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Driven to poverty by 'bedroom tax'
NEARLY 1,000 households across Worcestershire have plunged into debt on their rent payments – with residents saying the ‘bedroom tax’ is pushing them into poverty.
Your Worcester News can reveal more and more desperate social housing tenants are struggling to make ends meet since the controversial policy was launched in April.
Figures from county housing associations show how hundreds of tenants are unable to pay their bills, meaning they are at risk of being kicked out.
Worcester Community Housing, the city’s main social property provider, says 45 per cent of all its tenants affected by the bedroom tax are currently in arrears.
The organisation says out of the 464 properties handed a bill, 210 households are unable to pay it and are in mounting debt.
At Rooftop Housing, of the 306 properties affected by the bedroom tax, 196 of them are currently in rent arrears, which works out at 64 per cent.
At Festival Housing, 773 tenants were hit by the bedroom tax and 523 of them are in debt – 73 per cent.
“It’s not resolving the issues they identified and is only adding to people’s problems – the only solution to overcrowding is to build more houses, not have forced repatriation.”
But Worcester MP Robin Walker said the idea behind the policy – to free up more social housing for families – is the right one.
“We can all see there is an issue of families in overcrowded conditions – this is not a tax, it’s the allocation of a public subsidy,” he said. “It is tough on some people but the aims behind it are right.”
Since April, social housing tenants get a reduced housing benefit payment for any spare bedrooms, a policy officially known as the spare room subsidy.
The reduction is 14 per cent for one bedroom or 25 per cent for two, with the householder asked to pay the difference or downsize.
The associations say the typical figures go from less than £100 for those only recently unable to make ends meet, to in some cases £300 or more.
But the Government says for the vast majority of housing benefit claims, it still pays about 80 per cent of the tenant’s bill.
Housing associations are also offering discretionary payments towards some tenants’ rent, which are funded via Government grants for certain cases, such as those in severe poverty.
Helen Scarrett, housing and customer services director at WCH, said: “Over the past 12 months we have worked hard to help make sure that those customers affected by the spare room subsidy knew as much about it as possible.
“We visited around 600 customers in their homes to talk about the weekly shortfall they were facing and how we could help them to cope with the extra demands on their household budgets.
“Our efforts paid off and we helped around 53 households claim the discretionary payment needed to cover benefit reductions for a limited period.”
WAR VETERAN - BEDROOM TAX FIGURES ARE ‘STAGGERING’
FALKLANDS veteran Doug Padgett, of Hathaway Close, Dines Green is just one victim of the bedroom tax.
The 56-year-old has one spare bedroom in his flat, and as a single parent needs it so his daughter Connie, 13, can go over to stay.
The teenager spends around two weeks of every month at his property, but it hasn’t stopped a 14 per cent reduction kicking in on his housing benefit - around £50 every month, because that room is deemed ‘empty’.
His debt has climbed to around £200, and was continuing to grow until August when he was given a temporary discretionary housing payment.
The old debts still need to be paid off, and there is the worry that next year the discretionary payments could end.
Mr Padgett, a former member of the Royal Army Medical Corps who served in Northern Ireland three times, said: “It is staggering, but I reckon the true numbers of people affected by this are even worse.
“There’s people who are only paying it because they get help from family or friends, who could slip into arrears at any time.
“I’ve recently been awarded the 14 per cent payment but it’s a temporary one - I’m hoping as a veteran there might be regiment charitable funds I could get at some point, which could help.
“It’s always nagging at the back of my mind, but there’s nothing I can do because I can’t pay it.
“I know so many people who are in a great deal of difficulty.”
The Government say the changes are part of wider efforts to make the welfare system fairer, as well as free up homes.
A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Even after the reform we still pay over 80 per cent of most claimants' housing benefit, but the taxpayer can no longer pay for spare bedrooms in the social housing sector.”
Some associations say they are slowly managing to move struggling tenants into smaller properties, such as Rooftop Housing, where 15 people have relocated.
All of them have specialist staff offering financial advice too.
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