Catholic agency calls for reform of housing benefit system

 CHAS, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, has welcomed the Audit Commission's latest report into Housing Benefit administration. The study confirms that in recent years administrative bungles have lead to thousands of people losing their homes or falling into serious arrears. Sarah Williams, CHAS education and media officer, said: "We are dismayed that the Housing Benefit service has got worse over the last five years, but not surprised. Our Housing Advice Centres around the country deal with the reality of Housing Benefit failures every day. Housing Benefit was the fourth highest primary reason why people contacted our housing advisors in 2001-02. On top of this, many of the thousands of cases of homelessness and of rent arrears that we see are also connected to Housing Benefit breakdown. Landlords are often unwilling to take benefit claimants, which indirectly increases pressures on housing homeless people. "Housing Benefit problems cause stress, misery and hardship to tenants already struggling to make ends meet. They can lead to possession action and ultimately eviction, and there is an obvious correlation between the Housing Benefit meltdown and the soaring numbers of possession actions against social housing tenants." CHAS backs the Audit Commission's call for simplified regulations and for incentives for better council performance. However, it is concerned that the Commission is recommending outsourcing Housing Benefit to private contractors as a possibility. A spokesperson said: "Our experience is that such attempts have caused more problems than they have solved, and in fact one of our advice centres has recently seen significant improvements in the service since their local authority took the service back in-house. "The Government must acknowledge that Housing Benefit delays cause homelessness, and therefore addressing this problem is fundamental to their expressed aim of tackling homelessness is all its forms."

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