Lost housing benefit puts BHA tenants in arrears

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Almost two thirds of Berwickshire Housing Association tenants affected by the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ have been helped by Discretionary Housing Payments.

For many this discretionary payment has been a lifeline and the Scottish Government is currently trying to persuade the UK Government to scrap the ‘cap’ put on the level of Discretionary Housing Payments so that they can make an extra £15 million available to help hard-pressed households in Scotland in the next financial year.

Explaining how the benefit changes have affected their tenants, Jean Gray, customer services director for BHA said: “Early signs have shown that the changes are having an impact on some of our tenants; some have lost benefit which has put them into arrears. This has caused stress and strain for those who have seen their benefits cut and in some cases forced families to choose whether they heat their home or eat.”

The Department for Work and Pensions recently issued a circular to local authorities saying that where tenants have had a continuous claim for Housing Benefit since 1996 the size criteria rules should not have been applied.

“Realistically this bedroom tax exemption may apply to a handful of BHA tenants and we will be working closely with Scottish Borders Council to ensure that those affected are identified,” added Jean.

“BHA staff have worked very closely with affected tenants and at present the under-occupancy charge affects 97 tenants with 65 of those receiving a Discretionary Housing Payment.

“We are also assisting people to access food banks and where necessary emergency payments to assist some of the worst cases.”