Bedroom tax blow for Becky’s family

Becky Bell pictured with parents Julie and Mark and brother Mark and sister Vicki.
Becky Bell pictured with parents Julie and Mark and brother Mark and sister Vicki.

THE parents of cancer victim Becky Bell have been snubbed by the Government and told they must pay a controversial tax on their daughter’s untouched bedroom.

Just a month after Becky lost a devastating battle with brain cancer in January last year, Julie and Mark Bell were told her bedroom would be now classed as a “spare room” and they would have to pay the new ‘bedroom tax’ from this April.

The devastated couple slammed the Government, but were supported by Hartlepool MP Iain Wright in the hope they would be given some more time to grieve before paying extra for the room.

But the family were given yet another kick in the teeth when the Government confirmed in a letter to Mr Wright that, despite having “every sympathy for Mr and Mrs Bell’s situation”, the family must pay the extra cash.

It means Julie, 41, and Mark, 37, must now fork out more than £650 a year for the bedroom which has been left exactly as it was when Becky died last year.

“The Government say they sympathise with us but it didn’t take them long to make the decision,” said Julie, who is also a mum of Vicki, 24, and Mark, 13.

“We’re just disappointed, obviously.

“What annoys us the most is the fact they class it as a spare room, it isn’t a spare room it’s Becky’s room.

“But the Government don’t see it like that do they? It’s just about the money for them.”

The controversial new 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.

Julie and Mark, a taxi driver, receive around £40 a week in housing benefits but under the new legislation will have to pay £672 a year for Becky’s bedroom.

The letter addressing the situation from Lord Freud, the Government’s Minister for Welfare Reform, says: “I was sorry to read of Mr and Mrs Bell’s loss and I fully sympathise with their desire to remain in a home that holds many memories for them.”

But it goes on to say that an extra £30m Discretionary Payments Budget will only help disabled people who live in adapted accommodation to ensure they can remain in their existing homes and to support foster carers who need to keep an extra room when they are in between fostering.

Julie and Mark said they will not let the bedroom tax force them out of their home and remain hopeful they will be supported by Housing Hartlepool.

Bosses at the housing association say they are “proactively liaising” with Julie and Mark as well as other tenants who will be affected.

Julie, who is out of work, added: “What we said from the very start is we don’t want to be treated differently, we weren’t asking for the world just maybe a year more to grieve.

“It is still raw for us and situations like this don’t make it any easier, we didn’t want to be in this situation.”

A Housing Hartlepool spokeswoman said: “The Government proposal to reduce housing benefit to tenants with spare rooms is part of a wider package of Government policy to reform the benefits system and will have an impact on 1,157 of Housing Hartlepool tenants.

“We are proactively liaising with those likely to be affected and will continue to meet with Mr and Mrs Bell, along with many other tenants affected by this policy, to ensure they receive the best possible advice and support during these difficult times.”

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