Bedroom tax 'causes rent arrears'

HousesThe so-called "bedroom tax" has tipped nearly one in three affected council tenants into rent arrears, campaigners said as they renewed calls for the benefit cut to be scrapped.

Since the reform was introduced in April, 50,000 households in 114 local council areas can no longer afford to pay for their accommodation - 31% of those affected, the False Economy group claimed.

The figures, obtained by the TUC-backed False Economy campaign using freedom of information requests, showed some parts of Britain suffering far more than others.

In Barrow, three quarters had fallen into arrears, and other areas where the proportion was at least half were Clackmannanshire (67%), Tamworth (52%), South Kesteven (51%) and Rotherham (50%).

A separate study, by the National Housing Federation (NHF), showed a quarter of those in housing association properties affected by the policy had been pushed into rent arrears since the change.

It found that a quarter of tenants affected by the reform in 38 housing associations it questioned had become unable any longer to pay the rent between April and June.

Under the welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced, to tackle what the Government calls a "spare room subsidy".

Ministers say private sector renters do not get spare rooms for free, and argue the change will save around £500 million annually.

It has sparked protests across the country with opponents claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefits bill by pushing people into the private sector.

The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the significance of the findings and defended "a necessary reform to return fairness to housing benefit".

"It is just wrong to suggest the early stages of the policy - as people start to adjust to the changes - represent long-term trends in any way whatsoever," a spokesman said.

"We are carefully monitoring the policy nationally ensuring the extra funds to support vulnerable tenants are used well as these changes are introduced."

"Even after the reform we pay over 80% of most claimants' housing benefit - but the taxpayer can no longer afford to pay for people to live in properties larger than they need. It is right that people contribute to these costs, just as private renters do."

But False Economy said the early figures were likely to be on the low side as emergency funds supplied to town halls to ease the burden would quickly dry up and leave more with no help.

Campaign manager Clifford Singer said: "Together with the raft of other benefits cuts the Government has forced through both this year and previously, the bedroom tax is driving tenants and families who were just making ends meet into arrears, and pushing those who were already struggling with the cost of living into a full-blown crisis.

"At a time when the Government is actively trying to stoke a new housing bubble for purely political ends, we have people being punished for the lack of affordable housing and the decades-long failure to invest in social and council housing.

"The worst part is that these figures have been collated while councils' emergency Discretionary Housing Payments are still available; they are being used up at record speed and when they run out, these figures will only get worse."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The bedroom tax is not saving money. Instead it is pushing up rent arrears which will force councils to waste more cash on evictions, debt collection and emergency support for homeless families.

"It says a lot about this Government's commitment to fairness that they've blocked a mansion tax for millionaires but are happy to go ahead with a bedroom tax on disabled and low paid families, no matter how much chaos and misery it causes."

United Nations special rapporteur on housing Raquel Rolnik has called for a rethink after finding the reform was causing "great stress and anxiety" to "very vulnerable" people.

Her intervention was met with fury by Tory chairman Grant Shapps, who wrote to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon demanding an apology and an explanation for the "disgraceful" comments.
Liberal Democrat activists voted overwhelmingly at the party's conference in Glasgow to commit the party to a review of the policy's impact on vulnerable families .

NHF chief executive David Orr - who will set out his criticisms in a speech to the Federation's conference later - said: "This is the most damning evidence yet to show that the bedroom tax is pushing thousands of families into a spiralling cycle of debt.

"Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can't magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped.

"What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "The jury is now in.

"David Cameron's hated 'bedroom tax' is pushing a generation into foodbanks and loan-sharks. This Government seems determined to stand up for a privileged few, but stands idle while hundreds of thousands of our neighbours are pushed into debt from which they may never recover."