Plymouth experts reveal how welfare reform will change your life
PEOPLE confused by sweeping reforms to welfare payments will be able to get free advice from the experts this week.
Thousands of Plymouth people are likely to be hit by welfare reforms that come into force in less than a month.
From April 1 an estimated 16,000 extra Plymouth households will be required to pay something towards their council tax bill, many of them for the first time.
And controversial new under-occupancy rules, dubbed a bedroom tax by opponents, mean that social housing tenants could lose some council tax benefit if they have more bedrooms than they need.
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People are invited to drop in to the Plymouth Guildhall any time from 10am to 4pm on Friday to get advice from representatives from the city council and other support organisations including Advice Plymouth, Job Centre Plus and Plymouth Credit Union.
Councillor Mark Lowry, the city's Cabinet member for finance, said: "I am absolutely outraged that the Government has made these ludicrous decisions.
"Introducing a bedroom tax, squeezing families into smaller properties and making them pay more towards their council tax is only going to worsen an already bad situation.
"I understand tough decisions need to be made – we make them every day – but this decision targets the individuals that need our support the most."
Cllr Vivien Pengelly, leader of the Conservative group on the city council, said: "It does seem strange that people are getting benefits for houses with spare rooms that they never use.
"We have lots of families who need family homes.
"I know that sometimes disabled people need the spare room for their equipment."
And Gary Streeter, the MP for South West Devon, added: At the moment people in private rented accommodation do not get housing benefit for spare bedrooms, so these changes will simply bring people in social housing into line.
"Social rents average £80 a week while the private sector averages £160 a week so there is still advantage in being in social housing."
BEDROOM TAX - WILL YOU PAY?
THE under-occupancy rules apply to working-age social housing tenants on housing benefit.
If you have one spare bedroom the eligible rent for calculating housing benefit will be reduced by 14 per cent.
If you have two spare bedrooms the eligible rent for calculating housing benefit will be reduced by 25 per cent.
You are allowed one bedroom for:
Every adult couple (married or unmarried).
Any other adult aged 16 or over.
Any two children of the same sex under 16.
Any two children under 10.
Any other child (but not a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere).
A carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but who provide you or your partner with overnight care.
If you are assessed under these rules as having more bedrooms than you need you will be considered to be under-occupying the property.
People who will not be affected are those:
Who have reached the qualifying age for state pension credit.
In temporary accommodation.
In supported exempt accommodation.
In excluded tenancies and mooring charges for boats and site rents for caravans.
In shared ownership properties.
People who have experienced a death in the household will not have the under-occupation rules applied for up to 52 weeks from the date of the death.
You may be able to get a discretionary housing payment to make up all or some of the reduction.
Contact the Plymouth City Council housing benefit office for an application form for a discretionary payment.
The Government has made an additional £30million available to the discretionary housing payment fund to help people living in significantly adapted accommodation and foster carers. Taking in a lodger means that housing benefit would no longer consider the room to be spare.
The first £20 of weekly income from a lodger is ignored and won’t affect your benefits.
Part-time workers will also have some of their earnings ignored in working out housing benefit, depending on their circumstances.