Concerns grow for bedroom tax

Housing providers face ‘huge rent-arrears bills amid bedroom-tax chaos’, a trade union has said.

Unison Northumberland County Branch has issued the warning ahead of a public meeting tonight, as part of a campaign calling for the abolition of the Government policy.

Homes for Northumberland (HfN), which manages more than 8,500 homes in Alnwick District and Blyth Valley, has seen an 86 per cent rise in tenants falling behind with rent since the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax in April, resulting in a 21 per cent increase in total rental arrears.

The new rules mean that claimants in council houses or housing association accommodation lose up to 25 per cent of housing benefit depending on the number of spare bedrooms they have.

The average difference which affected tenants in Northumberland have to pay is £13 per week. Around 1,200 HfN tenants have been hit by the bedroom tax and so face an average annual bill of more than £600.

Coun Allan Hepple, the county council’s policy board member for planning, housing and regeneration, who also sits on the board of HfN, said: “I am in no doubt that the increase in low-level rent arrears is directly related to the bedroom tax, and will be replicated across the county.

“We could be facing an extra £200,000 in rent arrears by the end of the financial year as tenants on low incomes fail to find the money to pay this.

“I am concerned about the impact on our tenants. We could be left in a situation where we are expected to evict tenants who have ended up in arrears solely as a result of this new tax.”

Tonight’s meeting is at the football club in Woodhorn Lane, Ashington, from 7.30pm.

MP Ian Lavery, who will lead the guest speakers, said: “This tax will cause much heartache for many people.”

But county councillor Gordon Castle, part of HfN’s Alnwick area board, said while rent arrears have risen ‘slightly in low-level cases’ since April, the total amounts of arrears fell by about 25 per cent from April last year to April 2013.

He said: “I don’t want to minimise the undoubted hardship experienced by some tenants affected by this change and I personally wish that the policy could have been modified in rural areas like ours with relatively few single-occupancy dwellings.

“The impact of the change on council rent arrears, so far, has been considerably less than most people forecast, but we are monitoring the situation closely.”