Sweeping benefit reform impacts felt throughout Chichester

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A ‘MANIFEST unfairness’ continues to grip the Chichester district, as national changes to welfare impact locally.

A meeting of Chichester District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee heard from the Chichester Foodbank, Chichester and Arun Citizens Advice Bureau and the council’s own officers, all of whom said residents were finding it hard to cope with the changes.

Joanne Kondabeka, who runs the Chichester Foodbank, said she was aware of at least two people coming to the Foodbank who had been threatened with eviction because of the recent introduction of the so-called bedroom tax.

One of the people was a mother with a grown-up son.

“That was a difficult situation,” she said.

“She’s not been evicted because she sold her car to pay off the debt.

“She needed a second bedroom because she had a son who came home to visit who was over 18.”

She said she understood the need to make sure people had the right number of bedrooms but added problems arose where people did not want to move out of their community.

“People do sometimes need that spare bedroom,” she said.

“We’re finding that people are in debt because they’ve not been able to pay all their rents. It’s harder for them to move because the housing association won’t move them unless they’ve paid their arrears.”

The tax sees people in social housing with one spare bedroom losing 14 per cent of their housing allowance. For two bedrooms or more it’s 25 per cent.

Marie Grele, CDC’s housing intervention manager, said there had already been instances where the council needed to step in.

“We’ve prevented homelessness in some cases,” she said, adding this sometimes involved helping families move to more suitable accommodation.

Councillor Gordon McAra said: “There is a manifest unfairness about this.

“It’s all very well government saying you need to loosen up space for families, but you have to have a sense of justice in this.”

Between September, 2012, and March, 2013, the Chichester Foodbank received an average of six people per month with 41 vouchers from the city’s CAB branch for food.

Between April, 2013, and January, 2014, the number increased to 25.