Bedroom tax families ‘facing 10-year wait for suitable home’

Hull city centre
Hull city centre
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FAMILIES affected by the so-called “bedroom tax” and other welfare reforms could be forced to wait more than 10 years for a suitable home, a council has warned.

The same Yorkshire authority, which has to slash £48m from its budget over the next two years, is also facing a potential shortfall in rent payments of £2.8m a year as the true impact of austerity and the Government’s welfare reforms is laid bare.

Of those tenants not previously in arrears prior to the introduction of the bedroom tax, or under-occupancy penalty - which sees cuts to housing benefit for tenants deemed to have spare rooms - less than half (45 per cent) in Hull, have paid the 14 to 25 per cent contribution they have lost.

The Labour-led city council - which has now received more than 53,000 calls to a benefits advice hotline set up in April - is also warning of increased homelessness and says that even basic services may be cut or disappear all together.

About 4,500 working age tenants in the city are affected by the bedroom tax, while 3,000 households live in overcrowded council accommodation, and 2,600 are “under-occupying” and require a one-bedroom property.

A report going before councillors next week says: “To move all households impacted to the ‘right size’ of home to match their benefit entitlement is projected to take well in excess of 10 years.”

Deputy council leader Daren Hale said: “Clearly, what the report reflects is the fact that welfare reform, which is very politically motivated, is obviously having disproportionate effects on those areas of greatest need like Hull.

“As well as local authority reductions in funding, the reforms are having a significantly higher impact in places like Hull so you’ve got a double whammy and it’s a case of trying to support people in need as they experience cuts to their benefits.

“We are then left with the unpleasant situation of having to collect that money (rent and council tax), because if we don’t it leaves a shortfall in service areas, whether housing repairs, or services getting reduced further.

“It puts us in the position of being the bad guys when really these are Government-enforced.

“We are not under any illusions - this is going to have a drastic effect, not just the bedroom tax and changes to council tax.

“We are also seeing a migrating inwards of families with multiple issues and needs into urban areas because the housing they have to pay towards is cheaper, and there’s a significant influx of families as part of this process. That’s into the city and within the city.”

He added: “Government spending figures show the level of reduction per head of population is four times higher than it is in the East Riding, and the East Riding hasn’t had it good either.

“We’ve got to hope there’s an announcement around things like Siemens (possible investment in manufacturing); we need to see growth in some of these new technology areas.

“The burden of public sector reduction has fallen grossly unfairly on local government. By far and away the largest budget reduction has fallen on the local government family.

“It’s just unsustainable going forward. People will start to see the basic services they rely on either aren’t there or are significantly reduced.”

Measures the council is developing to tackle the housing crisis include shared tenancies and “space saving equipment”, which would see partition walls or screens fitted in bedrooms which children of extreme age gaps are forced to share.

The report says the council will only evict tenants in arrears as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

Less than half a per cent of tenancies ended in eviction in 2012/13.

Council leader Stephen Brady said: “I just think the social impact of this is not going to be seen until the next two or three years.

“All councils up and down the country are dealing with this difficult situation. God knows what it’s like in London.

“You always have to try and do your best in the circumstances.”