“If I didn’t have problems, I would consider moving. But the whole house has been adapted for me. It allows me to live as independently as I can. If I moved, I would need to have exactly the same adaptations as here, and that would be expensive,” she says.
Because she does not reach pension age for another two years, Mrs Jarrell will be hit by the under-occupation penalty (or ‘bedroom tax’) - the government’s spare room subsidy, whereby social tenants deemed to have unused bedrooms will have their benefit cut.
Mrs Jarrell is considered to have two spare rooms and stands to lose £30 a week. But when her condition is particularly bad, her daughter comes to stay and uses one of the bedrooms. “It is giving me a lot of sleepless nights,” she says. “I won’t go into arrears, so I’ll have to think carefully about what I am paying out every month, and that includes medication and heating.”
Mrs Jarrell gets limited help from the NHS – she has to pay £300 a month for her carer, and £30 on the foot treatment she needs. She also has to pay for the drops she needs for an eye condition.
As well as her attachment to the home she has occupied for over three decades, Mrs Jarrell does not want to leave her community. She has good neighbours and a nearby health centre where the doctors understand her medical history.
Sovereign has been trying to assist Mrs Jarrell. Tenancy Support Adviser (TSA) Melanie Gowans has visited her to make sure she is claiming all the benefits she is entitled to and giving her advice on how to save money, for example on reducing her heating bills while still staying warm.
Melanie was one of 10 TSAs recruited to help minimise the impact of welfare reform on the housing association’s residents. “Even if Mrs Jarrell wanted to downsize, there simply aren’t enough smaller properties for all the residents affected by the bedroom tax,” Melanie explains. “This week, there were only two one-bedroom properties available in West Berkshire.”
Sovereign is helping residents prepare for and cope with the changes resulting from welfare reform in a number of ways. These include:
- providing general information about the changes to benefits
- contacting any household that may be affected, helping them investigate their options and providing advice
- offering a more flexible range of rent payment choices
- making it easier to exchange or transfer to a smaller home
- helping people find ways to manage their money and boost their income