COUNCIL advisers are working to soften the blow of new welfare reforms – but the full effects cannot be predicted.
Claimants are being urged to prepare for changes to benefits by the UK Government in April.
The biggest change for Wrexham residents will be the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, cuts in housing benefit for under-occupied properties, with about 1,600 households due to be affected.
People living in council and housing association houses deemed “larger than they need” will have to downsize or pay the difference in rent themselves.
For example, a single person living in a two bedroom house will face a 14 per cent cut in housing benefit, or 25 per cent in a three bedroom house.
Welfare benefits are also being combined under Universal Credit, with money for rent paid to the tenant rather than direct to the council – meaning people used to having their rent paid for them will have to manage that money for the first time.
Jonathan Edwards, Wrexham Council’s project leader for welfare reform said the council was trying to prepare people as best they could.
Pilot studies suggested rent arrears could increase, with up to 10 per cent of people not paying.
Council house residents could find themselves facing court action and even eviction.
Any drop in rent income for the council would also affect housing management and repairs, he said.
“We’re trying to promote direct debits if we can and make sure people have accounts where money is ring-fenced for council tax and rent.
“We’re having awareness-raising sessions and money management advice sessions.”
Councillors had been primed to inform their residents of the changes, 400 frontline staff had been trained and various meetings were being held.
He said all 1,600 under-occupied properties had been targeted to make sure they were aware.
“We’ve been door-knocking on every single one. Where possible, we are trying to facilitate moves for these people, but many have said ‘we’ll stay in our home, we’ll find the shortfall and we’ll pay our rent’.
“We’re not suggesting our residents have to move,” he said. “Some have been in that property for 30 or 40 years and don’t want to downsize and move.”
The benefit change will only affect people of working age in social housing, not pensioners.
In total, officers calculated it will mean a £1.2 million shortfall in rent payments in Wrexham.
There would be an increase of £150,000 for discretionary housing payment to help those in dire need, but it did not come close to covering the shortfall, Mr Edwards said.
“There’s a long way to go yet and we won’t know the scale of the problem until after April,” he said.
A benefit cap of £350 a week for single people and £500 for couples and lone parents will also come in in April, and affect 60 to 70 people in Wrexham.
For more information call 0800 0855 808, visit www.wrexham.gov.
uk or the DWP website at www.dwp.gov.uk.