Stark warning ahead of bedroom tax ‘trap’

People will be caught in a trap when the bedroom tax is imposed in April because Northumberland does not have enough small homes, county councillors have been told.

Under new Government policy, those on benefits will be penalised for every unoccupied bedroom, losing probably £11 to £13 for each empty room every week. Only older people will be safe.

Labour councillor Jim Sawyer asked at last Wednesday’s full council meeting what would happen to a family in this situation who wished to move to a smaller house but could not be found one. Would they carry on being penalised through no fault of theirs?

Finance member of the Liberal Democrat executive, Coun Andrew Tebbutt, said: “I sympathise with the member’s point, but in fact it’s a national scheme that we will have no option but to implement.”

The change coincides with a cut in housing benefit nationally, which the county is trying to cushion. Coun Tebbutt said on housing benefit the council would not penalise vulnerable people, ‘but in relation to the bedroom tax we have no option but to implement it’.

He said: “I don’t think there is anything we can do about it.”

Social landlords would be looking at the issue ‘as a matter of some urgency’, he added.

Recently East Chevington parish councillors heard from Isos Housing executives about their efforts to alert tenants to the threat and the group’s hopes of matching people with suitable smaller properties.

Its Northumberland housing manager Katherine Glen told the parish: “A lot of people think it will be fine – ‘I’ll just spend a bit less in the Co-op or in Asda’. It’s not going to be fine.”

Isos is urging people not to resort to payday loans or doorstep lenders.

County executive member Coun Ian Lindley told Wednesday’s meeting: “These people are not obliged to move – there is just pressure on them to move.”

Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey said: “It’s the policy of your Government and the Government of the people sitting here,” pointing to Conservative councillors.

“We haven’t seen anything in these papers saying, ‘We condemn the bedroom tax’.”

Coun Robert Arckless said: “To me it seems fundamentally wrong that somebody could theoretically end up homeless because they cannot move into a non-existent property.

“There are some parts of this county where there aren’t any one-bedroom properties, for example.”