Housing is the single largest living cost faced by most families in Wales. For many, finding enough to cover their rent or mortgage repayments, utilities bills and Council Tax is a struggle. To assist families with these costs, the Welsh Government and local authorities operate support schemes. The Bevan Foundation’s latest publication finds that these schemes can be reformed and improved.
As part of a larger project on the help that is provided to low-income families in Wales, the Bevan Foundation have reviewed the schemes providing support to low income households with their housing costs. Whilst we found that many people valued the support they received, there are a number of shortcomings with the current system:
- The schemes are difficult to gain access to, with no consistency in the eligibility criteria for each scheme nor in the way they are administered.
- The support provided is not always sufficient with households being left short due to arbitrary rules and administrative variation.
- The schemes are not always being used in ways that are consistent with what they were designed for, with emergency forms of support being increasingly relied upon over the long term.
In order to ensure that housing forms part of the solution to poverty rather than being a driver, we have identified a number of options for reform that the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities could pursue. Some of these are technical changes that could be implemented in the short term to improve the current system:
- Explore with local authorities whether their administrative processes can be changed to automatically passport Universal Credit recipients onto the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
- Establish a stabilisation mechanism to ensure more consistency from year to year in the Discretionary Housing Payment budget.
- Ensure support schemes provide more than the minimum level of support required.
- Provide greater clarity on who can access the Disabled Facilities Grant.
- Strengthen the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.
In the longer term, however, we think the Welsh Government should consider more radical options for reform. These options include:
- Reform Council tax – including abolishing the single person discount and reinvesting the funds into the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and replacing Council Tax with a more progressive tax.
- Construct more social housing with greater use of public funds to reduce pressure on social landlords to increase rents.
- The devolution of Discretionary Housing Payment and moving the scheme onto a demand led footing.
- The devolution of further powers over social security, including some powers over Housing Benefit, the housing element of Universal Credit and Winter Fuel Payments.
- The development of a Welsh Housing Guarantee that would pull together all the various streams of support into one, easy to access fund for low income households.
To read the full report click here