welfare
reforms on tenants and income management.
This was the message delivered by Sam Lister, CIH welfare reform
expert, to a hushed audience at the HouseMark Stock Retaining
Councils Performance Improvement Club on 1 May. In a detailed and
authoritative presentation, he showed how the reforms pose a major
challenge to council business plans and why they need urgent and
One in three tenants on HB is likely to be hit by the rules on
under-occupation - the so-called "bedroom" tax - which come into
effect in April 2013, losing an average of £13 per week.
Most households with four children and virtually all with more
will be hit by the HB cap which comes in at the same time. These
changes alone have major implications for rent collection and
welfare advice services.
But they will be followed within months by the implementation of
Universal Credit, with new HB cases transferring to UC from October
UC will be centrally administered by DWP and involve payment of
benefit direct to the tenant in all but exceptional cases, mainly
where there is a history of arrears. In a typical council, this
could involve a 25 per cent increase in rent transactions, with a
major cost impact, particularly where tenants do not pay by direct
Set against a background of high unemployment and flatlining
wages, coupled with HRA business plans founded on the assumption of
rent convergence and continuing increases above RPI, there is a
strong risk of a surge in rent arrears unless councils act swiftly
and decisively to prepare themselves and their tenants for the
The price of delay is not only hardship for many tenants but also
a serious threat to the 30-year business plans so recently agreed.
It is time for every housing Director and Cabinet lead member
to ask themselves, "Are we ready for welfare reform?"
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