Bron Afon staff have been knocking on the doors of 1,300 tenants to talk to them about the ‘bedroom tax’. Staff from across the organisation have been helping out by spending a few hours visiting tenants to make sure they know about the changes the government is making in April 2013.
Duncan Forbes, Bron Afon’s chief executive, emailed staff to ask them to share some of the stories they had heard while telling tenants to their face they will be affected by under-occupancy.
These are the replies. We will add any new stories to this blog as staff share them.
I spoke to an elderly lady who had a 3 bed house and had lived there for nearly 40 years. She was very distressed because she had 2 spare bedrooms and didn’t know how she would be able to pay the rent after April. She said all her friends and family were local.
I met with a woman with a lifelong depression / anxiety related illness. She finds it difficult to function in groups or unfamiliar surroundings yet her depression is not seen as a disability sufficient to prevent her seeking work. Advice from the Benefits Agency (if that is what they’re still called) was to get a cleaning job although this left her worse off. She lives alone in a three-bedroom house. We talked about how she could manage the additional cost following a cut in housing benefit. She already relies on her daughter to lend her money and give her food from time to time. She often sits in the dark (using candles for light) to save on the cost of electricity and rarely heats the home, again due to cost. She was resigned to having to move to a smaller property but did not want to do it… at all. She struggled to understand how anyone could decide to force that on someone in her position, or anyone for that matter, becoming visibly angry and upset. She described the thought of packing and organising a move to somewhere smaller and the associated costs that meant as too much to cope with on her own.
I met a mum with two children. They reminded me of my own. Her partner walked out on them and she has found it difficult to cope financially since. Amongst other things, to make ends meet she has had to cancel internet access and finds it difficult to consider how she’ll be able to continue her studies (currently on hold). Her current situation means she’s unable to work as child care is out of reach as is transport. She can no longer afford to run a car. The reduction in income will only further increase her dependency on welfare and place her further from being able to work or to continue in education.
I met with a man with post traumatic stress caused whilst serving in the army. It was obvious that he suffered with severe depression and went on to tell me a bit about the family, their home, his condition and the effects of the changes to his housing benefit the he foresaw. He currently lives at the property with one daughter who is hoping to go to university next year. So where he currently under-occupies the property to the tune of one bedroom this is likely to increase later next year. His daughter is worried about him and her decision (whether she even goes on to higher education) is going to be heavily influenced by the effects of the changes to dad’s benefit. His depression is not seen as a disability sufficient to prevent him seeking work so his benefit was cut recently. We talked about how he could manage the additional cost following a cut in his housing benefit, short of stopping eating and heating the home he was unable to identify any other savings. He was resigned to having to move to a smaller property but did not want to do it. The current home is the one he raised his children in, the one his wife shared with him until she died. He was proud of the home and the time, effort and money he had clearly put into it. Leaving that to start again was a thought that (I observed) made him so very anxious and visibly shaken.
When I went door knocking I met a lady who is blind and lives in a two-bedroom property. She will get a cut in benefit due to the ‘bedroom tax’. She has lived in her home around 20 years and it has been adapted for her needs. Her neighbour acts as a carer for her too. If she is forced to move because she can’t afford to stay she will have to leave the community she loves because there are no one -bedroom properties in her area. If she moves away she will leave an area she is able to safely travel around because she knows it so well.
This tenant has lived alone in this three-bedroom house that has been her family home for over 40 years. She suffers with mental and due to her illness has struggled to do simple tasks and has previously fallen into arrears. Her family live nearby and give her essential support. When I explained the changes and how she would be affected she broke down and cried. She said she feels useless and doesn’t know how she would manage to find the additional money but also couldn’t bear to leave her home. She has a support worker and together they are making really good progress. She is able to work around one day a week. Her worries are around moving as she can’t drive and would struggle to find another job. I felt that her low self esteem means any further financial hardship could affect her mental health.
One couple had spent thousands of pounds on their home. She worked part-time and he had been made redundant. He was walking down to the job centre every day to try and find work. If they moved, they would never be able to afford to decorate their new home or carpet it the way they had been able to with their existing home when the man was working. They would be going without meals to survive.
A single mum with two kids, one aged a few months old and the other was four. Her partner had left her recently and she was struggling to cope on her own with two children. She was exhausted after a night up with one of them who was unwell. The baby goes to bed at 6.30pm and her older child at 8.30pm. Neither sleep well and if they shared a room the older child would wake the baby up every night and neither would get any sleep. She was worried this would mean the older child would be exhausted going to school.
I spoke to a woman who has mental health issues and has frequent episodes when she needs to be watched. Her grandchildren sleep over when she is having an episode to look after her using the spare room. She was really worried what would happen to her if they couldn’t because she didn’t have a spare room.
I met a man who shares a three-bedroom home with his brother. One has disabilities, the other is the carer. They grew up in that home, it was their parents and have never lived anywhere else. They said they will have to find the money, moving was not an option
I met a single man who says he fills himself up with cups of tea, to try to starve off the hunger. He has to decide whether to eat or keep warm. We went through the questions on the survey and discussed what would happen if any major items, such as the cooker broke down and he said he would use a camping stove if it came to it.
