Impact of housing benefit changes 'worse than feared'
The consequences of the housing benefit cut introduced in April are worse than feared, the National Housing Federation has said. Rent arrears have soared in some areas while larger houses are lying empty as people refuse to move into them. Ministers say the impact of the benefit cut is being monitored closely. The government wants to end what it calls the "spare room subsidy" for social tenants, but critics have dubbed the move a "bedroom tax".
"The impact is at least as bad as we had anticipated, in many respects even worse," says David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation. "What we've seen are really bad effects on individuals, people whose lives have been turned upside down, who are very frightened about the future," says Mr Orr.
One of the government's stated aims for cutting housing benefit for people with spare rooms was to get them to move, thereby freeing up homes for families living in overcrowded properties. Ministers say this is starting to happen but two housing associations have told BBC News that since the welfare change, they have large family homes lying empty because tenants cannot afford to move into them.
Coast and Country Housing, which owns more than 10,000 properties on Teesside, says it is struggling to rent out some properties. "The numbers of empty homes we've got to let are increasing significantly," says Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast and Country. "People are now telling us that because of bedroom tax, they can no longer afford to move into the bigger family homes, and as a consequence of that we're getting fewer lettings and more empty houses."
Across the country in Merseyside, it is a similar story. Cobalt Housing, which owns nearly 6,000 mainly family homes in Liverpool, says the benefit change is putting "terrible pressure" on tenants. "We have perfectly good, three-bedroom homes that people are telling us they can't afford to live in, because of the bedroom tax," says managing director, Alan Rogers.
In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions said: "The removal of the spare room subsidy [ie the addition of bedroom tax] is returning fairness to housing when in England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes. As with any major reform, we are monitoring the changes to housing benefit closely - including possible arrears levels and how councils are spending the extra £150m in funding for vulnerable claimants."
Source: BBC News