Hundreds to be hit by ‘unfair’ bedroom tax

131205a Yorkshire Coast Homes staff, around the bed in their head office reception area to highlight the proposed 'Bedroom Tax'.  Photo by Andrew Higgins    18/03/2013
131205a Yorkshire Coast Homes staff, around the bed in their head office reception area to highlight the proposed 'Bedroom Tax'. Photo by Andrew Higgins 18/03/2013

Around 900 of the poorest families living in the Scarborough area are set to be financially crippled by the Government’s “bedroom tax” when it comes into force next month.

New welfare reforms will cut the amount of housing benefit that working age people receive if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.

Bed push in Eastfield.

Bed push in Eastfield.

Benefits will be slashed by 14 per cent for those with one extra bedroom, and 25 per cent for those with two.

Those affected will lose an average of £14 a week, with housing association tenants expected to lose £16 a week on average.

People who will be hit by the tax include separated parents who share care of children, couples who use a spare room for recovering from illness or operations, parents whose children visit but are not part of the main household, families with disabled children and disabled people living in specially designated properties.

According to the rules, households will be entitled to one bedroom for each person or couple. Same sex children under 16 and children under ten, regardless of gender, are expected to share a bedroom.

But a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-residential overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom.

Scarborough Council’s cabinet member for housing, Cllr Bill Chatt, claims the controversial shake-up of the benefits system will impact on some of the most vulnerable members of society.

He said: “About 900 families in the local area will be affected by the bedroom tax in just over a week’s time.

“They are being asked to move to a smaller house which isn’t realistic because we don’t have them. There is nothing for people to move into.

“The bedroom tax starts on April 1. When I heard the start date, I was hoping it was an April fools’ as it’s going to have a massive knock-on effect on people.”

The changes will not affect pensioners, and in a last minute u-turn by Government ministers earlier this month, it was announced that foster carers, families of armed services personnel and families with severely disabled children will also be exempt.

However, Cllr Chatt claimed it was a tax on the poor and said he had already been contacted by dozens of worried families in the area.

“There is nothing for separated parents who only have their child staying with them a few days a week,” he said.

“The only description of this is it’s the perfect storm. Nobody is going to come out of this a winner, everyone’s a loser.”

Cllr Chatt said the move was going to be “catastrophic” when combined with other welfare reforms, including a cap on the amount of benefits people can claim and a change to the way they are paid.

Next month council tax benefit will also be abolished and as a result some households that had previously been exempt will now have to pay a small amount.

Cllr Chatt said: “This is the biggest change to the welfare system since it started and it all seems to be going under the radar.

“You will see people in a position they have never been in. It is one of the most unfair things anybody could have ever done. It is the most vulnerable in society who is being kicked around here.

“This is nothing to do with local councils, the welfare reform is central Government. It’s the out of touch millionaires who don’t know what the hell they are doing.”

Yorkshire Coast Homes, the main provider of social housing in Scarborough, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the bedroom tax.

It has around 400 homes on its books in the town that will be affected and has calculated that for rents up to £70 a week the tax will be up to £9.40 a week for one extra bedroom or £17.50 for two. For rents up to £100 a week it is up to £14 a week for one spare room or £25 for two – which is an extra outgoing of £100 per month.

Richard Mair, policy, PR and investment manager for Yorkshire Coast Homes, said: “There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment. It’s about raising awareness and getting the message out to people. We want those who believe they are going to be affected to speak to us as early as possible so we can help them deal with it. We would always look on evictions as the last possible course of action.”

Money management officer Vicky Bayes has been visiting tenants who can’t afford the extra tax.

She said: “We have had an awful lot of cases of disabled people who have an extra bedroom because they need a carer overnight now and again but not all the time.

“We have got quite a lot of single disabled people who are not quite at pension age living in a family home where they have raised their children, who now come and stay to help out. It’s their family home, it’s not just a house it’s their home.

“The Welfare Reform is going to be huge for people in the benefits system and I think it’s very difficult at this stage to know what the overall impact will be - but it’s about to come to a massive climax.”