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This is News in Brief - a weekly round up of the latest news and events affecting the Housing industry and communities in the Wakefield district and beyond.

Number in council tax arrears has rocketed, says Citizens Advice

The Citizens Advice Bureau has revealed that the number of people seeking help for council tax arrears has increased to become the most common type of debt problem.
Following changes to council tax benefit in April 2013, between January and March 2014, the Citizens Advice Bureau helped 27,000 people who had fallen into arrears, an increase of 17% on the same period in 2013.
Commenting on this, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Bureau said: “For some households council tax bills can be the tipping point that plunges them into debt.  Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems that come through our doors, but since the end of council tax benefit we've seen council tax arrears problems go through the roof.”
Read the full story.
WDH says: Of the range of welfare reforms introduced by the current government, the headline grabbing impact of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ has distracted attention from the many other aspects of welfare reform, including the household benefit cap, and changes to council tax support.
From April 2013 local authorities were required to design their own council tax support schemes, to replace council tax benefit.  In Wakefield, everyone of working age must now pay something.  The minimum amount payable is around £4 each week, and although this is a relatively small sum, it places further pressure on those tenants already under financial strain and struggling to get by due to static or reduced levels of income and rising living costs.
We are committed to helping our tenants manage their finances.  As well as having dedicated Financial Inclusion Officers we have a range other initiatives including our Big Lottery funded project Cash Wise, Money Matters sessions and our Community Learning Programme which began this week.

Data reveals full extent of house affordability crisis in England

According to data analysis by the Guardian, which has tracked the cost of house prices as a multiple of local incomes since 1997, the affordability crisis has spread to virtually every corner of the country.
In 1997, the only district where median house prices were above 10 times the local median salary was Kensington and Chelsea, West London, home to the rich and famous.  Now the average property in England is just short of 10 times the average salary.
Today the property map of England reveals how homes are out of the reach of buyers unless they are willing to take on huge loans.  In real terms, prices in Manchester have doubled, reaching 4.6 times local wages.  In Newcastle they are 5.2 times local pay, in Bristol the multiple is 6.2.
Read the full story.

WDH says: With recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealing that house prices had risen by 8% nationally in a year, this data will put greater pressure on the Bank of England and George Osborne to respond to growing criticism to scale back the Help to Buy Scheme.
The median house price to earnings ratio in the district currently stands at 4.72, down from a peak of 5.29 in 2005.  Although this is fairly low compared to many other areas, wages in the district are the lowest in West Yorkshire and therefore many still find it difficult to get on the property ladder.
One option available to those struggling is our Shared Ownership Scheme.  Since launching, the scheme has been very popular as it allows buyers to purchase a share of the property while paying an affordable rent on the remaining.  Encouragingly, we are seeing an increasing number of applications from owners to increase shares in their properties.  There are currently 16 Shared Ownership properties available with further new build properties on development sites across the district coming soon.

The real cost-of-living-crisis: Five million British children 'sentenced to life of poverty thanks to welfare reforms'

New research from Save The Children has revealed that five million children face being ‘sentenced to a lifetime of poverty’ by 2020.  The charity warned that cuts to benefits, the rising cost of living and years of flat wages have created ‘triple whammy’ for children across the country.
Ending child poverty by 2020 is a target that all political parties have committed to, although the numbers living in poverty could actually increase by 1.4 million by then, a rise of 41% on the 3.5 million children currently living in poverty. ‘The report states that political promises to eradicate child poverty by 2020 are ‘no longer credible’.
In response, a government spokesperson said: “The government is committed to ending child poverty by tackling its root causes as part of our long-term economic plan.  Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty."
Read the full story.

WDH says: Current ONS figures estimate that 21% of children in the Wakefield district live in poverty, higher than the England average.  The
long-term costs of dealing with the consequences of child poverty are thought to be in the region of £146 million each year for Wakefield alone.
Our Community Employment Advisers continue to help transform the lives and finances of families in the district by assisting them into employment and reducing benefit dependency.  In the last year they have helped 265 people secure jobs.
We also work hard to raise aspirations of young people by providing them with a taste of the world of work.  Last year 100 young people came to us on work experience in all parts of the business.  To add to this, during the past eight years over 1,200 young people have participated in our Community Leadership Programme, introducing them to some of the core skills required in work, including confidence, teamwork and communication.
Copyright © 2014 WDH, All rights reserved.

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