Councillors to raise awareness on benefit changes

Aberdeenshire Council’s Social Work and Housing Committee met recently at Woodhill House in Aberdeen and agreed to further actions to increase awareness of changes to housing benefits due next year.

The response to letters encouraging council tenants affected by housing benefit changes to get in touch has been very low.

The council will now carry out activities to inform a range of organisations about the changes including events for partners in the third sector as well as staff as approved by members of the committee.

The authority is also providing information for use in the tenants newsletter as well as at tenant events, in leaflets, online films and through the media and council’s website.

More than 750 letters were issued to council tenants of working age in receipt of housing benefit to advise them of the reduction in support their household might receive according to new rules set by the UK Government due in April 2013.

Only 11% (85 people) of those who received letters and leaflets were spurred into action to contact the authority to find out more or get advice on their circumstances. Committee members heard that the lowest response was in the Banff and Buchan area whilst tenants in Garioch responded well.

Councillors suggested adding information to community group newsletters as well as posters, radio and TV adverts although it was thought the Department of Work and Pensions may advertise.

Members raised concerns about the impact of housing benefit changes on the way the council allocates housing as well as the impact on downsizing, exchanges and rent arrears. Councillors were advised that the authority was preparing for the changes.

Head of housing Douglas Edwardson advised members that in reality some people might not want to move home, adding: “We are encouraging people online through Apply4homes and our mutual exchange system and we are working with Registered Social Landlords to make people aware these options are there too.”

Director of Housing and Social Work Ritchie Johnson said that the number of exchanges has increased and it was important not to wait until April but to get people thinking about changes early.

He added that the more the council could minimise the impact the better with work taking place with credit unions to help people manage their finances better.