Nineteen people with learning difficulties have had up to 75 per cent cut from their weekly housing benefit payments in the wake of a landmark decision by the social security commissioner.
The York Housing Association residents could face eviction after East Riding of Yorkshire Council decided to reduce their housing benefit to the standard local reference rent level, which is up to £148 a week less than their actual rent.
Like thousands of others around the country, the residents were previously considered exempt from the reference rate because they lived in supported housing.
East Riding said it had “suspended” their housing benefit payments while it reviewed the implications of the judgment made by the social security commissioner in June.
Richard Pacey, chief executive of the Wilf Ward Family Trust, which provides support to the 19 residents, said the judgment could affect thousands of vulnerable people, although East Riding is the only council so far thought to have reduced payments.
National Housing Federation policy officer Sue Ramsden said there was no other obvious source of funding to replace the slashed benefits. The funding had been needed to cover maintenance and housing management for supported projects, she said.
She said the wording of housing benefit regulations, which only allow extra payments to housing associations which also provide support, had not kept pace with the way schemes were now funded under Supporting People, with support often provided by a separate agency.
The Sheffield Case
Social security commissioner Charles Turnbull decided three men with learning difficulties sharing a house provided by Rivendell Lake Housing Association in Sheffield were only eligible for £45 a week in housing benefit – the average room rent in the area.
Under housing benefit rules, housing providers are not limited to local reference rent levels if they also provide support.
The men were each being charged £238 a week in rent but the commissioner decided they should not receive the full benefit to cover the rent because support was not provided by Rivendell itself but by a third party primarily funded by the council.
Turnbull rejected the argument that support was provided on behalf of Rivendell, finding that it had no contractual obligation to provide care and did not engage directly with the care provider, which held a contract with the local council.
Contact the author