As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th April, Stephanie has criticised a Government move to change a mortgage support for those on low income from a benefit to a loan.
The local MP has warned the change could cause hardship for homeowners on low income, and create problems for people who want to downsize to move to supported accommodation such as a care or nursing home.
On 6th April Support for Mortgage Interest changed from a benefit payment to a loan which will be managed by Serco. Only 14% of claimants had agreed to take out the loan and 30% had already declined the loan.
5,000 people had not even received an initial letter from the DWP just two weeks before the change is due to take place. The DWP had also still not managed to contact over a third of claimants by telephone to explain the change.
Opponents of the change claim there is a danger that people who try to manage without taking out a loan could try to manage by cutting back on essentials like heating instead. There are concerns too that many could be at risk of going into arrears.
Homeowners can receive support if they find themselves in difficulty with their mortgage payments, usually due to redundancy, disability, or a shortfall in their pension income.
The change will affect the lowest earning households, already in receipt of other state benefits such as Pension Credit or disability benefits who may be pushed further into poverty.
According to the Government’s latest figures, 90,000 people receive SMI. A large proportion of recipients are pensioners or people of working-age currently receiving benefits for disabled people.
People will have to pay back the loan if the property is sold. That may make it harder for people to downsize in later life and it may also be a problem for people who need to move because they need specialist residential care which is expensive.
Many SMI recipients have reported poor communications from Serco, with many not having queries answered.
Barnsley East’s MP pressured the Government on the issue by tabling a number of Parliamentary questions.
She forced the Government to admit that despite six-weeks being deemed a necessary notice period to instruct SMI recipients of changes, 5 per cent of recipients had still not been contacted by this time.
Commenting, Stephanie said:
“Support for Mortgage Interest is an essential lifeline that helps to keep a roof over people’s heads, and this shows our out-of-touch Government aren’t thinking about the impact on homeownership this will have.
“I forced the Government to admit that they had fallen well below their own standards that they set themselves when making these changes, and this is unacceptable.
“This Tory Government claim they want to save money, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of pensioners and vulnerable disabled people.”