Plans to remove housing benefit from people who refuse support after being evicted for antisocial behaviour could cause hardship to children, campaigners have warned.
Work and pensions secretary John Hutton said this week that the government would introduce legislation as soon as possible to penalise families who fail to engage with support services after eviction.
Under the plans, which will be piloted from 2008, non-compliant families would lose 10 per cent of housing benefit for four weeks, 20 per cent for a further four weeks up to an ultimate sanction of total removal for five years.
Andrew Webb, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services children and families committee, said the proposal risked “demonising families” without regard to children’s quality of life.
“We would want to see sufficient checks to ensure that children’s needs are taken into account and that they don’t suffer as a result of poverty,” he said.
Adam Sampson, director of housing charity Shelter, said there was no strong evidence that reducing benefits would make people co-operate with services.
He added: “Innocent children are likely to face homelessness because the desire to get tough with the parents and withdraw their housing benefit happens before there are services for people to turn down in the first place.
“There are not nearly enough services across the country which can help people tackle their antisocial behaviour.”
Brian Briscoe, chief executive of the Local Government Association, said: “This is classic interference by central government in processes to deal with antisocial behaviour that need to be decided locally.”
The plan was mooted in January’s Respect action plan, though similar proposals were shelved in 2004 in the face of overwhelming opposition from councils, charities and housing associations.
Briscoe also accused the prime minister’s office of “spinning” a story, widely reported in the national press this week, claiming councils would face cuts in funding for failing to address antisocial behaviour.
In fact, this referred to councils being denied a “reward” of up to 1m for meeting to meet the mandatory respect and antisocial behaviour outcome in local area agreements, which comes into force next April.