Council tenants in Huddersfield are falling into thousands of pounds of debt.
And Kirklees’s social landlord, Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing, has become inundated with calls from tenants struggling to pay their rent since their housing benefits were cut in April.
According to the first report from the Real Life Reform project, social housing tenants in the North of England owe an average of £2,418.
The study, by the Northern Housing Consortium and York University, includes participants living in Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing (KNH) homes.
The project aims to show how council tenants in the North are struggling to make ends meet – and how problems are likely to worsen as benefit changes under this year’s Welfare Reform Act come into effect.
KNH says greater numbers of tenants are contacting them seeking assistance. Since April – when the Welfare Reform Act became law – there have been 528 referrals to KNH’s debt advice team, compared to 681 for all of 2012.
Particularly affected are those living in properties with spare bedrooms. Some 1,867 KNH tenants are affected by the under-occupancy charge (‘bedroom tax’) and have had their housing benefit cut by 14 to 25%.
Of those, 1,327 have fallen behind with their rent, collectively owing £142,000 to date.
A spokesperson for KNH said: “Any tenants who are struggling to pay their rent or other debts should get in touch with us rather than ignore the problem, as it won’t go away. We have specialist staff who can help. Call 01484 414886.”
The Real Life Reform study, which includes participants living in social housing in Leeds, Liverpool, Stockport and Teesside, also found:
65% have less than £10 per week to live on following rent and essentials such as food and bills. 37% have nothing left each week.
Households are intending to cut back spending on food and fuel; 25% spend less than £20 per week on food.
Eight out of 10 households are already in debt and 83% are worried about getting into more debt. Over half of those in debt doubt they’ll ever be able to clear these debts.
Households are reporting increases in levels of stress and depression.
88% of households are worried welfare changes will impact on their health and wellbeing.
Parents report they are going without to protect their children’s health.
77% of households believe the changes will impact on their neighbourhood.
Households report worries about loan sharks and increases in crime.
Initial research was carried out over the summer, while a second set of interviews with the participants will take place next month and be published in December.