Homeless single mothers: Child allowance counts towards rent

A woman risks becoming homeless after a Stockholm public housing company ruled out her child allowance as a legitimate source of income, writes Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius. Now the rental companies have seen the error of their ways. But for this single mother of two, the clock is still ticking.

The woman, who asked to be named by her surname only, Hansson, will try again to secure a stable and permanent home for herself and two young daughters on Monday April 27th. She is invited to a viewing of a rental apartment in the new Stockholm residential neighborhood of Hammarby Sjöstad.

The new opportunity comes none too soon as her current sub-let will run out on May 31st. If the one-bedroom apartment suits her little family’s needs, Hansson is ready to sign a lease. The chance the apartment will be hers is still relatively small since 27 interested hopefuls must decline their opportunity to sign first. Hansson is 28th on the list.

While it’s a long shot, it’s not impossible. In fact, a similar long shot nearly paid off just a few months ago. However, the victory was short lived when Hansson’s income was deemed insufficient for the monthly rent. This came as a surprise to Hansson.

“I was sure I would make the cut off when I added up my total income according to the general information.”

Currently she pays about the same in rent as the new apartment would have cost. She adds, “I even save about 4,000kr per month as well.”

According to the information on the Stockholms Stads Bostadsförmedlingen website (the public rental agency which manages the waiting list and the list of available rental units) the three largest Stockholm rental companies use the same minimum income determination. That is defined as: “The total sum of gross income including allowances shall equal three times the rent for the unit in question.”

The description goes on to clarify that “income” is defined as, “Salary, student grants, welfare allowances, housing allowance, child support payments, unemployment allowances or similar.” With this description Hansson took for granted that the child allowance was included. She was wrong, or so said the rental company which owned the apartment block, Stockholmshem.

Oddly, Stockholmshem excluded the child allowance (barnbidrag) in their calculation.. The reason, according to Birgitta Gradin, the person responsible for the income calculations at Stockholmshem:

”We had chosen in our work routines to only include allowances which are housing related and therefore the child allowance was not included.” Without the child allowance in the calculation, Hansson’s income was just under the cut off calculation for the 8,800 kronor monthly rent. She got passed over and the apartment went to someone else.

Hansson’s rejection came to the attention of the media as a result. Due to her unfortunate situation, Stockholmshem quickly revised its policy. Björn Ljung (Lib), chairman of Stockholmshem, told The Local that upon hearing of Hansson’s case he reacted directly.

“I thought this policy was quite strange as this is one of the most stable incomes anyone can have. I called immediately and said that we have to change the policy right away.”

While Ljung was quite sympathetic to Hansson’s plight he felt there was nothing Stockholmshem could do to rectify the injustice since the policy dismissing the child allowance was in place at the time Hansson was rejected.

He offered optimistically: “From now on she’s going to be accepted as a tenant by all three of the Stockholm rental companies [if they need to calculate in the child allowance.]”

Despite the friendly optimism expressed by Björn Ljung and the change in work routines, Stockholmshem will not publish for public availability the actual allowances included or excluded in the qualification calculation. Gradin insists that all 12 people responsible for calculating incomes have been informed of the procedural change.

“We have regular department meetings and job training along with daily meetings with colleagues. When we make changes [to procedures] everyone is informed.”

The Local checked in with the other companies to hear how Hansson’s case has affected their income calculation policies and routines.

Another of the three giants, Familjbostäder, confirmed that they now include child allowance in the income calculation as a matter of course. Mia Wester Carlsson, the information officer at Familjbostäder, investigated the transparency of the policy as a result of The Local's probe and was happy to report that clear information will now be available as part of the firm's FAQ page.

Carlsson added, “It’s important for this information to be available to our customers.” She said a memo would also be distributed internally to be sure all agents who evaluate a potential tenant’s income are fully apprised of the policy change.

The apartment Hansson is hopeful to get this Monday is owned by Svenska Bostäder. According to their spokesperson, Fredrik Jynell, “We have accepted child allowance [as income] for a long time.”

The monthly rent for this particular unit is 8,200kr per month. Without the child allowance income included in the calculation, Hansson would be under the minimal income by about 200kr per month. When asked specifically about this unit Jynell said definitively, “If she is the tenant who will be offered the apartment we will calculate in the child allowance amount.”

If any of the 27 people ahead of Hansson on the list indicate they would like the apartment, she is back to square one still in search of a permanent home for her young daughters.

“It would be nice to have [permanent housing] secured before my older child starts school this autumn.”

Regardless of this Monday’s result, it is thanks to Hansson that many other parents applying for apartments will benefit from the new clarity in the definition of which allowances are included in the income calculation.

It’s now official: child allowance is counted as part of an individual’s total income. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Hansson and her girls.


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