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New £600,000 fund to soften the ‘bedroom tax’ blow

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New £600,000 fund to soften the ‘bedroom tax’ blow

Renfrewshire Council is setting up a new £600,000 cash pot to help council tenants who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’.

The money will be available via a new Council Tenant Assistance Fund to help council tenants who receive Housing Benefit and are struggling to pay their rent because they’re affected by under occupancy rules.

renfrewshire council logo .JPGCouncillor Tommy Williams, Convener of the Housing and Community Safety Policy Board said: “This major investment is part of our on-going response to help our tenants cope with the UK Government’s ‘bedroom tax’.

“Between April and July, 684 council tenants applied for Discretionary Housing Payment to assist them with their housing costs, with the majority of those affected by the ‘bedroom tax’.

“But while many have come for support, there are still tenants who are clearly struggling to pay their rent because of ‘bedroom tax’ who haven’t come to us for help. We’ve already said that we won’t evict our tenants who fall into arrears as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’, as long as they’re working with us, and we want them to know that this assistance fund is now available to help them cope with the strain of under occupancy.

“We absolutely do not want local families to face hardship because of the ‘bedroom tax’ and we’ll continue to work with our tenants to help them.”

The Council Tenant Assistance Fund will solely help council tenants in financial hardship because of ‘bedroom tax’. The cash is coming from the Housing Revenue Account which by law, can only be spent on council tenants.

To apply to the Council Tenant Assistance Fund, download a form at www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/dhp or you can call 0300 300 0204 to ask for a form to be sent out to you.

Anyone who needs help to fill out a form (and for general financial support) should call Advice Works on 0300 300 1238.

The creation of the Council Tenant Assistance Fund was agreed at the Housing and Community Safety Policy Board earlier today.

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Major investment planned to help residents through hardship

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Major investment planned to help residents through hardship

Renfrewshire Council will invest an additional £200,000 into helping local people who are struggling to pay their rent, if the move gets the seal of approval next week.

Council bosses want to top up a fund that’s in place to help residents receiving Housing Benefit who are having difficulty meeting their housing costs – by £215,648.

If the move gets rubber-stamped next week, it will bring the council’s total investment into the Discretionary Housing Payment fund up to £365,648, following a £150,000 contribution in December.

renfrewshire council logo .JPGCouncillor Mike Holmes, Deputy Leader of Renfrewshire Council said: “We know the UK Government’s benefit changes are having an impact on local communities. More people are coming to us for advice, more people are falling into arrears, more are applying for DHPs, and more families are using food banks.

“This latest investment will bring our overall contribution to this key support fund up to more than £365,000 – the maximum we are allowed to contribute to DHP. We want to do all we can to help local residents through these tough times.”

“Our message is clear: if you’re facing financial hardship and are struggling to meet your housing costs, apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment. Help is there and we don’t want local families to struggle. Our Advice Works team can even help you if you need support to fill in the form, so please get in touch.”

Any Renfrewshire resident who is claiming Housing Benefit and having difficulties meeting their housing costs can apply for a DHP.

Application forms are available at www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/dhp or you can call 0300 300 0204 to ask for one to be sent out to you. If you need help to fill out a form (and for general financial support) please call Advice Works on 0300 300 1238.

The proposed top up of the DHP fund will go before the Finance and Resources Policy Board for a decision on 28 August.

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Council Leader presses Scottish Government for Living Wage power

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Council Leader presses Scottish Government for Living Wage power

Renfrewshire Council’s Leader wants private companies to pay a fair Living Wage to any of their staff who deliver work for the local authority – and he has written to the Scottish Government in a bid to turn this into reality.

living wageCouncillor Mark Macmillan has written to the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to urge that powers be added to public contract regulations. These would enable councils to specify that contractors’ employees are paid the Living Wage when they deliver work for local authorities. Currently, when awarding contracts to private sector companies, the council cannot take the rate of employees’ wages into consideration.

This move forms part of Renfrewshire Council’s anti-poverty agenda and links to the authority’s work supporting people affected by the UK government’s Welfare Reform and the £8million Invest in Renfrewshire programme that supports businesses while creating work and training opportunities.

Councillor Macmillan said: “I am fighting to get everyone working in Renfrewshire a fair Living Wage. It’s better for business and it means that people can work their way out of poverty. It is simply the right thing to do.

“The Scottish Government needs to change its legislation to let us specify to contractors that, when their staff are delivering work for the council, they have to pay them our Living Wage. It is simply unjust that a worker doing the same job as a council employee is paid at a lower rate.

“Renfrewshire’s Living Wage is fair, it’s encouraging, it shows that we value our employees and their work, and it’s better for the local economy. I’d urge Nicola Sturgeon to give us the powers we need to make sure anyone delivering work for Renfrewshire Council, receives our Living Wage.”

Councillor Macmillan has asked the Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, to address these legal issues regarding contractors in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill.

He also plans to work with Renfrewshire employers later this year to encourage them to consider applying the £7.50 per hour Living Wage. Already, companies who recruit employees and interns under the Invest in Renfrewshire programme are paid a £1000 bonus.

The Living Wage is an hourly rate set independently by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and updated annually. It is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK and employers choose to pay it on a voluntary basis. The current hourly Living Wage outside London is set at £7.45. Renfrewshire Council was one of the first Scottish local authorities to introduce a living wage for its own staff and, for 2013/14, this is set at £7.50 per hour.

The national minimum wage is currently set at £6.21. More information on the Living Wage can be found online at www.livingwage.org.uk

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Universal Credit is “soul-destroying”

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Universal Credit is “soul-destroying”

Renfrewshire Council’s Leader has called on the UK Government to wise up and open up after a leaked report revealed staff delivering its flagship benefit change branded the programme “soul-destroying” and “unbelievably frustrating”.

Recent media reports about Universal Credit findings, quote one member of staff as saying: “This is the third review in 16 months. No rollout plans, no confidence in going forward and stakeholders losing confidence in our ability to deliver”.

Councillor Mark Macmillan has branded the findings “shocking” and is calling on the UK Government to share the details of its plan to replace six benefits with Universal Credit across the UK.

Councillor Macmillan said: “These shocking findings prove what we have suspected all along – that Universal Credit is in chaos. We’ve now heard directly from people at the heart of this project that there’s secrecy, dishonesty, no rollout plan, and no confidence. Even the people working on the programme don’t know anything about future developments. That’s nowhere near acceptable.”

Universal Credit will replace child tax credits, working tax credits, income-based job seekers allowance, housing benefit, income support and income based employment support allowance.

renfrewshire council logo .JPGCouncillor Macmillan added: “The UK Government should wise up, open up and share all details of planned roll out of Universal Credit. They have a duty to reassure everyone receiving the six benefits that will be replaced by Universal Credit. Families in Renfrewshire will want to know exactly when and how they will be affected.

“The Government is insisting that everyone apply for this benefit online, despite many people not having an internet connection or a PC. They also want those receiving the new benefit to transfer their housing benefit to their landlord themselves, which is ludicrous considering there are many vulnerable residents who need support to manage their finances.

“The public deserve to know more about Universal Credit now so they can start to prepare for the major changes it will bring.”

Thirteen UK council areas were part of the original Universal Credit pilot that started in September 2012 and a recent announcement confirmed that six more places will offer the benefit from October 2013.