Welfare Rights: 2011 starts badly for benefit recipients

By the time you read this, the education maintenance allowance (EMA) scheme will no longer be available for new applicants, the £190 health in pregnancy grant will have disappeared (except for women who were 25 weeks or more pregnant by 1 January), child trust fund payments will have stopped and councils will have started sending out letters to families in private accommodation about reductions in housing benefit from April, writes Gary Vaux. So it was an Unhappy New Year for many of your clients.

The EMA is one of the highest-profile casualties of the reductions in benefit spending. It is paid to 16- to 18-year-olds, with household earnings below £30,810 and who remain in education beyond year 11. Young people in care also qualify for the full £30 a week payment, and it is often the difference between them staying on in education or dropping out. Existing claimants will lose their entitlement at the end of this academic year. There will be some replacement funding paid to colleges for their discretionary learner support funds but this will only be one-sixth of what is being saved through abolition.

Housing benefit

Although most of the newspaper headlines on housing benefit cuts have been about larger families living in the private sector in London, the changes will affect private tenants all over the country when they will be expected to find accommodation in the lowest-rented 30% of the sector, rather than the lowest 50% as at present.

Of course, landlords might reduce their rents. If they do, the Department for Work and Pensions has indicated it is more likely, by way of reward, to pay the housing benefit directly to them rather than the tenant.

Another thorn is the substantial increase in housing benefit non-dependent deductions. These are the amounts that “non-deps” (usually sons and daughters aged 18 or over) are assumed to contribute towards the rent, with housing benefitbeing cut by an equivalent sum. These deductions are rising from £7.40 to £9.40 a week for those not working or earning below £122 a week, and from £47.75 to £60.60 for those earning above £387 a week.

This latter figure also applies where, as often happens, the non-dep doesn’t disclose their earnings, which can be a major source of family tension.

Gary Vaux (pictured) is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please send any questions for him to by clicking here.

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