Evictions warning over housing benefit reforms

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Media captionFrom October, the payment will no longer be made directly to landlords but to their tenants

Changes to housing benefit later this year could lead to a rise in evictions, a key housing body has warned.

From October, the benefit will be paid to the tenant once a month instead of directly to the landlord.

The National Housing Federation said it expected rent arrears to increase by £245m a year as a result.

The government said tenants should have the responsibility for paying their rent, rather than the money going directly to housing providers.

In a survey by the federation, which represents housing associations including some of Britain's biggest landlords, the majority of tenants said they would struggle to prioritise saving money for rent over food and other day-to-day costs.

The increase in arrears suggested by the research would represent a 51% rise.

'Roof at risk'

Federation chief executive David Orr said: "Within a few short months, hundreds of thousands of low-income families will see their housing benefit cut as a result of the Welfare Reform Act.

"Many could fall behind on their rents, putting at risk the roof over their heads.

"Housing associations are doing their best in tough circumstances to cushion the blow for their residents. But there is still a lot of uncertainty, including in government, as to the full impact of its reforms.

"We need more time to understand and prepare for the impact of these massive changes to the welfare system."

The study, involving 232 housing associations in England, found that 15% of these organisations thought their rent arrears could double.

Mike Doran, of the Plus Dane Housing Association in north Liverpool, said: "If our arrears go up that affects the credibility of our business in terms of how we borrow money to build new houses, about how we provide support to vulnerable people, how we repair and maintain our homes."

BBC home editor Mark Easton said government pilots of the changes had found many more social housing tenants falling behind with their payments than before.

However, Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb said: "Where people are in work or renting privately they have to budget out of the money they have coming in to pay their rent.

"We're extending that principle, treating social tenants the same, so that they learn the same budgeting skills and if they move into work it's not a great shock.

"We recognise a minority will struggle to budget, and they will need special support, but the norm will be that people have an income coming in and they budget out of it. That will be the normal thing to do."

Our correspondent said that some vulnerable tenants would be allowed to switch back to the old system.

But many in the housing sector feared that would not be enough and it would see many people losing their home, he added.

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