Fenland worst hit part of Cambridgeshire as benefit changes begin to bite


Money - Credit: Archant

Benefit changes introduced by the Coalition Government are hitting the people of Fenland harder than else in Cambridgeshire, says a new report.

Government figures show that across the county £130m a year is being removed from the economy by the changes “and the impact will be most intense in Fenland”.

The report, presented to yesterday’s meeting of the Cambridgeshire Children’s Trust at Ely, revealed £492 will be lost per year per working age adult.

In East Cambridgeshire the figure is much lower with each working age adult expected to lose just £325.

The figures shows Fenland is responsible for an estimated £29.1m of the £130m lost to Cambridgeshire, made up of £1.2m in local housing allowances, £500,000 by the bedroom tax, £200,00 in household benefit cap and £400,000 in council tax benefit reductions. The remaining £25.97m includes such things a child benefit/tax credit/incapacity benefit changes and the new method of ‘uprating’ for benefits.

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The information has been collated by district councils and the Citizens Advice Bureaux and fed into an economic impact study being undertaken nationally by Sheffield Hallam University.

The report also notes that across the county there has been an increase in the numbers seeking debt advice “with a particularly significant increase in Fenland

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“This may reflect the fact that a higher proportion of people on benefits live in the private rented sector in Fenland- the housing benefit reductions in the private sector came into effect between 2011 and the end of 2012.”

The report says “qualitative” evidence shows that under occupation charges are impacting in several ways with families’ voluntarily moving house whilst others struggle to live on their reduced income.

“Rent arrears are increasing and there remains a need to continue to communicate and support families affected,” says the report.

In Fenland an estimate of the numbers affected by under occupation reveals that 330 households in Fenland under occupy by one room and 76 households by two rooms. In Across Cambridgeshire as a while (and excluding East Cambs which has no figures available) the report shows a total of 3,288 households are affected by under occupation changes.

Fenland, too, has been an increase in housing claimants but in East Cambridgeshire there has been a decrease.

But the report offers some good news for Fenland – and mainly because of the work of its ‘court desk’ at Peterborough Court. The council set up the support scheme five years ago and use the CAB to work on their behalf to try and prevent people from losing their homes.

Court desk case study

In July a man with two children appeared before Peterborough County Council. His relationship had broken down and he had been unable to work because he needed to look after his children.

However he resolved his child care issues, returned to work and a possession order was suspended “as the judge felt that the mortgage was once again affordable”.

In a report to the cabinet at Fenland Hall on Thursday, officers will report that since April the court desk has helped 11 such families to keep their homes.

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