%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo% The number of people claiming extra handouts from councils to meet housing costs has soared following the introduction of the so-called "bedroom tax", figures have revealed.
More than 25,000 people applied for discretionary housing payments (DHP) to help cover their rent in April, compared with 5,700 in the same month last year, according to an analysis of 51 councils by The Independent.
The Government has substantially increased the DHP funding pot for local authorities to help those most affected by the withdrawal of what ministers call the "spare room subsidy".
A Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said officials are "monitoring" the situation to ensure those who need support receive it.
The new regulations, introduced on April 1, led to reductions in housing benefit payments to social tenants assessed to be under-occupying their accommodation. Under new ''size criteria'', tenants with one spare bedroom have had a payment reduction of 14% and those deemed to have two or more spare, a reduction of 25%.
The Independent reported that in some areas the influx of people seeking help had forced councils to hire extra staff to cope with applications and advise tenants.
Birmingham saw the number of DHP claimants rise from 496 in April last year to 2,601 last month, and the city council reported that many of those hit by the welfare reforms were turning to "last-resort services" such as food banks.
Councillor John Cotton, cabinet member for equalities, told the newspaper: "It's a situation like the 1930s here in Birmingham. We are a city that has a hill to climb in terms of deprivation. With the impact of changes like this, the hill just got even steeper. It's putting more and more pressure on vulnerable communities."
Glasgow saw the highest number of claimants of any council in the country, with 5,501 claims for help.
A DWP spokesman said: "We are giving councils £150 million this year so that they can help their vulnerable residents and we are monitoring this spending closely to ensure support goes to those who need it. The spare room subsidy changes will bring fairness back to the system - when in England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes.
10 consumer rights you should know
'Bedroom tax' prompts payment surge
The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.
This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.
Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".
Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.
If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.
If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.
After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.
The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).
Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.
Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.
Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.
You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.
The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.
If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.
The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.
Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.
They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.
What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.
Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.
They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.
In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.
Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.
You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.
You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.
We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.
In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.
Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.