Changes to benefit rules will hit the most vulnerable
16th September 2008
Some of the most vulnerable people will face cuts to the amount of backdating available when they apply for certain benefits. The Government is pressing ahead with short-sighted plans to cut backdating of Housing Benefit and Pension Credit, Citizens Advice warned today.
The Regulations will come into force on 6th October 2008 and will cut the time limit for backdating of Housing Benefit and Pension Credit claims for people over 60 from 12 to 3 months. Those under 60 will see a cut to backdating of Housing Benefit from 12 to 6 months.
The cuts appear completely at odds with Government efforts to prevent homelessness and reduce poverty through effective benefit uptake campaigns. Similar proposals were ditched in 2000 following widespread protests and a highly critical report from the Government’s own Social Security Advisory Committee.
Citizens Advice warns that being able to backdate Housing Benefit for up to 12 months is vital to prevent eviction and homelessness. Backdating enables tenants to pay off rent arrears which are often caused by them not being aware that they could claim Housing Benefit to help with the cost of their rent.
The Government wishes to reduce backdating at a time when people are struggling more than ever to meet the costs of rising household bills.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Derek Alcorn said:
“We think that these cuts are a false economy. The Housing Benefit backdating provisions are a key tool in delivering the Government’s agenda to prevent homelessness and as such they are highly cost effective. Any savings to the Housing Benefit budget are likely to be far outweighed by the much greater costs of homelessness. Older people on low incomes will also lose out by not being able to access the benefits they were entitled to for a past period.”
Citizens Advice urges anyone who feels they might be eligible for Pension Credit or Housing Benefit to contact their local CAB, Housing Executive or Pension Service before 6th October 2008 to ensure they can avail of full backdating.
- A County Tyrone client was able to obtain £3,400 in backdated Pension Credit that she was entitled to and had not been claiming. The client was entitled to over £80 per week based on her income which she had not been aware she should be receiving.
- A County Down client over pension age was able to obtain £3,000 backdated housing benefit for renting her home due to the 12 month backdating rules.
Notes to Editors
- Citizens Advice is the largest advice charity in Northern Ireland working against poverty, meeting the information and advice needs of some 279,000 people per year. 56% of these queries relate to social security benefits.
- The Citizens Advice service is an independent charity that helps people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
Current legislation allows the Government to raise overpayments in cases where a claimant provided incorrect information or did not report a change of circumstances even in cases when the person made a genuine mistake. This provision can go back to when the client made the original claim which in some cases can be a number of years. Conversely, backdating benefit is rarely possible beyond 12 months when a person was not aware of their entitlement.