Express & Star

Bedroom tax sees £37m benefits cut in the West Midlands

The controversial 'bedroom tax' has cut £37 million a year in benefits from people in the West Midlands – but six out of seven people have been unable to move to smaller homes to avoid paying more rent.


The Government removed what it calls the 'spare room subsidy' from thousands of people last year, effectively cutting housing benefit by 14 or 25 per cent for council and social housing tenants with one or more spare rooms.

It was intended to encourage people to move to smaller properties and free up larger ones for families on waiting lists.

But the Trades Union Congress and campaign group False Economy today said thousands of people had been 'unable' to move to smaller homes.

Midlands TUC regional secretary Rob Johnston said: "The bedroom tax is one of the most spiteful and unfair measures introduced by this government.

"Ministers seem not to know about the nationwide shortage of single bedroom social homes nor are they aware of any of the many valid reasons why tenants need more space than the Government says they do."

Dudley had 3,974 people who were affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy when it was brought in. Of those, 813 had moved to smaller homes since last April. In Wolverhampton there were 3,856 people hit with the cut. But 831 people have since either moved to a smaller property or left council housing in the city altogether.

Sandwell had 5,252 people affected last year and 573 are no longer paying the extra costs. In South Staffordshire 526 out of 620 affected people are still paying more while in Stafford it is 746 out of 887. In Lichfield 499 people are still paying the so-called tax out of 564 and in Wyre Forest it is 602 out of 816. Figures were not available for Cannock Chase or Walsall.

Mark Henderson, director of housing at Wolverhampton Homes said:

"The stark reality is, there aren't enough smaller homes for those who need to downsize, and this is really affecting people who are struggling to make ends meet. Plus, the overwhelming majority of people we speak to don't want to leave their home."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, defended the tax. He said: "It was absolutely necessary that we fixed the broken system which just a year ago allowed the taxpayer to cover the £1 million daily cost of spare rooms in social housing."

Rules mean we don't go out now

The Lees inside of the their bedrooms, used as a craft room

The joints of meat have been replaced with chops and the weekly trip to the cinema is no more.

Susan and Mike Lee have had to cut back to find £1,092 a year, £21 a week, to pay towards their rent as a result of the so-called 'bedroom tax'.

As a couple living in a three-bedroom council house in Bilston, the Government's rules dictate they are technically under-occupying it with two spare bedrooms.

Their five pet cats do not count.

Neither does the fact that the rooms at the home in Addison Place are used by disabled Susan, aged 53, and her carer Mike, aged 62, for her crafts and his ham radio.

They have lived in the street for 14 years, first in a property opposite, until they were moved six years ago for a council refurbishment. Three of their four children had lived with them in the first house too, but all have now flown the nest.

So as people of working age, even though Mrs Lee qualifies for disability benefits due to osteoporosis and arthritis, they are eligible to be docked up to 25 per cent of the housing benefit that had previously covered their rent.

"I do actually agree with the bedroom tax in principle," says Mrs Lee. "I can understand that it's not right to have families with young children cramped into small houses and flats while there are couples living in bigger homes. But if you have lived somewhere a long time it's not a simple case of moving. I've had to have rails installed to help me get about. I use a wheelchair for some of the time. This is our home.

"We've had to cut back a lot. I don't get out much but once a week we'd go to the cinema. We don't do that anymore.

"We also spend less money on food.

"We don't eat a lot of what I'd call proper meat, like legs of lamb. I'm using chops now."

She says the rooms are not sitting empty or 'spare' but are each a vital part of her and her husband's quality of life.

Mrs Lee says: "It's just the Government that disagrees."

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.