LOW-INCOME families looking for accommodation will be helped by a new campaign launched after a sharp increase in people on social housing waiting lists in West Oxfordshire.

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire (CAWO) set in motion its Settled and Safe campaign at its Annual General Meeting in Witney last Tuesday, which aims to make private rented housing more affordable to those from low-income backgrounds.

This comes after the charity’s recent report of the same name, which found the number of people on social housing waiting lists in the district has doubled from 994 people in 2015 to 1,969 in 2017.

As a result, many people are pushed into the private rental market, but the majority of those face large up-front charges, which a new Tenants Fee Bill introduced by the government but not yet in force is hoping to eradicate.

The campaign also aims to erase the stigma around tenants on benefits, with the report revealing only two in 10 landlords accept tenants who are receiving Universal Credit or housing benefit.

CAWO will now work with West Oxfordshire District Council, letting agents and landlords to make private housing more accessible and secure for those from low income backgrounds.

Cottsway Housing Association, Age UK Oxfordshire and several district councillors attended the AGM and Teresa Archer, chief executive of CAWO, believes the issue is relevant across the district.

She said: “West Oxfordshire has been grappling with housing for a long time.

“For us the hard nut to crack is local landlords and how they deal with people with low incomes who can be excluded from the market.

“The cost of private rent is very high in Oxfordshire generally, and even higher in relation to earnings in West Oxfordshire.

“That coupled with the lack of local affordable housing is having a significant impact on low income families and the most vulnerable people in the district.”

A two-bedroom home near Witney costs £1,212 per month to rent on average, but the local housing allowance is just £769.62, meaning those on benefits must find an extra £450 each month.

Additionally, just two per cent of properties in West Oxfordshire were affordable on the £769 allowance in a recent search.

West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet member for Environment and Housing Management Steve Good, the AGM’s keynote speaker, said: “There’s no silver bullet but we all need to pull together to find a solution.”

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire is an independent charity that exists to provide free, confidential, independent advice to people in West Oxfordshire. For more information visit caox.org.uk