Video: Destitution if 'bedroom tax’ top-ups end warns Derry housing expert Kate McCauley
A Derry housing expert has warned that some people shielded from ‘bedroom tax’ by welfare supplements do not realise they will be out of pocket if top-ups end in 2020.
Kate McCauley, policy manager with Housing Rights, told the NI Affairs Committee’s welfare inquiry, it was vital mitigations continued.
“We have been calling for the protections that currently exist under the mitigations to continue and for those protections to be strengthened to take account of the new challenges that we face, such as Universal Credit,” she told the committee.
Ms. McCauley said there were now around 34,000 people in the North in receipt of a supplementary payments, in relation to the ‘bedroom tax’.
She was referring to the introduction of full protection for Housing Executive (NIHE) and Housing Association tenants from ‘bedroom tax’ - a cut to your housing benefit if you have more rooms in your home than the government thinks you need - after it was introduced in February 2017.
In total £91 million has been set aside for mitigation for these tenants but this is due to end in March 2020.
Ms. McCauley said all NIHE tenants were supposed to have been covered but this hasn’t been the case in practice.
She said: “According to the Department’s [Communities] statistics, these people receive on average £50 per month to assist them. An important thing to identify at the beginning is that this protection, while it has been incredibly important, has not been absolute.
"The way it has been operationalised in NI has meant that, if you move to a property where you under occupy by the same extent or by a greater extent, you lose that mitigation unless you move by what is called Management Transfer status. In NI 216 people have already lost that protection.
"The NIHE did some very interesting research a while back when it looked at the particular impact on its tenants. At the stage it did the research, 72 tenants had already lost their welfare supplementary payment for bedroom tax and their arrears had risen from £46 to £174, so you can see straightaway the impact the loss of this mitigation could have.”
She said it was critical protections continued to be administered in spite of the ongoing Stormont impasse.
“That is obviously very challenging in the absence of an Assembly. However, if there were to be no Assembly, all of us would also agree that it is vital that people continue to receive those protections because the consequence of not receiving those protections is going to mean a rise in arrears. It is going to mean destitution probably,” she said.
The Derry housing specialist said some beneficiaries of the £585m top-up regime negotiated under the Fresh Start Agreement did not even realise they were getting it.
“It is really important that these protections continued to exist in the form of welfare supplementary payments. There is a whole range of research, even by the Department, which says that a lot of people here receiving these mitigation payments do not even realise that they are getting them because they are automatic,” she observed.
Derry housing expert Kate McCauley of Housing Rights.