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News Report Page 5 of 19
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Universal Credit shortfall leaving low income households in parts of North West at risk of homelessness

WITH 12 out of the 15 most depressed Regions in England are within the North West, it's not a surprise that it is a hot topic locally and Universal Credit is often heard within conversations.  But did you know that according to a new report from the UK charity Crisis, single people, couples and small families receiving Universal Credit are at increasing risk of homelessness in parts of the North West because of a persistent shortfall between the benefit and the true cost of renting?

The Charity have now launched of its Cover the Cost campaign, the gap is leaving households facing the choice between paying for essentials like food and bills or paying their rent; and in the most severe cases, increasing their risk of homelessness. The loss of a private tenancy is currently the number 1 cause of homelessness across England.

Some of the least affordable areas in the region include Southern Greater Manchester, where just 6% of two bedroom rented houses were affordable for small families receiving Universal Credit in 2018/19. For single people under 35 receiving the shared accommodation rate, a shocking 1% of rooms were affordable, while couples and single people over 35 could afford just 7% of rented accommodation.

Other areas where small families receiving Universal Credit struggle to find 2 bedroom houses include:- Bolton and Bury, where just 7% of properties were affordable. Areas including:- Oldham and Rochdale (10%), Central Greater Manchester (11%) and Greater Liverpool (14%) also had comparatively few affordable options.

For those already sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation, like hostels and B&Bs, the shortfall means finding a safe and stable home to build their future in; particularly as the number of social homes declines; is near impossible.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which is administered under Universal Credit, is supposed to provide financial support to those on low incomes who are unable to meet housing costs. Those who are single and under 35 receive a lower rate of LHA; the Shared Accommodation Rate; which is supposed to cover rent for rooms in shared houses.

However, since 2011 there have been cuts to LHA; meaning it has stopped keeping up with rising rents; and in 2016 it was frozen altogether. Figures from the charity show that as a result, fewer and fewer homes have been affordable to those receiving the benefit as rents across the region continued to rise.

Previously, LHA rates were set to ensure that recipients could afford at least 30% of properties in their area, giving households more opportunity to find safe and stable homes.

But with rents rising year on year, affordable rented accommodation has become harder and harder to come by.

For those unable to find properties their benefits can cover, renting anything else in the cheapest 30% of the market is leaving a weekly shortfall. For small families renting a 2 bed home in Manchester this amounts to almost ₤17; the equivalent of 1½ weeks' worth of electricity or gas. The monthly shortfall (₤67.80) is equivalent to more than a week's worth of food in the North West Region.

The build up of pressure caused by these shortfalls means many households are having to make impossible choices between paying their rent and keeping up with bills or paying for essentials. Others are being left facing the risk of losing their home altogether.

Councils in the North West are being left to pick up the pieces for those who do become homeless, spending tens of millions of pounds on homelessness services and housing people in temporary accommodation.

Until there are enough social homes to house people on low incomes, Crisis is calling on Government to commit to restoring LHA rates in the next spending review so that it once again covers the cost of renting at least 30% of properties in any given area, and that it keeps up with rises in rents each year.

Steve Harding, Director of Crisis Skylight Merseyside, said:- "We all deserve the dignity and stability that a safe and decent home provides. Yet the widening gulf between Universal Credit and private rents is leaving many in the North West living on a knife edge. More and more people are forced to make impossible choices between keeping up with the rent and paying for essentials like food and bills, all the while knowing that falling behind with payments could cost them their homes. Universal Credit can be a tool to prevent homelessness, but only with the right investment; and that's why we are launching this campaign today. We need to see Government bring Universal Credit back in step with the true cost of renting. This will drastically reduce council spending and will provide greater reassurance to private landlords that people on Universal Credit can afford to pay their rent each month. Most importantly, it will stop people becoming homeless in the 1st place while giving those on the lowest incomes the safe and stable homes they need to build their futures."

Midnight Mountain Trek for Maggie's Merseyside

A ragtag team from a local law firm and asbestos helpline are taking on the highest mountain, in Wales, in the dead of night, to raise money for cancer charity, Maggie's Merseyside. The 12 strong team from Birchall Blackburn Law and the National Asbestos Helpline will climb the mountain in the small hours of Saturday morning reaching the summit for sunrise around 5:15am. The team will be led by experienced guides from Raw Adventures, based in Llanberis, to ensure everyone is kept safe on the ascent. The intrepid team will traverse Snowdon which stands at 1,085 metres tall, which is taller than 11 Big Bens! The round trip will be 18 miles, which is roughly 38,000 steps and will take between 6 to 8 hours in total. Even though it's May, it will still be a chilly ascent. With average temperatures at Snowdon's peak in the dark, at a freezing -3 degrees. So the climb will be tough! The team is made up of employees from Birchall Blackburn Law and the National Asbestos Helpline, along with friends and family willing to take on the challenge.

Joan Kennedy, a industrial disease and asbestos specialist solicitor for Birchall Blackburn Law, says:- "We are excited, but quite nervous to be taking on Snowdon; especially with it being at night! We may have a lack of sleep, but we're still going to give it our best shot! I'm not looking forward to the blisters, but I'm sure a cooked breakfast and raising money for an amazing cause is going to make it worth it. We're really happy to be doing the trek for the wonderful Maggie's Merseyside. They do amazing work for those affected by cancer, offering advice and support in a non-clinical space and we couldn't be happier to be supporting them."

The money raised will be donated to Maggie's Merseyside set in the grounds of Clatterbridge Cancer Hospital. Maggie's provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks. Maggie's Centres are amazing places with professional staff on hand to offer the support people need. It costs ₤2,400 to keep a Maggies Centre open for a day, ₤12,000 for a week and ₤590,000 to keep it open for a year! Last year alone Maggie's Merseyside supported over 15,000 people affected by cancer and have received over 65,000 visits since 2014. You can sponsor the BB Law and NAH team by donating through their JustGiving Page. For more information about Maggie's Merseyside visit their website or call them on:- 0300 123 1801.

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