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Elderly warned of benefit loophole

BBC, May 15, 2003


House size may affect benefit payments

UK - Pensioners whose homes are owned by housing associations have been warned that they could see their benefits cut because of a legal loophole. The claim was made by the professional organisation Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIH).

It said that pensioners who stay in the family home after their children have moved out may be hit by an anomaly in the way benefits are assessed.

The situation could affect elderly tenants involved in recent high-profile stock transfers in Glasgow, the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.

The loophole means that benefits claims from pensioners living in housing association properties are weighed up differently to those staying in council houses.

When local authority tenants are assessed for benefit entitlement, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) does not take into account the size of their house.

This means that pensioners still living in the homes where they raised their children do not receive less cash because their houses are larger than they reasonably require.

But CIH said that pensioners in the same situation whose homes have been transferred to independent landlords could find their eligibility for full benefits being questioned.

'Heavy impact'

CIH's director in Scotland, Alan Ferguson, said he has written to the DWP and Scottish Executive in a bid to secure a change in the law.

"The housing benefit regulations are very technical and rather bureaucratic but their effects can be very real and impact heavily on individuals," he said.

"It appears that when amendments were made to the regulations that should cover the whole of the UK, Scotland was unfortunately overlooked.

"Whilst it may only be an oversight the consequence could be devastating for thousands of pensioners in Scotland."

The DWP has pledged to examine the situation and insisted it was "unlikely" that any pensioners would lose their benefits as a result.

Thousands of homes owned by Scottish local authorities have been transferred to independent landlords since regulations were changed in October 2002.

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