Council housing tenants are being urged to take advantage of free drop-in advice sessions set up to help them cope with the impact of benefit changes.

So far over 350 customers have been helped through the sessions, which take place weekly in Howden House and most First Points.

Specialist housing officers from the Council Housing’s Income Management Unit are on hand to provide one-to-one advice with planning for welfare benefit changes, completing Discretionary Housing Payment forms, referral to help find work, moving to a smaller home, debt advice, budgeting, setting up a Credit Union Jam Jar/bank account and getting online.

So far over 5,200 Discretionary Housing Payments worth over £860,000 has been paid out to Sheffield residents, with over 3,800 council tenants receiving £570,000. The Council awards these payments to tenants who receive Housing Benefit but who need help with their rent following reductions in their Housing Benefit, including reductions due to the Bedroom Tax.

A further £330,000 has been paid to Sheffield residents from the Council Tax Hardship Scheme. This fund helps people in receipt of Council Tax Support who are facing difficulties paying their Council Tax. This follows changes to the rules, with the Government replacing Council Tax Benefit with a local scheme of Council Tax Support, run by local authorities.

Housing staff where possible have visited all tenants affected by the Benefit Cap or Bedroom Tax, providing support and help with the changes. The Council is also working in partnership with the voluntary sector by funding an independent debt advice worker for Council tenants based at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau Debt Support Unit and with the Sheffield Credit Union to promote Jam Jar accounts to customers.

Stachiw Valerianio, a tenant using the drop in session said,

“This is a really helpful and important service. Today I have received some really helpful advice, which has helped me to make sense of how the benefits changes affect me and what my options are. I encourage anyone who has any questions about this to come down and speak to an expert.”

Councillor Harry Harpham, Cabinet member for Homes and Neighbourhoods added,

“The Government benefit cuts have had a major impact on people in Sheffield. We are concerned that these cuts are severely affecting low paid working families and the most vulnerable people in Sheffield. I would urge anyone who is struggling with the Government’s changes to take advantage of these free advice sessions and the other support available to help protect themselves against the cuts.”

More information is available about Council Housing or please call (0114) 293 0000, or drop in at any First Point.