Demand for help with bills surges following welfare reforms

Michael Beall
Michael Beall

The number of people in Aylesbury Vale applying for help with bills has gone up by more than 1,300% since the introduction of welfare reforms.

District council figures show 120 people applied for discretionary housing payments, which help with housing and council tax costs, between April 1 and 22. Just nine applied in the same period last year.

So far, 23 applications have been granted but the council says the £188,088 it has been given to fund the payments is ‘very unlikely to be enough’.

To cope with the reforms, which have resulted in more than 800 Vale homes receiving less benefits, Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust staff have had extra training to ensure they are aware of the difficulties people are facing. A welfare reform group has also been set up by the social landlord to prepare staff and tenants for the introduction and implementation of the reforms.

Aylesbury Vale District Council director Andrew Small said: “Helping people adjust to welfare reform is a high priority for the council and we will continue to offer support and information at every stage.”

A number of reforms, including the bedroom tax, have already been introduced but there are other aspects yet to become active.

It has been reported that some social landlords are training staff to spot tenants at risk of suicide, but the Vale trust would not confirm the details of its staff training.

Councillor Michael Beall, who has introduced a motion calling on the district council to demand the bedroom tax be scrapped, believes landlords need to be on the lookout after the ‘bedroom tax suicide’ of Stephanie Bottrill from Solihull. She blamed the Government’s controversial tax for her death in her suicide note.

Mr Beall said: “I’m extremely concerned that a similar tragedy will occur in our own area in the near future.

“People think of Aylesbury Vale as a very prosperous area but there are little pockets of deprivation which are some of the worst in the country.

“I would urge anybody who is in difficulty to seek help in any way, shape or form.”

Ian Silver, director of housing and community services at the housing trust, said: “We remain committed to ensuring that any of our residents affected by the changes are informed and prepared to deal with them.”