71,000 seek Swansea Council's advice on benefits
TENS of thousands of worried Swansea residents have sought advice from the council about government welfare reforms.
The authority has had more than 71,000 — around three times the capacity of the Liberty Stadium — calls and face-to-face inquiries with people worried about changes to benefits payments and council tax since March.
In addition, a help desk which the authority set up at the Civic Centre in June offering advice has already seen hundreds of residents too.
The desk is supported by a number of local charities and organisations, including Age Cymru and the Lasa Swansea credit union.
Council leader and cabinet member for anti-poverty, David Phillips, said: “Since changes to benefits and council tax entitlements were introduced by the Westminster Government in April tens of thousands of people have approached us for advice over the phone, online and face to face.
“That’s why we joined forces with agencies like Workways, the Credit Union and Age Cymru to set up the advice centre in response to the thousands of people trying to make sense of the Westminster Government changes.
“For a lot of people it’s transforming their finances and they need support to find a way through it.
“Too many families might think that turning to a loan shark or buying a payday loan is an answer to their issues.
“What we’re trying to do is show that neither approach is a short-term let alone a long-term fix.
“By setting up this free drop- in advice service in the Civic Centre we are offering people the chance to find out face-to-face what the alternatives are without the need to go traipsing from one centre to another around the city.”
The “bedroom tax” was introduced in April this year. Families deemed to have too much living space receive a reduced housing benefit payment.
A spokesman for Swansea Council added the authority was working with a range of organisations to help people who fall into financial difficulties.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “Housing benefit continues to pay the vast majority of people’s rent, but the taxpayer can no longer afford to cover the costs of spare bedrooms, especially when there are many thousands of people in Wales alone on housing waiting lists.
“However, we have made £6.2 million available to Welsh councils, including Swansea, to support vulnerable people.”