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Harm done by the late payment of benefits

21 July 2010


From Rosemary Owens

Sir, — Solihull Churches Action on Homelessness is a charity in the borough of Solihull which helps those in housing need. First, we initiated the setting up of a hostel for the young homeless; then we started a shop that collects and sells furniture and delivers it to cus­tomers for very little cost; and, finally, we set up a rent deposit scheme to aid those moving into private rented accommodation.

As a consequence of our work, we are in contact with many agencies whose remit is to help the homeless. We have found that the overriding problem in settling people into accommodation is late payment of benefits or community-care grants.

The shortage of council housing means that there is a huge demand for any available property, and those who are offered housing have to accept it immediately or lose the offer. Unfortunately, grants and benefits do not follow with the same speed, leaving many clients who are already in need without even the means of buying a bed or cooker, china or linen, before they move in. We know of many people who have moved in but have had to wait for weeks before their grants and benefits have arrived.

Our charity provides a starter pack, which includes cooking utensils, bed linen, towels, china, cutlery, an iron, toaster, and sometimes a microwave. These items at least begin to allow people to look after themselves. This help would not be needed, however, if the grants were paid on time. The delay causes extra stress for those already in great hardship. As all the clients with whom we work already receive help from recognised agencies, we find it puzzling that these clients cannot get prompt help. It is as if a patient went to the chemist with a prescription and was told to wait for several weeks before it could be processed.

At this time, when everyone is being asked what can be done to save money, let us not forget that there are still people in our society who are in desperate need of immediate financial help. There are many professionally supported, genuine cases where clients are unable to access financial help when it is really needed. In this age, no one should be put in such a des­perate situation by the Welfare State.

The Government says that it wants to hear from the general public. Our charity is part of the general public. We say: please help those in genuine need: that is what we pay our taxes for. Because the state is failing in its duty, people from the Churches in our area offer to step in and support those people. Their donations to our charity are a lifeline to the young homeless, people who are experienc­ing mental-health problems, offend­ers returning to society, and those escaping violent relationships. These are the very people who, one would have thought, would be at the front of the Government’s welfare policy.

Chairman, Solihull Churches Action on Homelessness
25 Whitefields Road, Solihull
West Midlands B91 3NT

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