Now bedroom tax threatens to empty rural villages

A protester against the government's "bedroom tax" demonstrates outside the High Court in London.
A protester against the government's "bedroom tax" demonstrates outside the High Court in London.
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The future of Yorkshire’s rural villages may be under threat due to the Government’s controversial ‘bedroom tax’ policy, a new report finds.

Campaigners at Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) claim the Government has failed to ‘rural-proof’ the bedroom tax. The affect, they say, is an acute impact on rural areas which have been “under-estimated by a blanket approach”.

While the Department for Work and Pensions rejects the criticism, pointing to the extra funds available in the least populated areas of the country, Richmondshire is the only area of Yorkshire that is eligible for additional support and that this fund would soon run out.

The new report, published today by third sector organisation Involve Yorkshire & Humber, claims the so-called bedroom tax, combined with wider recent welfare reforms, amounts to a £1.16 million cut in emergency support to the region’s poorest residents.

The extensive hole in funding is a direct result of a seven per cent cut to local authority budgets for community care grants and crisis loans, it says, and the result is a postcode lottery on the level of support for vulnerable people.

Judy Robinson, Involve’s chief executive said: “Problems are being stored up for the future with the long-term health of children being badly affected by poor diet and poverty. In addition, disabled people and those with mental illnesses are being badly hit.”

She called on local authorities and the voluntary sector to work together, creatively and collaboratively, for the sake of vulnerable people and communities.

Commenting specifically on the bedroom tax, Nick Chase, policy and research director at ACRE said: “The bedroom tax could force people to leave villages because there is a shortage of one and two bedroom homes in the countryside.

“There is a Local Authority Discretionary Housing Fund to help in areas where the bedroom tax will cause particular problems, but only Richmondshire is eligible to access it in Yorkshire. The Government has increased the amount of money available but when the allocated amount for the year runs out, no more payments can be made.”

The ‘Action Trackers: Holes in the Safety Net’ report details a 40 per cent rise in Citizens Advice Bureau enquiries about rent arrears for local authority housing between April and December 2013, when the bedroom tax came into force. Two thirds of affected households are in rent arrears and seven per cent have received eviction notices.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It’s right that we take action to get the Housing Benefit bill under control and bring fairness back to social housing, while guaranteeing a strong welfare safety net is in place. Even with the changes we still pay the majority of most claimants’ rent, and we are supporting those who need extra help through £165m in Discretionary Housing Payments this year, with £5m specifically for the 21 least-densely populated local authorities in the country.”