A multi-agency task force has been launched in Barnet to support households likely to be affected by the benefit cap. The team combines staff from Barnet Council, Barnet Homes and Jobcentre Plus, and will primarily focus on supporting affected households into work, with some support to find affordable accommodation where necessary.
The cap was introduced nationally on 15 July and will come into effect in Barnet later in the summer.
Just over 1,000 households have been identified as due to be affected by the benefit cap, with the majority living in private sector accommodation.
The task force has been created to provide joined-up advice and support on getting in to work, housing options and benefits advice for residents as seamlessly as possible. It is working with all residents in the borough due to be affected, including those who are renting privately and have not approached the council directly for housing support – a first for Barnet Homes.
Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, said: “This is a really good example of the public sector in the borough working together for the benefit of residents. We can give seamless advice on options for work, skills improvement, housing and if necessary child care. By working together we have gone beyond the support offered by many boroughs. I’m particularly pleased Barnet Homes has been contacting and supporting residents in the private rented sector who may need help and support.”
Four members of staff have been recruited by Barnet Homes as part of the task force to provide frontline support to the households affected. They have been specially trained to help residents identify which options are available to them and direct them to the right specialist.
Derek Rust, Director of Operations at Barnet Homes, said: “The task force addresses a need created by further uncertainty for residents following the latest welfare reform changes. These can be bewildering for those who might be affected and we want to help them understand the change. By recommending the work options available, helping them with their budgeting or finding them somewhere more affordable to live, we can make a really positive impact.”
The task force will also use the expertise of Barnet Homes’ Housing Options Team, which has a wealth of experience in preventing homelessness.
Michael Morley, North London District Operations Manager for Jobcentre Plus, said: “My teams have been working with residents due to be affected by the benefit cap since last autumn, helping them overcome the barriers into work – and we have had some success. Allowing my Jobcentre advisers to work alongside benefits officers and housing needs officers means we can achieve more together. Customers get the full range of support they need and I strongly believe we can help get more people into work this way.”
Claimants will not be affected by the cap if they work and qualify for working tax credits or are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. People who are the qualifying age for state pension are also exempt.
Between October 2012 and February 2013 Barnet Homes visited over a thousand of their tenants to promote awareness and support those affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy, which was introduced in April 2013.