Housing providers face huge rent arrears bills amid bedroom tax chaos

The chaos being caused by the bedroom tax has been laid bare by a Northumberland housing organisation facing huge increases in rent arrears.
By: UNISON Northumberland County Branch
 
ASHINGTON, U.K. - July 1, 2013 - PRLog -- The chaos being caused by the bedroom tax has been laid bare by a Northumberland housing organisation facing huge increases in rent arrears.  
Homes for Northumberland, which manages over 8,500 homes in Blyth Valley and Alnwick District, has seen an 86 per cent rise in tenants falling behind with their rent since the introduction of the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ in April.

The new rules reduce by up to 25% the amount of housing benefit paid to less well off council and housing association tenants deemed to have one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms.

Under the regulations one bedroom is permitted for each adult or couple living as part of the household, but two children of the same gender aged under 16 are expected to share a room and two children aged under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender.

Housing benefit entitlement is reduced by 14% if a tenant is deemed to have one spare bedroom and by 25% for two or more spare bedrooms. The average difference which affected tenants in Northumberland have to pay is £13 per week.

Figures released by the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, show 5,222 households are deemed as being ‘under-occupied’ in Northumberland under the welfare reforms, with more than 4,000 in the south east of the county alone.

Of these, around 1,200 are HfN tenants who have been hit by the bedroom tax, and face a crippling average annual bill of more than £600.

Coun Allan Hepple, Northumberland County Council’s Policy Board Member for Planning, Housing and Regeneration, also sits on the board of HfN, and will request a report on the rising rent arrears at its meeting tonight.

He said: "I am in no doubt that the huge 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 very concerned about the impact on our tenants and have asked for a report looking into exactly how we deal with the huge problems the bedroom tax is causing. 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."

Figures from Northumberland County Council show there are nearly 10,000 people on the housing register awaiting properties and only around 40 single bedroom properties currently available, meaning thousands of tenants now deemed to be in homes too big for their needs have nowhere else to go.

The HfN revelations come as UNISON Northumberland County Branch prepares for a public meeting later this week about the bedroom tax.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery will lead the guest speakers at the rally being held at Ashington Football Club on Thursday night, which will highlight the impact of the benefit cut on over 5,000 families across the county.

The MP said: "This is an ideological attack on the poorest people in society, very little to do with under occupancy and more to do with raising finance from the less well off. The reality is that this pernicious tax will cause much heartache for many people and undoubtedly cost the taxpayer more in the long run. Put simply, the bedroom tax is an all round unmitigated disaster."

Other speakers at the public meeting include Northumberland County Councillor Laura Pidcock, Ashington Town Council Leader Coun John McCormack, UNISON trade unionist Mick Bowman and local campaigner Gail Ward.

Ian Fleming, Joint Branch Secretary of UNISON Northumberland County Branch, added: "Thursday night’s public meeting is part of our campaign for the abolition of this grossly unfair, socially divisive and harmful tax, which is causing widespread hardship amongst the tenants affected and having a negative impact on budgets, financial planning and service provision of council and housing association landlords.

"The policy is self defeating as a measure to make savings in public spending - it is adding not reducing costs for the taxpayer."

UNISON is encouraging members of the public to turn up to the public meeting, which is being held from 7.30pm on Thursday, July 4 at the football club in Woodhorn Lane, Ashington, to voice their support for the campaign against the bedroom tax and send a strong message to the Government.

Notes to editors

UNISON is Northumberland's biggest and liveliest public sector trade union with 5,000 members across the county. Our members are people working in the public services or for private contractors providing public services and the essential utilities.

They include frontline staff and managers working full or part time in local authorities, colleges and schools, probation, community and the voluntary sector. On behalf of our members we negotiate for pay and conditions, help individuals in trouble and campaign for a safer, fairer society.

For more background information about the bedroom tax visit the National Housing Federation website at housing.org.uk/policy/welfare-reform/bedroom-tax

Sources

Homes for Northumberland

Number of tenants with low level rent arrears (below £1,000) on April 30 2012 was 630 and on April 30 2013 was 1,170.

1,200 HfN tenants will lose Housing Benefit allocation for 2013-14 totalling £722,000.

Northumberland County Council

Latest figures show there are currently 9,892 people on the Housing Register and 40+ single bed homes available for rent.

Housing Benefit/Council Tax Benefit Recipients By Region & Local Authority (DWP Apr 2013)

See: gov.uk/government/publications/housing-benefit-and-council-tax-benefit-summary-statistics-january-2013

Housing Benefit: Under occupation of social housing – Impact Assessment (DWP June 2012)

See: dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/size-criteria-social-rented/

National Housing Federation – Bedroom Tax Facts March 2013

See: housing.org.uk/media/press-releases/new-bedroom-tax-figures-show-local-impact

Media contact

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Chris Jennings, Cian creative pr, email chris@cian-pr.co.uk or tel (0191) 340 8422.
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