The appalling death of a man caught up in benefits nightmare

On the day of his death, a letter arrived at his rented home confirming he was now the subject of court action from his local authority seeking recovery of an £800 debt he had repeatedly said he could not pay. His bank balance stood at £50.

A coroner ruled this week that Mr Burge, who like his father before him had worked tending the graves at the City of London Cemetery, committed suicide after a 50 per cent cut in his housing benefit left him ensnared in bureaucracy and begging for help from Newham Borough Council, which was in turn engulfed by its caseload.

The inquest heard this week that shortly before his death, Mr Burge had written to Newham Borough Council saying: “I can’t remember the last time I had £800 in my possession. I have no savings or assets. I’m not trying to live. I’m trying to survive.”

In his final letter to the local authority, which received no reply, he said: “I’m now more stressed, depressed and suicidal than any of my previous letters.”

After receiving ten separate demands for payment, Mr Burge wrestled with a Kafkaesque telephone system which kept him on hold until an automated voice told him to consult a website he had no idea to access. With legal threats gathering and seemingly caught in a bureaucratic limbo, the gardener, who had at times battled depression in his life, took the decision to drive himself to a much-loved location and take his life in the most harrowing circumstances.His nephew, Paul Higdon, told The Independent: “My uncle was the kind of man who wrote his correspondence by hand. He used carbon paper to make copies. He told Newham he was feeling stressed and suicidal. What he received in return were pro forma letters or silence.

“Clearly he wasn’t capable of using the internet or navigating phone systems. We have moved into a digital age but in so doing we have left a lot of people behind. There are human beings at the receiving end of these decisions and the council did not respond appropriately.”

The death of Mr Burge fits into a wider picture of concern about what happens when vulnerable individuals come into contact with the benefits system, whether via local authorities or government agencies.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) acknowledged this week that it has reviewed 49 cases where employment benefit recipients were “sanctioned” – having their payments stopped for a period of weeks or months after failing to comply with the rules – and subsequently died.

They included David Clapson, 59, a former soldier and diabetic who was found dead in his home last July after his benefits were slashed and he did not apply for hardship payments. He had no food in his stomach and no credit on the electricity card needed to keep going the fridge that stored his insulin. His bank balance was £3.44.

* For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch – see www.samaritans.org for details.

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Bedroom Tax ‘savings’ are obliterated by record levels of housing benefit fraud and error

Iain Duncan Smith has been slammed after the bill for cheating and claimant mistakes is now six per cent of the total hopusing benefit budget – the highest ever
Housing benefit fraud and error now costs taxpayers three times more than savings from the Bedroom Tax, writes Nigel Nelson in the Sunday People.

Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith has been blamed by his Labour opposite number Rachel Reeves for the waste. She said: “Billions are poured away in housing benefit fraud while the poorest pay the cruel and unfair Bedroom Tax.”

She spoke out after it was revealed the Department of Work and Pensions show benefit cheating and claimant mistakes are costing £1.4billion a year.

At nearly six per cent of the Housing Benefit bill that’s the highest level ever. And it compares to annual savings of £480million by charging social housing tenants an average £14 for an extra bedroom and £25 for two or more.

The DWP predicts losses will continue until Universal Credit replaces most ­benefits by 2017. Ms Reeves added: “The government should scrap the tax and get a grip on taxpayers money being lost to fraud every year.”

Clare Elliott of the DWP’s Housing Benefit Direct said: “We need to get this under control.” But Ms Reeves added: “Iain Duncan Smith has allowed a culture of waste to take hold.”

Richest MP in Britain slams welfare state but makes £625k a year in housing benefit

Tory toff Richard Benyon is worth millions and makes his fortune from the very people he condemns.

A Tory MP worth £110million is raking in £120,000 a year from his hard-up tenants’ housing benefit – despite blasting the “something for nothing” welfare state.

Richard Benyon – Britain’s richest MP – runs his vast property empire from a mansion on his sprawling country pile.

But last night he was accused of cashing in off the back of the very handouts his party pledged to slash – as it emerged a string of other Tories were doing the same.

Just last month the MP, 53, said: “The average household spends £3,000 per year on the welfare state. This figure had been rising inexorably and unaffordably.”

