Community organisations warn that thousands of Brent residents will be plunged into financial misery
PUBLISHED: 11:31 05 April 2013 | UPDATED: 11:31 05 April 2013
Government reforms could also see affected people being charged for previously free legal advice
Benefit cuts introduced by the government on Monday will leave thousands of Brent residents debt-ridden, potentially homeless and possibly facing a charge for legal advice, community organisations have warned.
The controversial cost-saving measures include changes to council tax benefits, the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’, cuts to free legal advice and a re-structuring of the NHS.
All were simultaneously rolled out in a bid to save the government hundreds of millions of pounds.
But community organisations including Brent Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Brent Community Law Centre (CLC) say the changes will have devastating consequences for the most vulnerable in the borough.
The £350m cut in legal aid will see law centres which offer free advice pushed to breaking point and to keep their head above water, they may be forced to introduce charges.
CLC, which is based in High Road, Willesden, currently offers free advice to residents battling issues such as unemployment, immigration, debt and welfare.
Ian Kane, a coordinator for the centre, said: “We strongly think legal help should be free as it’s a crucial part of access to justice but unless we find alternative funding we don’t know what to do. It’s like living in Victorian times.”
A reduced fee for immigration and employment advice may be considered but the centre would not charge for issues relating to debt and welfare benefit.
The changes will also impact on housing and according to Brent CAB, residents are being “pushed over the edge”.
Jacqueline Carr, director of Brent CAB, told the Times: “After changes to housing benefit and council tax; they [vulnerable residents] are facing poverty and homelessness.
“The bureau finds itself under growing strain, providing an essential service to Brent residents at the receiving end of such punitive changes to the benefit system.”
Under new measures, the local authority instead of central government is now forced to decide who will receive help with council tax payments, leading to some benefits claimants being forced to pay part of their council tax for the first time. It is thought more than 24,000 residents will be hit by the changes.
Last week the Times also reported that residents affected by the controversial “bedroom tax” could possibly face eviction despite a shortage of properties enabling them to downsize. Ms Carr added: “Many people are not only being refused benefits but, more fundamentally, they are also being prevented from accessing justice.”
The department for work and pensions (DWP) claim the changes will make work pay, improve support for disabled people, and help ensure the benefit system is financially sustainable in the future, while still supporting those who need it.
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