Bedroom tax help ‘a drop in the ocean’

Coun Paul Thompson
Coun Paul Thompson

COUNCIL chiefs have moved to protect 103 of the most vulnerable households from the controversial bedroom tax – but councillors warned more than 1,500 others are set to be hit in the pocket.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson (pictured) said: “The government funding is just a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people affected.”

Hartlepool Borough Council’s cabinet committee has agreed plans to protect disabled people living in “significantly adapted” accommodation and foster carers from the new legislation.

The council is using £74,000 of government funding to protect 103 eligible households out of the 1,666 affected.

The bedroom tax, which comes into force from April 1, will affect both social housing tenants in employment and those in receipt of housing benefits if they are found to be under-occupying their homes.

Households under occupancy will have their benefits cut by around £13 each week for one bedroom or £22 for two bedrooms.

Senior councillors say there simply isn’t enough funding available to protect everybody who will be affected.

Coun Thompson, portfolio holder for finance and corporate services, added: “We have a duty to protect our foster carers as we need them to provide emergency care at short notice, and it is only right and proper we make it as easy as we can for people to be foster carers.”

Coun Thompson added some disabled people need to sleep separately from their partners and said shouldn’t be punished for something that is out of their control.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said the authority was trying to provide the best support possible with “very limited resources”.

A council report said to help manage the impact of the welfare reforms, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has increased the amount of funding to local authorities for discretionary housing payments.

But finance chiefs say the extra funding is “insufficient”.

Hartlepool has been awarded £196,000 of funding to help protect foster carers and those in receipt of the “high care” disability living allowance as well as people affected by the benefit cap changes.

Bedroom tax changes will potentially affect 1,666 households, and the annual loss of housing benefit is estimated to be £1.2m.

Meanwhile, the council says 140 households are at risk from the proposed benefit cap, with a potential annual loss of housing benefit of about £0.48m, and officers have produced an 18-week tapered support system for those affected at a total cost of £111,000.

John Morton, the council’s assistant chief finance officer, said: “The loss of welfare support associated with the bedroom tax and the benefit cap is estimated at £1.68m in Hartlepool however the council is only being provided with £196,000 of funding for new discretionary housing payment awards, this equates to only 11.6 per cent of the value of the benefits being cut.”

There are six foster carer households affected by the bedroom tax, all of which can be fully protected from any loss in housing benefit at a cost of £4,500.

There are 97 households affected that meet the disability criteria and protecting them fully from the changes will cost £69,500 per annum.

During the meeting, independent councillor Cath Hill said: “It would have made life much simpler if the Government had exempted these people that we are now making special arrangements for in the first place.

“It would have avoided a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but that would have meant reasonable and rational thinking to benefit the people, and that is not to be expected.”

Mayor Drummond said: “I don’t think we need to rehearse the arguments about the benefit changes and how it will have a huge impact on people.

“We have to make sure that we can offer the very best support we can with very limited resources.”