Former nurse Auxilia Mapuranga had no option but to look after her own health when she began to struggle with everyday chores.
Inside her ground floor flat on Ingle Avenue in Morley, the mother-of-five and grandmother-of-eight explained how her life has changed since being diagnosed with a string of serious illnesses including cancer and debilitating arthritis.
Mrs Mapuranga, 54, said: “I worked as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary up until 2007 then my health turned for the worse.”
She had already been diagnosed with a life-changing illness, but hadn’t stopped working when she was hospitalised with cancer. After strong chemotherapy treatment which affected her legs she was forced to give up her job and became dependent on one of her daughters.
Mrs Mapuranga, who has a boyfriend but lives alone, said: “In July 2008 I moved to Morley to live in a two-bed flat that was easy to get around. My daughter comes with her son everyday to cook for me.”
She added that she has kept going due to support from the local community over the past five years.
“If people don’t see me for a while they come and knock to ask if I am OK. I like living here.”
Whilst she struggles to live off £35 a week, her life had been manageable until a few months ago when the bedroom tax, a tax for under occupied properties, was introduced.
Mrs Mapuranga who became liable to pay an extra £10 a week for her flat, said: “It was very stressful. I thought how am I going to move? Will the people be friendly there? Everything in my flat has been made for me.”
She feared she would be made homeless. There were no suitable one-bed properties available and that didn’t stop the red arrears letters from arriving in the post each week.
“I managed to pay a bit of it off but I had £35 to pay all of my bills and food. At times I wished I was dead.”
Morley town councillor Robert Finnigan said that cases such as Mrs Mapuranga’s were all too common as he has dealt with six cases so far due to the lack of one-bed properties.
Coun Finnigan. who is calling for the bedroom tax to be abolished, said: “It’s an ill-thought out part of the welfare reform. It’s not people being awkward and not moving. It’s often older people, it’s often disabled people and people who have brought up families who are affected by the tax.”
He added that the extra burden on people caused “significant distress”, so much so people may struggle to work.
The debt took its toll on Mrs Mapuranga’s well-being and she decided to get in touch with her local MP for Morley and Outwood.
MP Ed Balls intervened in her case and contacted Aire Valley Homes, Leeds City Council’s housing association, to explain the financial hardship Mrs Mapuranga was experiencing and his concern about the impact on her welfare.
Within a fortnight, Mr Balls had received word from Aire Valley Home’s Development Manager, Pamela Parker. She wrote: “I am pleased to advise that we have now received confirmation the Discretionary Housing Payment has been processed for Mrs Mapuranga and the Under Occupancy Charge of £9.83 will be paid ... this will now clear all the rent arrears for Mrs Mapuranga.”
He said: “The bedroom tax is affecting thousands of families in this area, many of whom have disabilities or need an extra room to have their kids to stay at weekends. Of course money has to be saved from the benefits bill but changes have to be fair, and the vulnerable have to be protected. I’m pleased I was able to help in Mrs Mapuranga’s case and that it’s now been sorted out. But for thousands of other local families the nightmare of the bedroom tax continues. Anyone who needs help, should get in touch.”
Mrs Mapuranga who was hugely relieved by the outcome of her case said that the “most painful thing” about the whole situation was that it served as a stark reminder that she is no longer in control of her own life.
* The bedroom tax is affecting 2,000 families in Ed Balls’ Morley & Outwood constituency.
Two thirds of those affected have a disability.
Divorced parents whose children come to stay with them are affected.
Leeds currently has a housing waiting list of over 26,000 households, and need in the city for all types of properties, including one-bedroom homes, continues to be significant.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), as well as local housing providers, also admit there aren’t enough smaller properties for tenants to move into.
In a recent letter from Leeds City Council, Ed Balls was told: “There is a distinct shortage of 1 bedroom properties across the city. Over 4,500 of the tenants affected by under-occupation have a 1 bedroom housing need. In comparison, the Council let 1,501 non-sheltered 1 bedroom properties last year.”
The DWP’s own Impact Assessment recognises the lack of smaller properties: “In many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size even if tenants wished to move and landlords were able to facilitate this movement.”
Coun Peter Gruen, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods, Planning and Support Services said: “Leeds City Council administers a fund for Discretionary Housing Payments, which we use in order to assist people who have housing costs that cannot meet out of their income. We have used this fund in this case. This fund is much lower than the amount of benefits people have lost by central government changes, so we unfortunately cannot cover every case. We therefore have to look very carefully at each case in order to assist those who are most in need. I would advise anyone struggling to pay their rent to speak with the Council in order to ensure they are claiming all funds available to them.
“Government rules for Discretionary Housing Payments mean they can only be awarded on a temporary basis, meaning that some tenants will have to go through the inconvenience and worry of having to reapply for this on a regular basis when their long term situation has not changed.
“We are trying to ensure that all people affected by benefit changes get relevant advice and assistance. We have also amended our rent arrears policy in order to ensure that people are assisted if they do fall into arrears.”