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Family fear homelessness after loophole

PUBLISHED: 14:26 06 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:18 03 March 2010

LOOPHOLES in the benefits system have left a single mum and her five children fearing that they could be left homeless.

Pat Swann has suddenly found herself £700 in arrears with her rent - while she had believed it was being paid to her landlord.

LOOPHOLES in the benefits system have left a single mum and her five children fearing that they could be left homeless.

Pat Swann has suddenly found herself £700 in arrears with her rent – while she had believed it was being paid to her landlord.

But out of the blue, the Benefits Agency has told her it is only now paying half the money, although it has taken the agency two months to tell her.

"It is unbelievable and it is causing us so much worry," said Mrs Swann, of High Road, Trimley St Mary.

"It seems there is a loophole in the system. I had to change my type of benefit when I was working but then was not allowed to change it back quickly enough now that I am not employed.

"It means we have less money than when I was working and we are worse off than when I wasn't working before. It does not encourage people to work."

Mrs Swann, who is divorced, lives with her children David, 16, Nicky, 14, Jessica, 12, Frankie, nine, and Gabby, seven, in a house which they rent from Mike Collins.

They say landlord Mr Collins has been very understanding of the family's problems and is as frustrated as they are at the action of the Benefits Agency.

"I am paying him as much as I can and he knows we are doing our best to sort this out, but if we cannot find the money, in the long run, we may have to leave and be homeless," said Mrs Swann.

The problems arose after Mrs Swann decided to take up the Labour New Deal initiative. After going on a computer course, on which everyone was extremely supportive and encouraging, she was able to get a job as an accounts contract worker at Suffolk College.

But this meant she had to give up income support, and transfer to the working family tax credit. All her rent though was still paid direct to Mr Collins.

"When I gave up work in November, I was told that my benefits would remain the same and I would hear from them soon," she said.

"Then last week I received a letter to say that even though I was not working, I could not go back onto income support and had to stay for six months on the working family tax credit. The bombshell was that this would mean only half my rent had been paid – which meant I was now £700 in arrears!

"I couldn't believe it. If they had told me back in November that this would be the case, I could have done something about it and would have been prepared.

"But I was told that everything would stay the same."

A spokeswoman for the Benefits Agency in London said the department could not talk about individual cases, although Mrs Swann's would be investigated immediately.

She said housing benefit was often left to "run on" for a few weeks when a person started work to tide them over the change. If a person stopped work, a fresh application should be made for benefit.

However, if a person was awarded working families tax credit, this was usually paid for six months– even if a person became unemployed – before a move could be made back to income support.

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