Bay residents lose £2.2m in benefits payments
CLAIMANTS, council staff and volunteer helpers in Torbay are all struggling to meet the extra burden of benefits changes.
Councillors have been told residents in Torbay are estimated to have lost some £2.2million in benefits because of the reforms, though volunteers have been able to claim £1.5million for some residents last year as well as help with issues such as debt management.
Councillors have raised concerns over the number of missed phone calls after hearing the number of abandoned calls regarding housing benefit had increased by 240 per cent in July over the past 12 months, and by 90 per cent in August over the same period.
The number of calls regarding housing benefit had gone up by 62 per cent in July compared with last year and by 36.2 per cent in August.
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Members of the overview and scrutiny committee heard thousands of residents had been impacted by the changes including the loss of council tax support and changes to housing benefit. For example nearly 7,000 working age households which previously received help with some part of their council tax support have now had bills to pay.
In Torbay, there are 4,200 social housing tenants receiving housing benefit with 555 working age households affected by what critics call the bedroom tax. Of those, 457 households have one extra bedroom, and 98 households have more than one extra bedroom. The average weekly loss in benefit is around £15.
Citizens' Advice Bureau reported Torbay is considered to be one of the worst impacted areas in the county with some 20 per cent of households hit by the reforms, the majority of them with at least one person at work.
This will make it difficult for many to remain in their existing homes and putting them at increased risk of poverty, debt and homelessness, says the report.
Members again voiced their concerns about missed calls. Cllr Neil Bent asked them to look at whether a dedicated benefits call line would help performance. They asked for a further report.
Cllr Darling also asked the council to work more closely with credit unions.