SOCIAL housing tenants in the district are increasingly struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Citizens Advice South Warwickshire (CASW) say tenants embroiled in eviction and repossession cases has tripled in three years – with 122 cases in the first half of this year.
CASW – which helps people with debt problems – is paid by Stratford District Council (SDC) to represent people at repossession and eviction hearings.
And the charity is calling on the council to help fund another staff member to assist people in getting back on their feet.
CASW chief executive Aiden Knox said: “For every case where homelessness is averted the financial saving to local authorities and providers are assumed to be in the region of £16,500 in each case.
“Investment in the service is a cost benefit to SDC as it is essential support for some of the most vulnerable in our communities.”
The roll out of Universal Credit – a single social security benefit introduced in 2013 to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits – is being blamed as a major factor in the increasing case-work undertaken by the charity.
Research by Citizens Advice has shown on average, claimants are waiting eight to ten weeks for payment, and for families already in arrears the lag can trigger court proceedings.
Stratford district councillor Jenny Fradgley said: “I’m alarmed by this big increase in the figures and the statement by the CASW that they expect this area of work will continue to increase.
“Paying Universal Credit six weeks in arrears has been widely challenged and it just leads to more people unable to pay their rent and facing eviction.”
Stratford District Council leader Chris Saint agreed the rise mostly resulted from benefit changes.
He added: “We have been successful in reducing the prevalence of homelessness in this district and the consequent financial demands are reducing.
“We are advising residents who need to apply for universal credit and our customer service centre is open to provide support. We also are lobbying for a change in the rules from DWP.
“The CAB provides a service that is very effective in saving costs, but the essential result of their work is to ensure that people are able to live in proper housing and I regret the risk of eviction in this day and age.”
Other pressures include housing benefit – one of the benefits cut – and other areas of welfare reform, such as the spare room subsidy and benefit caps.
Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi said the Homelessness Reduction Bill – which comes into force in April – would place an obligation on councils to support those threatened with homelessness, or who were already homeless, to find a home.
The £550 million scheme aims to tackle homelessness in England by 2020 including providing low cost accommodation for rough sleepers and domestic abuse victims in refuges.