May 19 2013 Latest news:
By Joseph Watts Political editor
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Housing benefit reforms could see an estimated 9,000 people losing hundreds of pounds across Suffolk and north Essex from next month.
The changes, branded the “bedroom tax” by Labour and other critics, will see claimants deemed to have too much living space receiving less money.
The National Housing Federation (NHF), which represents housing associations, has slammed the reforms branding them “flawed”.
NHF East of England lead manager Claire Astbury said: “The government’s bedroom tax is flawed and will unfairly penalise thousands of people in the East who have lived in their homes for years, raised families and contributed to their communities.”
The Government says change is needed as some claimants live in big council or housing association properties with unused rooms, leading ministers to suggest these people have been getting a “spare room subsidy”.
They argue it means large families elsewhere are being needlessly overcrowded into smaller homes. The changes will save £23bn from the UK’s annual welfare bill helping the Government’s debt reduction strategy.
Under the plans anyone living in an ‘oversized’ home will have to undergo an assessment with their council to see if they qualify for an exemption.
The new policy will allow one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of a household. Two children aged nine or under would be expected to share a room.
Two youngsters between aged nine and 15 would also be expected to share, though only with a child of the same gender.
Meanwhile ministers say the change will only apply to working age claimants. Assessors may also give an exemption where there is a spare room for a non-resident carer who stays over.
The NHF estimate some 50,000 people across the East of England will have to undergo an assessment including some 9,105 across Suffolk and north Essex. Of those 5,736 have a disability, and risk losing some of their benefit.
For those deemed to have one spare bedroom they risk losing 14% of their benefit, an average of £596 a year. Those deemed to have two spare bedrooms risk losing 25%, an average of £1,065 a year.
Ms Astbury added: “The one-size-fits-all approach takes no account of disabled people’s adapted homes, of foster parents who need rooms to take children in, or of parents sharing custody who will lose the room for their child at weekends.
“In most areas, there just aren’t enough smaller affordable homes for these families to move into to avoid the tax. Many people will find themselves having to move into more expensive privately rented properties - adding to the overall housing benefit bill.”
But Peter Davis of the Eastern Landlords Association, which represents 1,300 private sector landlords in the region, said the changes were needed.
He explained: “We have a housing crisis and in part that is because there are so many extra bedrooms going unused. If you are in the private sector you rent according to the size of the place that you need.
“So why as a country should we be subsidising many people to live in houses that are too big for them. This can in no way be seen as a ‘tax’, we have been paying a spare room subsidy.”
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday David Cameron accused critics of scaremongering, claiming that many people would qualify for an exemption.
He said: “On the spare room subsidy pensioners are exempt, people with disabled children are exempt, anyone who needs help around the clock is also exempt.”
A spokesman from the Department for Work and pensions said: “Councils have been given an extra £155m this year so that they can help their vulnerable tenants with £30m specifically targeted towards supporting disabled people and foster carers,
“However, with over a quarter of a million tenants living in overcrowded homes and two million on housing waiting lists, we need to end the spare room subsidy and ensure a better use of social housing.”