Reforms may leave vulnerable in debt

Planned reforms to the housing benefit system could leave some of the most vulnerable claimants in rent arrears, campaigners fear.

The local housing allowance, being tested in 18 areas, is paid directly to the claimant rather than the landlord unless the claimant can prove they are vulnerable.

But some benefits officers are unwilling to accept people with mental health or substance misuse problems as “vulnerable”. These groups tend to want the benefit to be paid to their landlord, research by Citizens Advice into the impact of the pilots has found.

Often, officers would not accept a vulnerability claim without third-party evidence, increasing the workload of social workers and GPs.

Citizens Advice policy officer Liz Phelps predicted that genuinely vulnerable claimants could end up in arrears and eventually be evicted unless their payments were made directly to their landlords.

The government announced last month (news, 1 December) that legislation to roll out the reforms nationally would be delayed until next year.

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