West Norfolk Council chiefs reject benefit change homelessness warning

A group sleeping outside near Blue Inc in the centre of King's Lynn, on one of the coldest nights this winter. ANL-160119-072043009
A group sleeping outside near Blue Inc in the centre of King's Lynn, on one of the coldest nights this winter. ANL-160119-072043009
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West Norfolk is not properly prepared for a potential rise in homelessness linked to government benefit reforms, campaigners have suggested.

The warning comes just weeks before the new universal credit system comes into effect and amid fears groups helping those in need may be forced to shut altogether.

But council chiefs have dismissed the claims, saying they have been advised the existing procedures will not change for at least two years.

Last month, staff from the Genesis housing association and North West Norfolk Labour party activists staged a sleepout in Lynn’s town centre to raise awareness of the homelessness issue.

They are worried about the effects of the government’s new universal credit payment system, which is due to be introduced to West Norfolk next month both on individual recipients and housing organisations.

Labour secretary Jo Rust questioned the steps being taken to support people receiving the new payments at last Thursday’s full council meeting..

She said: “It is widely feared that we will face increased levels of homelessness with the introduction of universal credit.

“Providers are greatly concerned about their sustainability. What plans does the council have to help them avoid closure?”

But Adrian Lawrence, the authority’s portfolio holder for housing, said they had been advised that the reforms would not affect housing benefit immediately, though practice may be reviewed in two years’ time.

He said: “We have been advised that supported housing will be exempt from universal credit, meaning housing benefit will still be paid directly to the provider.”

Mrs Rust accused the authority of not planning because they “don’t believe” there will be an impact.

But Mr Lawrence said they were taking advice both from central government and other councils where the reforms have already come into effect.