19:00 PM, 13th April 2017, About 5 years ago 24
On Wednesday 5th April 2017 evening BBC1 Panorama featured “The Benefit Cap: Is It Working?” Seminar details:
The programme was similar to Dispatches Benefit Families recently featured on Channel 4.
The reporter followed 5 families over 5 months to see how they were affected by the benefit cap and whether they were coping.
Caroline Nokes MP, Minister for Welfare Delivery was featured at the beginning of the programme and made the following statement “The benefit cap was introduced to try and level the playing field between families that are in work and those that are reliant on benefits and to incentivise work”
The show featured Sarah a single mother of 7 children, 3 of which are in foster care, whilst the other 4 remain in Sarah’s care. Sarah has not worked for 17 years and says that she is not currently in the position to work because she has no stable accommodation which hinders her employability.
Prior to the benefit cap Sarah received £428 per week in benefits, following the cap, her benefits were reduced by £44.00 per week causing Sarah to fall into arrears as the £44.00 was deducted from her housing benefit weekly entitlement. Sarah lost her home and belongings.
As a result of her unstable living conditions Sarah’s children were placed with others whilst she resided on her sisters’ sofa.
Whilst looking for accommodation Sarah met with a benefit advisor to check at what rate she would not be affected by the benefit cap and was advised that with 3 children or under, she would fit into the exemption criteria as her benefits would not exceed the £20,000 a year cap threshold. Sarah was told if she chose this option she may have to choose which of her children would stay in her care and which to put into foster care or with family members to prevent her from falling into the arrears again because of the cap.
Eventually Sarah was offered a Council property and was granted £30.00 from Social Services to move and to also provide her with basic necessities. Sarah took her youngest daughter Frankie back to move into the new house with her. This was short lived as Sarah found herself in a catch 22 situation, she could not claim benefits for the children until they lived with her but the property was unsuitable for the children as Sarah could not provide beds or furniture form them.
Social Services were aware of her situation and agreed to take Sarah to collect some furniture but they failed to show up they later contacted her to inform her that they were unable to offer her a lift to collect the furniture.
At the end of the show it was explained that Sarah was not in receipt of Housing Benefit and could possibly fall into the same cycle again.
The show then went onto feature Kim and her husband Steve who have 4 children. Both have been out of work for 9 years. For them to be exempt from the cap they would have to work 24 hours a week between them.
Kim suffers with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and depression. Steve has an injury on his arm from previous employment and is restricted from work.
They are affected by the benefit cap and only receive £2.00 per week Housing Benefit they are expected to make up the difference from their other benefits which they have been unable to do, so they have fallen behind and are at risk of losing their home. Although Steve spends approximately £40.00 per week on beers and cigarettes.
The family went to the Council to apply for a DHP to meet their rental obligation this was granted up until March when the family will have to make a new application if their circumstances do not change and they have not found employment.
Coleen’s story was slightly different from the others, Coleen is a 60 year old widow who gave up work to take up kinship of her 4 grandchildren as their mother was unfit to care for them. Colleen used to receive £467.00 per week in benefits which was reduced by £75.00 per week. Her housing benefit entitlement is £50.00 per week because of the cap and like the other families featured she is in arrears.
What is different about Colleen’s story is that she receives £29,000 per year kinship allowance in addition to her state benefits. She firmly states that the money is for her grandchildren so that they can have a good life, enjoy various activities and holidays. She does not feel that she should top up the rent from the kinship allowance that she receives, as those on carers allowance are exempt from the benefit cap, and she is campaigning for the same rulings to apply to kinship guardians.
If her grandchildren went into care it would cost the Local Authority approximately £100,000 to mind them.
We also followed the story of single dad of 4 Bruce, on his quest to find employment but finding it difficult due to child care issues.
He applied for a job in Barclays Bank and was successful but turned down the position as the hours were advertised as 20 hours per week but in fact the job was 25 hours per week. Bruce ideally wanted to work 16-21 hours.
Lastly, we followed Maria a single mother of 3 who has been out of work for 10 years. Her weekly benefit were £450 now cut by £65.00 per week due to the benefit cap.
Again, Maria is expected to cover her rent shortfall from her other benefits and is now £700.00 in arrears causing the Housing Association to serve notice on her, she has applied for a DHP to assist her with the shortfall and to clear the arrears luckily this was awarded short term.
8 years ago Maria was badly assaulted since then she has severe pain in her lower back meaning she cannot lift or bend and is also incontinent, however, DWP have assessed her as being able to work. In order for her to be exempt from the cap she will need to work 16 hours a week.
Throughout the show Maria is seen at the food bank in Wirral and often runs out of hot water or gas and is struggling.
Since the benefit cap has been introduced the Government has reportedly saved £150 million and continues to pay £100 billion in benefits for those of working age which is not really a significant saving considering the other associated costs that the Local Authority bear. To date more than 66,000 households have been capped, from this figure 11 per cent have had their housing benefit cut to 50 pence per week affecting 7585 families.
Since the initial benefit cap came into force only 1 in 20 have responded and are now employed and only 5% was offered a job within a year. Of the people featured in the programme, only 1 found a job which he had to turn down as it was not practical.
I’m sure most LHA/Universal Credit Landlords watched the show but for those landlords who never I thought I would give an overview, the programme is also available to watch on BBC IPlayer.
Again, I would love to hear your views!!
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