Friday, 10 January 2014

Extra funding for advice on welfare reforms

Two local organisations offering advice to those affected by UK Government welfare reforms, including the Bedroom Tax, are part of a Scottish Government scheme that seeks to mitigate the impact benefit cuts are having on some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Last week the SNP Government announced an extra £280,000 will be added to £7.45m already committed to the Making Advice Work programme, which has helped finance the work of the two North Ayrshire schemes.

CHAP – Community Housing Advice Project – based at the Michael Lynch Centre in Ardrossan’s Princes Street, provides access to information and advice on benefits and debt issues to people who are not clients of North Ayrshire Council’s Social Work department.  In addition to general advice, the project provides a focus on helping young people affected by welfare reforms.

The second local scheme – WRAT (Welfare Reform Advice Team) – was set up by North Ayrshire Council and operates within the local authority’s Welfare Advice Team based at Cunninghame House in Irvine.  Staff provide Council tenants with advice, support and information about UK Government welfare reforms. The role of the team is to make contact with all tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax and the benefits cap.

The Bedroom Tax imposes cuts to Housing Benefit for anyone deemed by the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government to have more bedrooms in their rented property than they need.  One ‘extra’ bedroom brings a 14% cut, while two ‘additional’ rooms result in benefit being slashed by 25%.  Like most local authorities across the country, North Ayrshire Council has a very limited supply of one-bedroom properties, which means most tenants are unable to ‘downsize’ in order to avoid their benefit being cut.

North Ayrshire’s SNP administration has said it will not evict any tenant who gets into rent arrears as a result of their Housing Benefit being cut by the Bedroom Tax, provided they work with Council officers to tackle any problems.

Announcing additional funding to help those affected by UK Government welfare reforms, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Westminster has responded to tough economic times by imposing drastic welfare cuts, which will affect some of our most vulnerable groups.  The impact on disabled people and women is particularly hard, which is why we’ve made this additional funding available.”

Ms Sturgeon added, “This investment is supporting vulnerable people and helping individuals and families make the transition to the new system.  I have been clear that this SNP Government will not turn its back on vulnerable people.”

As welfare is reserved to the UK Government under the current devolved constitutional settlement, Nicola Sturgeon pointed out that “only with the power of independence can we fully tackle these welfare reforms.”

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