The removal of the spare room subsidy from Housing Benefit (HB) – sometimes referred to as the ‘bedroom tax’ – is currently affecting around 4,300 people in the district (November 2016). The numbers affected have been falling slowly. Overall Housing Benefit (HB) claiming levels are also falling but the number of working people claiming HB has almost doubled in the last five years, with 4,650 claimants in July 2016 compared to 2,593 in 2009. This trend is also evident nationally with nearly one million people in work relying on HB - double the figure from five years ago.
People claiming Housing Benefit needing more help with housing costs – through the loss of spare room subsidy, for example – may make a claim to the Council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Before the removal of the spare room subsidy the annual amount of DHP awarded was around £275,300, but this amount has risen steeply since the subsidy was removed in April 2013 (see table below).
Discretionary Housing Payments. Source: Wakefield Council
In October 2016 there were 59 households affected by the overall Benefit Cap of £500 per week for couples and lone parents and £350 per week for single people without children. From 7th November 2016 the cap has been lowered to £384.62 per week for couples and lone parents, and £257.69 per week for single people without children. The change has meant that in January 2017 the number of households affected by the benefit cap had risen to 322.
Council Tax Support
Council Tax Benefit was replaced by Council Tax Support in April 2013. Local authorities are responsible for the design of some aspects of this new scheme (certain pensioner discounts are protected), and it has also been left to local authorities to decide how much of the 10% drop in Government grant for this benefit they protect from other budgets. Since Council Tax Support began the amount awarded to people pension age has fallen due to the phased increases in the state pension age for women and changes to eligibility criteria (see chart below). The amount of Council Tax Support awarded to people of working age has fallen due to reduction in the size of discounts for some people, and because increasing employment levels are moving some people out of the benefit eligibility.
Value of Council Tax Support awarded. Source: Wakefield Council
Local Welfare Provision
The responsibility for Local Welfare Provision was passed to Councils from the Department for Work and Pensions with effect from 1 April 2013. The Council received grant funding of £943k in each of the financial years 2013/14 and 2014/15. Councils will not receive any further specific grant funding for local welfare provision beyond 2014/15 and in future will have to support Local Welfare Provision within existing budgets and from earlier grant under-spend. In 2013/14, £262,000 of Local Welfare Provision (LWP) was awarded. The amount awarded increased to £389,000 in 2014/15 and £378,000 in 2015/16. Welfare provision can also be applied for by social workers where specific financial assistance is deemed the most appropriate means of safeguarding or promoting a child's welfare within their family. Known as Section 17 payments, £269,000 was given out in 2015/16, up from £227,000 in 2014/15.