I met a couple and their pregnant daughter. During our discussion they understood that they had one spare bedroom at the moment and would be hit by the ‘bedroom tax’. What I found really upsetting was that they had already worked out the only possible solution for them was if they each had two meals less a week they would be able to make up the shortfall! He said this very matter of fact. They do not drink or smoke and this was the only area they could economise on. A pregnant girl having to go without food! I also met another gentleman who said the same – the only area to economise was food!
I met a disabled tenant in her 20s who is unable to walk. She is mostly reliant on benefits. Her home has been adapted with items such as a ceiling hoist to assist her daily needs. Her condition will affect her life expectancy. During variable periods of ill health she needs carers to stay overnight in the spare room. She has already been in contact with the council and been told that because the carers are not required every night, the room will be treated as a ‘spare room’ under the new rules. Due to her condition, she has little energy left and does not want to spend the time she has left, fighting this decision or waiting to some time to have a new property adapted for her. She told me she expects to either miss meals and turn the heating off in order to make up the shortfall. Failing that, she expects to run into arrears.
A couple told me they had severe health issues and had moved into the property because it gave easy ambulance access and a spare room that one of them could sleep in when they were suffering with their condition in the night (which is a regular occurrence). Neither of them were able to work due to their health and disabilities. Neither of them smoked or drunk alcohol, but both were already struggling to survive on the little income they had. Although they knew that the Welfare changes would affect them, they didn’t realise by how much until I visited them. We talked through their options. A lodger was not an option as she had had an experience recently where a man had broken in when she was alone so they didn’t feel comfortable inviting a stranger in to live with them. They said that they would consider a move in order to simply survive, but they were unsure how they would cope if this meant they would be ripped away from their family and friends networks in a property without the spare room that they utilise so often and possibly without the right access levels for them or the ambulance service. The option that will be most likely to make up the shortfall (they are determined not to fall into arrears) is by cutting back on squash and turning the heating off. Although this is likely to cause their health to deteriorate further and possibly lead to more nights being spent in hospital.
This young couple had moved in to their first home together (a two bedroom Bron Afon flat), they had plastic garden furniture in their living room as they haven’t had the money to buy any indoor furniture. They told me about why they have a second bedroom – the young lady’s mum has health issues and struggles to look after her young children, so our tenant looks after them two to three times a week for her mum to rest. I couldn’t believe I had to sit their and tell them they are going to lose near enough £50 a month from April if they don’t move. They said they would be willing to move or transfer but wouldn’t be able to afford the move and would need massive amounts of support with this. It just made me so so sad to see.
A lady we met was trying very hard to make ends meet. She was trying to find a job with a young daughter to support. She was doing her utmost to keep on top of her rent but is then living on very basic meals for example, beans on toast which was her usual daily meal.
I visited a lady who is on her own aged 60 in a two-bedroom flat. She will be affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ until May 2015. She was a lovely lady really welcoming. Her flat was beautiful. She explained to me how the spare bedroom was used for her late husband. She cared for him in that bedroom until he sadly passed away. She doesn’t want to leave her home to downsize as she has fond memories of her husband there and also in the surrounding areas are her friends and family. What got to me was she said to me that she is already struggling to make her money stretch but in all seriousness she said she would go without food before falling into arrears. After everything she has faced and after the effort she has put into her home. This was heartbreaking.
A lady was living alone in a two-bedroom house. She suffers with depression and panic attacks. She is in her late 50s. She told me that her son lives nearby and is very ill. She told me that they support each other as they need to. Sometimes she feels too panicked to even step foot out of the door so her son helps her if she needs anything and when he has a bad day she helps with him. It was important to keep the extra bedroom for these instances where she can have one of her family stay when she is experiencing a very low period. She does not drink alcohol or smoke and there is nothing she can cut down on to save money as she is on the bare minimum now. She will pay the shortfall and will have to turn her heating off at times and ask if she can have some of her meals at her son’s house. She told me she feels too vulnerable most of the time to leave the house unless it is to walk to visit her family. If she was made to move she would be on a downhill spiral and she felt it would be her demise.
A tenant lives in a two-bedroom flat with her husband. They both have health problems that prevent them from working. She has a sister that has severe learning difficulties. Her sister lives with her parents who have their own health problems. The spare bedroom is used for when her sister comes and stays with her. This happens a couple of times a month to allow her parents to have a rest from looking after her sister. She doesn’t want to downsize as the spare bedroom is needed. She is also thinking of the future and the fact that her sister will have to come and live with her if anything happens to her parents. She feels confident she can find the extra money to cover the shortfall in the housing benefit. She is grateful to Bron Afon as they have recently helped her apply for a reduction in her water rates. She now pays £5 less water rates due to her skin condition which she can put towards the cost of the extra bedroom come April.
One family I asked where they could cut down on spending said that they have already cut back on heating. Their house was really cold and were sitting there with a duvet over them on sofa.
One tenant aged 19 with two children aged under five had issues with them sharing as the older toddler would pick the baby up and bring him down the stairs early in the morning or in the night. She felt this was a health and safety issue.
