Government under fire over bedroom tax trap
Ministers in charge of bringing in the controversial "bedroom tax" were today accused of not thinking the plan through, as it emerged two out of three people affected will be unable to move to smaller homes.
Councils and social housing providers do not have enough one and two bedroom flats available to re-house the people who will lose either 14 per cent or 25 per cent of their housing benefit from April 1.
It means many families are caught in a trap, losing out financially even if they are willing to move to a smaller house.
Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, said: "There are all sorts of problems with this.
"If parents have only one child and move house to downsize then that child may have to move schools, which disrupts their education.
"Under-occupancy is an issue that needs to be addressed but it needs to be done properly and to take account of people's circumstances.This has not been properly thought out.
"Some civil servant in Whitehall has sat down and thought this is a good idea and hasn't thought about the consequences."
Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the plan, which he says created a level playing field with the private sector. He said: "All the time Labour was in government, if you were in a private rented sector home and you were in receipt of housing benefit you did not get any benefit for empty rooms. It is only fair we treat people in social housing the same way."
Wolverhampton Homes, which manages Wolverhampton City Council's 23,500 council homes, has 3,136 tenants who will end up paying more for their rent from April. But the company has told the Express & Star it has just 12 one-bedroom properties becoming available each week, an average of 624 a year.
The majority of these are general needs flats but a small number are bungalows and flats designated for the elderly meaning working age people affected by the housing benefit cut would not be eligible. Its waiting list for one bedroom homes currently stands at 6,660.
Some 276 Wolverhampton Homes tenants are considering downsizing and of those 177 are under occupying by one bedroom and 99 are under occupying by two bedrooms.
There are 2,887 tenants who will be affected and have said they are not interested in downsizing, so they will need to pay the shortfall in their benefits.
In neighbouring Dudley on average 689 one bedroom homes become vacant each year, along with 707 two-bedroom homes. There are more than 3,400 council tenants who are facing cuts in benefit in the borough.
Cannock Chase Council will have to collect extra rent from 574 tenants from next month to make up for cuts in housing benefit but in an average year just 129 one bedroom homes and 80 two bedroom properties become available.
In Walsall, social housing company Walsall Housing Group said over the past year it had 527 one bedroom homes and 766 two bedroom homes become available. It has 2,709 tenants affected by the changes.The company is building further two bedroom houses and flats and has registered 181 households who looking to downsize.
Sandwell Homes was unable to provide figures on its housing stock.
The National Housing Federation estimates that 20,725 people will lose out in the Black Country, Stafford, Lichfield, Cannock Chase, South Staffordshire and Wyre Forest.
On average it could be anything from about £45 a month to £88 a month but the amounts people will pay depends on their rent and circumstances.
The Government insists that the housing benefit bill needs to be tackled. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says the bill has run out of control.
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