AROUND 15 Huntingdonshire families could be in serious difficulty when total household benefits are capped at £500 a week next April, the district council believes.

The Department for Work and Pensions has written to 48 households in the district to explain that – on the basis of data collected towards the end of last year – they can expect their benefits to be cut in April 2013.

They will lose between 45p a week and £300 a week depending on their circumstances, according to Julia Barber, who is in charge of the council’s benefit service.

HDC believes the losses to two-thirds of those affected are likely to be small, but there could be serious impacts on the remaining third – overwhelmingly large families living in the district’s market towns, in both private and social rented accommodation.

The council fears that such large reductions in family income could mean some would no longer be able to afford their rents and would become homeless – giving the council an additional problem and extra expense.

“Existing tenants will be forced to vacate homes where they can no longer afford the rent once the cap is applied to their total benefit entitlement,” Mrs Barber said.

“They will potentially apply to the council as homeless as they are no longer able to afford their rent, and the council may then have a duty to help with the re-housing of the household.”

HDC, DWP and tax authorities will be working with affected families to help them mitigate the effects of the changes, a spokesman for the council’s benefits department told The Hunts Post yesterday. For the time being the council will be able to use discretionary housing payments to cushion the effects of a series of changes to the benefits system that started in April 2011.

And in the meantime the circumstances of households currently expected to suffer a serious reduction in income could change, she added.

In a paper to the council’s social well-being scrutiny committee last night (Tuesday) Mrs Barber pointed out that, if Government plans for reform of Council Tax benefit went ahead with full protection for pensioners, who make up nearly 50 per cent of the claimants in the district, non-pensioners, including other vulnerable groups, could have their Council Tax benefit cut by 20 per cent to compensate, if the tax is not to rise for everyone.

The council must complete its plans for the transition by January next year in time for the annual budget-setting round in February.