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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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The bedroom tax continues to cause sleepless nights

This opinion piece is over 10 years old

Katrina Hamilton explains why Blackwood has set up a welfare reform project to provide peace of mind for both tenants and landlord

Katrina Hamilton, Blackwood's east regional manager
Katrina Hamilton, Blackwood's east regional manager

The raft of recent welfare reforms are exasperating social landlords across the country as we continue to see how they are adversely impacting our customers.

At Blackwood, we've been speaking to our customers to understand more about their concerns on the issue, while also identifying common problems, misunderstandings and solutions that we could help with.

The welfare reforms have undoubtedly posed one of the greatest challenges that social housing has had to face.

The level of anxiety was so alarming we set up our pioneering welfare reform project, which saw a dedicated team help our tenants navigate their way through the somewhat baffling benefit changes.

Consequently we identified 286 households affected by the highly controversial bedroom tax, which cuts the housing benefit of those deemed to be living in a property with too many bedrooms for their needs.

As a respected social landlord working across 29 of Scotland’s 32 council areas, our intensive project has now helped secure 139 exemptions for affected customers, who include people with physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues or sensory impairment. Unfortunately, though, the fight goes on.

Many of those living in our specially adapted homes continue to face added uncertainty from the bedroom tax because downsizing would simply mean huge costs and upheaval to adapt new homes to their specific needs. Surely this cannot provide value for public money.

We have helped a further 68 of Blackwood’s tenants who claim Housing Benefit to successfully apply for additional Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to cover the shortfall in Housing Benefit resulting from the bedroom tax. However, even tenants fortunate enough to obtain DHP are compelled to keep reapplying for and providing proof of their circumstances causing continued worry and stress.

With so many changes made to the welfare system we understand how difficult it is to keep on top of it all and we know this is a source of worry for many people.

The prospect of having to move into a smaller property can be extremely distressing for some of our tenants, because the adaptations in their existing homes are what enable them to live independently.

We listen carefully to the people who live in our properties and it is clear many of them are extremely anxious about what these reforms mean for them.

So we continue to run our dedicated welfare reform project to provide the advice, support and help customers need to put their minds at rest, ensure they know what benefits they are entitled to, while also giving them practical advice to help them continue paying their rent on time.

The welfare reforms have undoubtedly posed one of the greatest challenges that social housing has had to face and we hope that our innovative efforts to guide our tenants through the complex legislation will continue to minimise the pressures created by them.

With 1,600 properties and tailored, individual care packages for more than 400 people, Blackwood has embraced the challenges of taking housing and care into the 21st century at a time when funding is increasingly limited. In addition to helping its customers deal with welfare reforms its board and executive team have a clear strategy to ensure a long-term and sustainable future.