A lot of tenants laughed at me when I asked them what they have been struggling to pay.
When I said holidays/ entertainment etc the majority of them said ‘what’s that?’ people are not living they’re surviving as it is.
I met a woman who had only recently moved into her own two-bedroomed flat after having spent a considerable time in a refuge and a short spell of living with a friend. She had ended up in the refuge due to domestic violence and was very disappointed but what was more sad was absolutely resigned to the fact that she would have to give up her new found independence and live again with her friend if she was going to make ends meet.
One family are waiting for their daughter, who was abused by her partner, to be released from a mental health unit. When she is able to leave she needs a secure home with a bedroom for her to live however they don’t know when that will be and are worried they will have to pay the shortfall for the weeks she isn’t still living there. They have been through a tremendous ordeal and have tried to do their best for their son by decorating and making a nice home but now they’re worried that they will have to move, not eat or not heat the house.
The tenant broke down in tears as soon as I arrived because she knew why I was there. She lives in a three-bedroom house with her two daughters both aged under 16. One of them has epileptic fits, so is unable to share with anyone, and they constantly argue anyway. So to put them in the same room would cause a lot of stress. When I asked how they would manage financially to cover the additional bedroom if they were unable to share , she didn’t know what she was going to do. She also doesn’t want to move as she has family support around her. She was absolutely distraught.
One lady is living in a three-bedrooom house and only has one child living with her, but is currently trying to gain custody of her other two children. One of the children is in Care and the other is living with their father. She was really worried on how she was going to afford the extra money but also unsure on what to do as she felt getting a lodger or moving to a smaller property was not an option as she needed the space when the children returned.
One family I met were already struggling as the husband has recently been made redundant. Their little boy has several serious health issues which means that it is virtually impossible for him to share a bedroom with his younger sister. The other problem being that the second bedroom is not actually big enough to hold two beds. They are now looking at options of possibly looking at a relative moving in as well to try to avoid the ‘bedroom tax’.
I visited a single father who has joint custody of his two children, however he only collects the Child Benefit for one of his children and so is only entitled to Housing Benefit for the one bedroom, in spite of both children spending half of the week with him. This family is already living in poverty and told me about problems with paying their heating bills, for food, clothing and for christmas and birthday presents. Having to find an extra £40 a month is almost impossible for an already overstretched family budget
I visited a family who are underoccupying a four-bedroom house by one bedroom. I completed an income and expenidture form and they live on a total of £760 a month including her housing benefit. Currently their expenditure is £766 a month and the shortfall is usually made up by cutting back on food shopping. Their gas and electric bills are £160 a month and they cannot change provider due to a huge arrears bill of £900 that was built up during a previous very bad winter. The family are still paying off a previous debt from a doorstep lender with huge interest rates and have just had to take out a further loan to pay for Christmas for this year. An extra £40 a month to find means this family will cut back even further on their food bills with energy prices also increasing and now two loans to pay back.
I called on a young man who has a three-bedoom property, he needs a bedroom so that he can have his children to stay over. He has to have room for them but will still have to pay the extra for the spare bedrooms. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation for him.
I met a woman who had only recently moved into a two-bedroom flat after having spent a considerable time in a refuge and a short spell of living with a friend. She had ended up in the refuge due to domestic violence and was very disappointed but what was more sad was absolutely resigned to the fact that she would have to give up her new found independence and live again with her friend if she was going to make ends meet.
A couple live in a four-bedroom property, with no other occupiers. They moved with Torfaen Council, many years ago with as there were no three-bedroom properties available and at that time they had their family at home. The couple are on higher rate disability living allowance and the property has been adapted for them. Their grandson stays with them from Friday to Sunday due to family issues. They are really upset that if they are forced to move to a two bedroom or one bedroom property they will be unable to provide a bedroom/ home for their grandson when he needs them. The under occupancy will have a really bad effect on them, financially and mentally.
A mum lives in a three- bedroom property with her son. The third bedroom is occupied by a baby girl belonging to her niece who is unable to care for her daughter. This diamond of a woman will have to find around £45 per month to pay the reduction in housing benefit.
I can’t give specific stories but the majority of people I visited are already struggling and are very worried about the detrimental affect this change is going to have on them. A lot of them struggle with the basics like heating/gas and food and the thought of having to cut the basics further or move, is worrying to them.
I asked a man in his twenties on jobseekers’ allowance about his weekly budget and how he could save about £10 a week to cover a reduction in housing benefit. He said there was no point as he had no idea.
A couple in their late 50s were bewildered. They have lived in their three bedroom home for over almost 30 years. Their children had now moved out.
A man in his early 30s opened the door of his two-bedroom flat in a wooly hat and wearing a warm top. Bron Afon will be fitting double glazing in the next few weeks but at the moment heating is expensive. He was unemployed but had been working on a brilliant local community project in that area that I could tell he was proud of. The funding ended and so did his job.
A young dad invited me into the kitchen of this three bedroom home. He lives with his partner and son and daughter, both under ten. They will only be affected until next October when his nine-year-old son has his next birthday. In his line of work contracts start and finish and he hopes he will be working in January.