We know that on-going changes in the benefit system continue to affect some of the families in our homes and we are working hard to help them meet the challenges they face. Our aim is to help make work pay for young families, and we are doing that by providing support and advice as well as training opportunities.
When the government first capped benefits in August 2013, restricting income to £500 per week for out of work families, it affected 12 West Kent households. In November last year the cap was further reduced to £385 per week, which had an impact on around 100 of our families.
As the case study below demonstrates, our aim is to provide support and guidance to help families deal with the cut in benefit by getting back into work - often ending up better off.
Our housing and communities teams have worked together to help these households understand the choices they have and the ways in which they can mitigate the loss in income.
“In essence the message is that we are here to help,” explained Financial Wellbeing Manager Mark Faithful. “If you are worried about the changes and you aren’t sure of the best way to tackle your new situation, just talk to us and we will take you through the options.”
How we helped make Stacey better off
Stacey, a single mother with five children, had her weekly benefits capped at £500 a week in August 2013. As a result, her housing benefit was cut from the full rent of £126.60 to £78.96 per week, leaving her with £47.64 to pay each week.
Stacey’s weekly outgoings are, on average, £400, which meant she was still able to pay her rent each week, but in November 2016 her benefits were capped at the new level of £20,000 a year (£384.62 per week).
This meant she needed to pay £126.10 each week into her rent account, increasing her weekly outgoings to £480, a sum she clearly could not afford. While she could apply for a discretionary housing payment, this would only support her for a limited period of time and might not cover the full shortfall.
Mark Faithful visited Stacey before the new cuts came into force in November to explain how it would affect her.
“We discussed how working just 16 hours a week would entitle Stacey to working tax credit (WTC), which would increase her income and exempt her from the benefit cap,” Mark recalled.
“Our training and employment programme helped her find work in a local care home for 16 hours a week at minimum wage (£7.20 per hour), and her weekly wage of £115.20 is boosted by £76.37 from WTC, increasing her overall weekly income to £664.43.
“This includes uncapped housing benefit of £124.92, meaning she only has to pay £1.68 each week towards her rent. She is aware that her weekly outgoings may increase because of not getting free school meals for her two older children, but she also knows that this will be far outweighed by her increased weekly income of almost £300.”