‘Bedroom’ tax to hit hundreds

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HUNDREDS of households are set to be hit in the pocket due to the controversial “bedroom tax” which will see people’s housing benefit cut if they are under-occupying their homes.

Housing Hartlepool figures reveal 1,048 of their tenants – including 450 families – will see housing benefit slashed with the tenants having to make up the difference.

Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond branded the move “appalling” but the Government said the proposals will bring “fairness” back to the social housing system and make better use of the housing stock.

Households under occupancy will see their benefit slashed by either £13 a week, for one bedroom or £22 for two bedrooms.

From April 2013, the Government expects tenants to make a contribution towards the rent if they are living in accommodation which is larger than they need – in the same way they say that housing benefit claimants living in the private sector do.

Residents can down-size, but housing bosses say there are not enough smaller houses for people to move into.

The changes do not apply to residents of pensionable age.

Mayor Drummond said: “This is yet another example of the Government coming out with something they think will make things better, which is more appropriate housing to suit people’s needs. But when it comes down to practice all it does is harm people in the pocket.

“These are people that are already struggling. It is appalling.”

Using Government criteria, 1,048 Housing Hartlepool tenants have been identified as under-occupying their homes and includes 450 families, 149 couples and 443 single people.

Figures show 753 are under occupying by one bedroom and 95 by two bedrooms.

Housing Hartlepool, part of the Vela Group, is helping residents prepare and so far 90 per cent of affected tenants have been visited by specialist advisors.

Cath Purdy, chief executive of the Vela Group, said: “We are providing advice to our customers who are likely to face significant financial challenges as a result of the welfare reforms.

“The Government imposed ‘bedroom tax’ is meant to encourage tenants to downsize if they are under-occupying their homes. But the reality is that there are simply not enough smaller homes available to allow people to move into smaller properties or flats before these rules come into effect.

“Our staff are providing support and guidance to help tenants to cope as best as possible with the changes.

“This ranges from giving money management advice, examining ways of helping people into work and assisting residents to move into smaller properties if that is what they choose to do.”

Housing association officials are now working with Hartlepool Borough Council to understand the overall effect of combined benefit changes and the Tenants’ Consultation Panel in Hartlepool about how best to help and support affected residents.

The Government does not expect large numbers of people will have to move, but instead say some may wish to make up the shortfall in rent by increasing work hours, taking in a lodger or using savings.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “It’s right that tenants in social housing who are living in homes that are larger than their needs make a contribution towards their rent or move to more appropriately sized accommodation – and this is exactly what people renting in the private sector do.

“We do not expect many people to have to move as a result of these changes and local authorities can access £190m to help families as well as £30m a year specifically to support disabled people with an adapted property and foster carers.”