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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Cumbria boss defends firm after claims over housing benefit

A PROPERTY boss has defended his company – after claims it benefited from more than £100,000-a-year in housing benefit payments from Barrow Borough Council.

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Devonshire Buildings on Ship St, Barrow Island. JOE RILEY REF: 50010181B012

Figures obtained by the GMB union under a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the degree to which property-owning MPs and peers were benefiting from the system.

They showed Lord Cavendish of Furness last year received £106,938 in housing welfare from Barrow Borough Council through his Holker Estates company, part of Holker Group.

Holker Estates owns Devonshire Buildings, which consists of 112 flats across two grade II listed buildings on Barrow Island.

Duncan Peake, chief executive of Holker Group, said: “Housing benefit is paid to the tenants. It’s to help people meet their housing costs; it’s not paid to the landlord. I think private landlords have an important role to play in social housing and we take our responsibilities in that area very seriously indeed.

“If we didn’t let to people on housing benefit, we could just exclude them if we wished, but we would rather not do that given the relatively high levels of deprivation that exist in some parts of Barrow. I think it would be socially divisive if we did that.”

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, described the research as “lifting the lid” on payments to landlords whom he called “the real winners from Britain's welfare system”.

Mr Peake said he could not comment on the GMB’sfigure without having chance to carefully assess calculations, but said the number of tenants on welfare across its properties in Barrow and South Lakeland varied week to week.

He added Holker was coming to the end of a five-year project to invest £3.5m in refurbishing and upgrading Devonshire Buildings.

He said: “They are home to over 100 families and some of those people are on housing benefit – it’s a minority, but some are.

“And the view we take is that it’s important not to exclude people because they are on housing benefits.

“Some landlords will do that, but we take our social responsibilities seriously. Devonshire Buildings has been part of a wider regeneration programme on Barrow Island and we’re quite proud of what we’ve done as far as that is concerned.”

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