Bedroom tax help agreed

Christopher Akers-Belcher
Christopher Akers-Belcher

HOUSEHOLDS struggling to make ends meet by the controversial bedroom tax will receive four months help after plans were unanimously agreed.

Hundreds of residents will benefit after Hartlepool Borough Council confirmed plans to use £346,000 to support all 1,581 affected households for 16 weeks.

Councillors say it will help pump money back into the economy and people will either get the money as a credit on their account or it could help clear rent arrears.

The help is equivalent to £218 per household.

The bedroom tax came into force on April 1 and affects social housing tenants in employment and those in receipt of housing benefits if they have any unoccupied rooms.

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

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, presented the report at a meeting for the full council, and said: “The level of expenditure associated with the council’s Local Welfare Support Scheme (LWSS) is proving to be both consistently and significantly lower than forecast.

“This position is similar to the experiences of other councils both locally and nationally. The finance and policy committee has agreed to proactively apply the forecast 2013-14 underspend to help mitigate the effects of the wider welfare reforms, in particular the bedroom tax.”

The move has previously been welcomed by families affected, including Julie and Mark Bell, the parents of seven-year-old cancer victim Becky Bell, and Hartlepool artist Jason Gaffney.

In Hartlepool, 1,581 households have been affected with the average weekly loss of housing benefit of £13.67 a week and the annual value of housing benefit reductions is £1.123m.

The move is possible thanks to £100,000 underspend from the LWSS budget after the first three months of the financial year. If current trends continue then the total will be around £400,000.

In April, the responsibility of helping some people with general living expenses was transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the council.

The idea was to provide a “targeted approach” for those most in need with people assessed as either in crisis, or non crisis.