Debt fears for poor and vulnerable as benefits cap comes into force in Camden

Campaigners from Camden United for Benefit Justice protest outside Camden Town Hall against cuts to

Campaigners from Camden United for Benefit Justice protest outside Camden Town Hall against cuts to state benefits. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Polly Hancock

Households in Camden are set to be £83million worse off as the government’s controversial benefit cap comes in to force across the borough this week.

Around 606 claimants who were receiving more than £500 a week in benefits will be affected by the new rules. The government says workless households should no longer receive more in benefits than the average earnings of working households, and the benefits cap will encourage more people into employment.

The cap limits total weekly benefits to £350 for single people without children, £500 for single parents and £500 for couples with or without children.

Camden Council say the majority of people affected by the new rules are large families who will struggle to pay the high cost of living in central London, in particular those in private rented accommodation.

The cap will apply to people receiving jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit, child tax credits, housing benefits and other key support from the government.

It has already been rolled-out in four London boroughs – Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley – and it took affect in Camden on Monday.

In West Hampstead and Swiss Cottage wards between 25 and 49 households will be affected, while in Highgate and Hampstead Town there are under 25 families affected in each area.

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The total loss in benefits across Camden equates to £514 per working age adult, which places the borough 15th highest in London and 36th nationally.

Town hall bosses at Camden Council have announced measures to ease the impact on vulnerable residents, including extra money for those affected until the end of September and additional discretionary housing payments to help with rents.

The council will prioritise those actively seeking employment to receive support because benefits claimants who are in work are exempt from the universal benefits cap.

Council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward said: “This cap is really devastating for many families in Camden. We think people will try and struggle on and cover costs despite the losses and find debt mounting up before moving out of the borough. It really is a pernicious policy that will affect people who often have no other way out.”

Cllr Hayward said the council has contacted every resident affected by the cap to offer advice and has introduced special measures, such as topping up the social fund – which helps families with essential costs after an emergency.

The benefits cap was rolled out in Haringey in April. Since then Haringey Citizens Advice Bureaux has experienced a 50 per cent increase in the number of people seeking help and has warned that changes have created a ticking time bomb.

Haringey Council’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Joe Goldberg, said: “We have yet to fully realise the full impact of the benefit cap in Haringey. But we do know that 780 households have seen their benefits cut, 450 have lost more than £200 per month, and nearly 2,300 children are affected.

“As these measures continue to bite, questions will need to be asked about whether the government are really achieving their stated policy objectives.”