More than 6,300 households across the Eastlondonlines boroughs have now been officially warned that they will be affected by the household benefit cap to be introduced in April 2013, according to new Figures collated by Eastlondonlines.
All the households have received warning letters from the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the recently released updated figures.
With 2,220 households receiving the letters, Tower Hamlets is the country’s fifth most affected borough. Hackney is ninth with 1,630 households contacted, Croydon is thirteenth with 1,340 and Lewisham is nineteenth with 1,140.
The letters were sent by the Department of Work and Pensions in three installments in May, July and September of this year, as part of an ongoing ‘engagement campaign’.
A spokesperson for the department said: “Often we find when people first get a letter, they’ll ignore it, especially if it’s notifying you of something a year away. So we’ve followed up with further letters and calls.”
The cap will apply to the total income that a household can receive in benefits. Households in which a member receives Working Tax Credit will be exempt, as will a host of other benefits, including Disability Living Allowance, the Widower’s Pension and the Industrial Injuries Benefit.
The updated figures from the DWP reveal the disproportionate strain that will be felt in London by the weekly total limit of £500 for families or couples, and £350 for single people.
With total populations of 234,828 and 219,200 respectively, Tower Hamlets and Hackney are set to feel the effects more than the populous boroughs of Croydon (339,500) and Lewisham (270,000).
Alison Gelder, director of Housing Justice, a charity based in Bermondsey, said they were putting together an action plan following a meeting last month on the ‘London housing crisis’.
“We’re seeking action on the lack of London weighting, especially with single-person households, which there are 23,000 or across London. We know that local authorities are already seeking housing outside of London and are moving people into bed and breakfasts.
“There are two important parts to this. We’re trying to get as many people as possible to write to the government, asking for London weighting or an exception.
“When the housing benefit cap came in we created a blueprint urging local authorities to use their discretionary funds to deal with hard cases. The DWP always points to the extra funds that have been set aside for local authorities to use in the most extreme cases, but they won’t unless they’re pushed.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “It’s about fairness. At the moment, people who aren’t on benefits have to choose where they live. You can’t go and live in Chelsea in a five-bed because you couldn’t afford to. If you trap people on benefits, it’s a disincentive; they’ll never get back into work because they’re doing all right on benefits.
“There is a safety net for the 90-year-old woman in her flat who can’t move out and there’s £190 million being pumped into helping with the impact, the majority of which will be focused on London and there will be a lot of support over the transition period.”
The spokesperson labeled Sarah Teather MP’s comments in last Saturday’s Observer, that the cap would lead to “a reverse Jarrow march”, as ‘scaremongering’.
She said: “The article was quite misinformed. It’s only the innermost parts of the city that will be affected. People have options: you can go to work, increase your hours, get a lodger to help pay shortfall, and there are joint tenancy agreements now. If you’re looking to downsize and you’re social renting a property, there are council swap shops.”
From October 2013, tax credits and benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Income Support will start to be merged into a single Universal Credit payment.
Various local charities have described the outlook as grim as many see their own funding obliterated, and with further cut announcements expected in George Osborne’s autumn statement at the beginning of December, it seems the age of austerity may just be beginning.