Letters, Thursday, October 4th, 2012

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New housing benefit rules

IN her column last week, Bridget Phillipson MP gave a partial view of the reform of housing benefit both in terms of the new rules and the fairness of the changes.

Tenants over the age of 61 on April 1, 2013, when the new rules come into force, will not be affected and there are also exemptions for non-resident carers.

The reduction in housing benefit will only apply to working-age tenants who are occupying properties too big for their needs in terms of one or more extra bedrooms.

No one will have to move home so comments about “homelessness” are disappointing, especially when homelessness in Sunderland has just reached a record low.

For people facing difficulties meeting housing costs, an extra £30million has been added to the Discretionary Housing Payment fund which allows councils to give more help.

For tenants affected, the changes provide an incentive to look for smaller accommodation and replicate the criteria for recipients of housing benefit in the private sector, which can only be fair.

It is also fair that attempts are made to address the issue of extra bedrooms when there are other people on the social housing list living in overcrowded accommodation that in many cases may have a detrimental effect on their family life and the upbringing of their children, facing a lack of privacy and space on a daily basis.

The new rules are also about saving money, with £21billion currently being spent on housing benefit after it was allowed to double during the last Labour Government.

Councillor Robert Oliver, Leader, Conservative Council Group

Bus franchises

THE basic cost of buses may not change whether they are run by private companies or in a public service franchise, except in one important aspect.

If a public body runs buses it may have greater potential than now to re-invest surplus from fares (profit) in local services rather than making payments to shareholders.

Nexus is in the process of drafting a detailed bus franchise proposal (known as a Quality Contracts Scheme) with an “affordability” principle central to it, and this will be compared to a partnership offer from our local bus companies, to see which would give local people the best public service.

Any proposal we make to franchise buses, with companies paid to fulfil a contract rather than keeping fares revenue, would be affordable at today’s cost – meaning no more taxpayers’ money would be required than now.

It is important to make this point, because your correspondent Shaun Cudworth (Letters, September 29) and others will be concerned how funding would work.

The Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority will compare both proposals before the end of this year and there will then be full public consulation, when the costs and benefits will be open to scrutiny in great detail.

Bernard Garner, Director General, Nexus

People are fickle

I CAN sympathise with John Metcalf (“Unhappy reader”), but the Echo knows people like I do. Wherever the Echo is printed the sales in Sunderland will carry on. People talk well, but with nothing else what do you buy?

I’ve been in the position of leaving a pub and people saying “When he leaves I will drink elsewhere”. In fact, it never happened. People are so fickle.

John Stott, Stridingedge, Blackfell, Washington

Don’t vote!

WELL done to the council for the mini lights. Maybe in 20 years we might get the real thing.

John Kelly says they are listening to the people of Sunderland. Well, John, have a ride round with me on a Saturday night and you will really hear what the people of Sunderland want. The people want the lights back. We have a fantastic seafront which could attract large crowds again, just like the airshow, just like the lesiure centre. How much to repair it? Around £1million to bring back people into the city, or is it just going to stand and rust?

How much has the council got put to one side? £15million for the bridge arcs. Who wants them? I think the majority of people would prefer the leisure centre back. What about Fawcett Street when Primark moves?

There are steps to fix the city: pedestrianise Holmeside, cheaper parking at weekends, lower rates for businesses. Instead of relying on businesses to invest in Sunderland, why not put up for sale Sunderland the ghost town?

People say it won’t change and the council’s useless. Well you can do something – don’t vote. We put them in power and we can vote them out, but then again the other shower are no better. I am Labour through and through but I’m not voting, as are many others, as we are fed up with this urban blight.

Kevin Stoker