‘Bedroom tax’ concerns for Wealden tenants

Jarvis Brook, Clr Stephen Isted. Council housing changes
Jarvis Brook, Clr Stephen Isted. Council housing changes

Some Wealden council tenants could lose their homes when a new ‘bedroom tax’ is introduced, councillors fear.

They say the tax, which comes into force in April, could see people having to move or face losing a proportion of their benefits.

Cllr John Blake tabled a question at a recent Wealden District Council meeting asking how many are affected and what the impact might be. And Cllr Steve Isted, independent member for Jarvis Brook, has slammed the scheme which will affect about 159 council tenants receiving housing benefit who are over-accommodated by one bedroom and 52 with two or more bedrooms.

Wealden’s chief finance officer Steve Linnett, explained there are 3,100 council housing units in the District. Therefore this new ruling will affect about 6.8 per cent of them. He said 743 housing units are occupied by working age housing benefit claimants, therefore this applies to 28 per cent of working age benefit claimants. Pensioners are exempt.

Cllr Blake also asked what the average weekly or monthly benefit reduction is likely to be. Steve Linnett replied: “To answer this question would require us to perform 211 individual benefit calculations to produce the answer. We have not done so to date.

“Based on the average council house rent in 2013/14 the average reduction – assuming the claimant is on maximum benefit – would be £11.03 per week for one bedroom and £19.70 per week for two or more bedrooms.

“Individual tenants will have different circumstances.

“Staff in benefits and housing have been working with tenants to discuss their housing options. Benefits also has a sum of money from Government to make discretionary housing payments which will provide a financial cushion in the short term to help tenants with this transition.”

He also explained the benefit reduction for one bedroom is 14 per cent of the eligible rent and for two or more bedrooms it is 35 per cent.

Cllr Isted said: “I raised this at the council meeting last week. People think of Crowborough as a wealthy area but here in Jarvis Brook – and elsewhere in Wealden – there are plenty of people who struggle to make ends meet.

“I had one lady who raised her family in her house but her daughter died and she’s converted her bedroom into a little shrine.

“There are several others who are desperately worried and fear having to move out of places they call ‘home.’”

He cited a BBC news programme about a mother with one disabled and one autistic son, both of whom have to have specially adapted bedrooms.

Research seen by the BBC suggests almost 95,000 people in England could be forced into arrears because there are no smaller homes for them.

The Government has a bill for housing benefit topping £21 billion a year. It says costs must be cut and welfare minister Lord Freud said this policy is the fairest way to make cuts as people living in the private sector and not on benefits had to match what they can afford with where they live . “We are not looking for them to do anything different to people who live in social housing.”