Mr Benyon has also attacked the Labour Party over payments and said: “Labour want benefits to go up more than the earnings of people in work. It isn’t fair and we will not let them bring back their something for nothing culture.” He is a director of the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited, which owns most of the land and property linked to his family.

It got £119,237 in housing benefit from West Berkshire council last year, more than any other private landlord in the area.

Eileen Short, of Defend Council Housing, fumed: “How dare Richard Benyon lecture us about ‘something for nothing’ when he is living off the poorest and milking taxpayers all the way to the bank?

“It’s not tenants who gain from housing benefit, but some of the richest people in Britain. They get richer at our expense – and blame us while they’re at it.”

Mr Benyon is likely to pull in thousands of pounds more from properties in other areas, too, as his firm owns 20,000 acres of land from Hampshire to Scotland and 300 houses in Hackney, East London.

His office refused to comment on the figures or confirm whether Englefield got more housing benefit from other councils. Buy-to-let landlords and property tycoons like him will bank a total of £9.2billion in housing benefit this year.

It costs more than £23 a week, or 29% more in housing benefit, for a council to house a tenant with a private landlord than with a housing association or social not-for-profit landlord, according to the Department for Work and Pensions. Mrs Short added: “It’s time we stopped greedy private landlords living off housing benefit. Instead of subsidising them, we ought to cut rents not benefits, and invest in housing that’s really affordable. Let’s get these people off our backs.”

read the rest of this article from the Daily Mirror here:  http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/richest-mp-britain-slams-welfare-3178089#ixzz30VNmSK42

Half-Naked Man Rips Tiles From London Roofs ‘In Protest Over Benefit Changes’

A disgruntled man flung roof tiles from the top of his terraced home in a six-hour protest at the government’s welfare policies as police attempted to talk him down, it has been reported.

A crowd of neighbours gathered to watch the man strip to his waist, then strip the entire roof of tiles, causing thousands of pounds of damage, with cars below damaged by the cascade from the building in the Wanstead cul-de-sac.

A neighbour told the Evening Standard: “He was shouting and taking tiles off, yelling ‘they stopped my income support, they stopped my housing benefit, how am I supposed to live?’

“He worked himself up into a bit of a frenzy and started smashing things. He was in his 50s or 60s and was wearing a t-shirt that he soon ripped off. He had a hammer and a can of beer. A few days ago he was playing music so loud it sounded like a rave in the street. The day before that he had all these strobe lights going, like it was a concert. I think he’d just worked himself up and it built to this.”

A Met Police spokesman told the Daily Mail the man had been sectioned. “Police were called at 2.45pm to reports of a man throwing objects off the roof of a house. Road closures were put in place,” a spokesman said. “Shortly before 9pm the man was arrested and released on bail. He was not taken into custody.”

reported in the huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/30/london-protest-tiles_n_5239828.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Nearly £11bn housing benefit paid to private landlords by 2019

Nearly £11 billion in housing benefit will be paid to private landlords by 2019, sparking criticism that the government is inflating the housing market by encouraging buy-to-let.

The latest Department for Work and Pensions figures show £9.5 billion will be spent on housing benefit this financial year, a figure set to grow to £10.8 billion by 2018/19.

read the rest of this article in ‘Inside Housing’ here: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/nearly-11bn-housing-benefit-paid-to-private-landlords-by-2019/7003417.article

How bedroom tax affects those on domestic violence protection scheme

One in 20 of those on the sanctuary scheme, which creates a safe room within a property to protect those at risk of domestic violence, have been forced to pay the bedroom tax according to FOI responses from 79 local authorities

Almost one in 20 households using the sanctuary scheme, which creates a safe room or “sanctuary” within a property to protect those at risk of domestic violence,have been affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy.

Figures obtained by a freedom of information (FOI) request to 79 Local Authorities show that since last year, 281 households have been affected, with an average loss of £14 per week expected.

The figures vary widely depending on the local authority. In North Tyneside, 25% of the 109 households using the sanctuary scheme have been affected by the bedroom tax.

The sanctuary scheme aims to enable householders at risk of violence to remain safely in their own home by installing a ‘sanctuary’ within the home and providing support to the household.

Read the rest of this article by Lorcan James in the Guardian here: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/mar/14/bedroom-tax-domestic-violence-protection-scheme